Title: A Robot in the Garden
Author: Deborah Install
Genre: Science fiction
Release date: 10th May, 2016
“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.