Books, Reading, Review
Comments 5

Book Review – ‘A Robot in the Garden’

ARobotintheGardenTitle: A Robot in the Garden
Author: Deborah Install
Genre: Science fiction
Release date: 10th May, 2016
Rating: ★★★★

“Ben’s really great at failing at things—his job, being a husband, taking the garbage out. But then he finds a battered robot named Tang in his garden. And Tang needs Ben.
More ornery and prone to tantrums than one would expect from something made of gears and springs, Tang desperately must be fixed—and he just might be the thing to fix what’s broken in Ben. Together they will discover that friendship can rise up under the strangest of circumstances, and what it really means to be human.” (Sourcebooks Landmark)

I love to read and I’ll read just about anything once. But sometimes I tend to read a bunch of heavy (in terms of content, not weight) (ok, sometimes weight too) books in a row and the reading just all gets a bit much. Sometimes I need a palate cleanser. That’s what A Robot in the Garden was for me – a palate cleanser. It was delightful, funny, heart-warming, a little cheesy, a little predictable, completely lovely, and just what I needed after reading a bunch of less fun books. Not that this book is a gag a minute – it does have a serious undertone.

For a recent uni assessment I reviewed four films, all of which focussed on artificial intelligence. The common thread they all had was that at a certain point robots endowed with AI become less robot and more human. Another common thread is that despite them having human characteristics, humans don’t consider the robots alive. They all ask the question: what, in this age of technology, does it really mean to be “alive”? A Robot in the Garden touches on this as well and although done in softer way, it asks the reader to re-evaluate how we define being alive. Should a thing breathe and be made of flesh and bone for us to consider it a living being?

“Do  you think it’s alive?” Amy asked as we stood peering through the kitchen window.
“Alive? You mean as in sentient? Or alive as in functioning?”

But this isn’t the main focus. This book is all about the relationship between Ben and Tang, and how they repair each other. This takes place on a round the world road trip, starting in a quiet English town; flying across to LA; driving down to Houston in a Mustang; hopping on a plan to Tokyo; then one to an exotic island; then another plane back to England. Reading a book about a human and a robot going on a road trip is actually just as fun as it sounds, especially when they encounter a potentially radioactive sausage dog (the sausage dog doesn’t have a huge role – I don’t want to oversell him – but seriously, a radioactive sausage dog; it just sounds excellent).

I didn’t really like Ben that much at the start, but by the end of the book my feelings towards him had changed (which I was expecting). But it’s Tang who’s definitely the star of the book. It was fun watching him in a bunch of different situations and seeing how he handled them. He changes over the course of the book too; not so much in an emotional way, but more in the way that he learns like a child does. And he’s just so weird and funny, and is pretty much what a robot should be.

So if your reading life (or real life) is bringing you down a bit at the moment and you want something light to brighten you up, then A Robot in the Garden might be for you. It’ll kick you in the feels in all the right ways.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

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5 Comments

  1. Ok, you had me at “a radioactive sausage dog”. There isn’t much else needed to sell a book I don’t think-well at least not for me.
    I understand completely what you mean by palate cleansers though. Sometimes you just want a book to be a book, an escape, and not have to think too hard or get too emotionally involved. This sounds like the perfect book.
    ….radioactive sausage dog…I’m going to have to check this one out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The sausage dog makes a pretty brief appearance (and I could never determine if he was *really* radioactive), but I just loved the idea of it so much.
      It’s a lovely book either way and you might get a little emotionally involved, but not to the point of tears which is nice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like an absolutely wonderful read! I love road trip stories, and one featuring a robot? Yes, please! Your uni assignment sounds really interesting as well. What DOES it mean to be alive? Such an interesting question and one that is always relevant, I think, and in every context. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen this one pop up in the blogosphere every now and again, and each time I think about how much it sounds like something I would enjoy. I’m glad you did, too!

    What made you pick AI as your uni topic (or was it assigned)? If you’re looking for more media that tackles these questions of whether sentience and empathy define humanity, you should check out the comic series Alex + Ada! There are only three volumes and I gobbled them right up.

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    • It’s a really nice book and I can 100% recommend it just for the amount of happiness it could give you. I loved Tang so much – he was just the funniest little thing.

      The uni class I was going was called “Writing the Zeitgeist”. I don’t know if you know what zeitgeist means (I had no idea before the class), but it’s basically things that symbolise the spirit of the time. So everything I wrote about in class had to be related to the current zeitgeist (which can be hard when you’re in the zeitgeist – it’s much easier pinpointing stuff in retrospect) – it was a fun class. AI and technology related to it is super relevant in this time and I wanted to do film reviews (we had a bunch of genres to choose from) because I thought it wouldn’t be too far off writing book reviews, so I went with films about AI, mostly as an excuse to watch ‘Ex Machina’ again and pick it apart.

      But doing that assessment definitely got me thinking more about AI and sentience so I’d definitely be interested to read/watch more things along those lines. I’ll be checking that comic out for sure – thanks for the rec!

      Like

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