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Shelf Care | Stories Inspired by Love, Death, and Robots

By Alex Doyle

Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: Love, Death and Robots – a show based on short stories by contemporary authors, is streaming now on Netflix.  The anthology series is definitely making a comeback in the age of streaming. While Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone are probably the best-known examples of this (and I may have mentioned them in a previous column), there’s also a collection of short science fiction animated stories by contemporary authors on Netflix entitled Love, Death and Robots. Reviewing that would be a whole ‘nother column (although the takeaway is that some stories work better than others, the animation is fantastic, and a lot of the content is R rated, so you may want the kids to give it a pass.) But the really interesting part to me was seeing content from contemporary authors. So, I hunted down three short story collections that had the source material for a few episodes to take a look at what happened between the page and the screen. Here’s what I found:

So if you liked:

The episode Three Robots

Comedy and horror

Fairies that aren’t straight outta Disney
Robots that may not be trying to kill you

You might like: Robots vs. Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

 

Overview: The short stories from different authors alternate between tales of fairies and robots

The TV Tie-In: Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From The Era of Humans For The First Time, by John Scalzi, wherein three different types of robots examine what’s left of human culture in a post-human future.The adaptation: was a rare case of the video being better than the source material. While it was absolutely faithful to the original story, the animation allowed for the introduction of visual jokes, as well as inflection in line delivery that made it even better.

Sample Passage:

OBJECT THREE: A CAT.

Xbox 4000: What’s the point of this thing?

11-45-G: Apparently no point. They just had them.

K-VRC: Well, that’s underselling their influence. They had an entire network that was devoted to dissemination of pictures of these things.

Xbox 4000: Dudes, it’s in my lap now. What do I do?

11-45-G: No sudden moves. Wait until it decides to get up again?

Xbox 4000: How long will that take?

11-45-G: Don’t know. Maybe years.

Takeaway: For such a seemingly weird concept, this collection was very well put together with a number of interesting takes on the subject matter. Each story has an afterword by its author explaining why they are Team Fairy or Team Robot. While like any anthology collection, the quality of the stories will vary some, this one is overall pretty good, and don’t just take my word for it: it’s been nominated for several Locus awards.

Notable mention: Just Another Love Song, by Kat Howard, wherein a banshee working as a busker runs into a guy who isn’t dying when he should in this well thought out urban fantasy.

Or if you liked:

The episodes Zima Blue and Beyond the Aquila Rift

Larry Niven’s Known Space stories
Hard science fiction
Alien aliens

You might like Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds, by Alastair Reynolds

Overview: A collection of his short (warning: may contain novellas) stories

The TV Tie-in: Beyond the Aquila Rift, wherein a spaceship has made a serious navigational error, resulting in it’s captain unexpectedly encountering an old flame.

The adaptation: puts a whole lot more emphasis on the physical relationship between the captain and his love interest (did I mention the show was R-rated?) and doesn’t get into the details of how the ship ended up where it did. Without dropping spoilers, I think the story ended on a note that was a bit more hopeful and clearer about the captain’s predicament, but some episode viewers had a darker take on things. Your mileage may vary.

Sample passage:

YOU KNOW THAT “as soon as I awoke I knew everything was wrong” cliché? You’ve probably heard it a thousand times, in a thousand bars across the Bubble, wherever ship crews swap tall tales over flat, company-subsidized beer. The trouble is that sometimes that’s exactly the way it happens. I never felt good after a period in the surge tank. But the only time I had ever come around feeling anywhere near this bad was after that trip I took to the edge of the Bubble.

Unfortunately, the sense of wrongness didn’t end with the tank. The Blue Goose was much too quiet. We should have been heading away from the last exit aperture after our routing. But the distant, comforting rumble of the fusion engines wasn’t there at all. That meant we were in free-fall.

Not good.

Takeaway: This collection reminded me a lot of Larry Niven’s Known Space series, in that a lot of them are set at different points in the same future history. Not all of the stories pay off spectacularly, but there is a really good hit to miss ratio in this collection.

Notable Mention: Diamond Dogs – A sci-fi mix of heist films and Hellraiser, where a select team explores an alien artifact that asks increasingly difficult questions, and brutally punishes incorrect answers.

Or if you liked:

The episode Good Hunting

Steampunk

Stories told from a non-western cultural background

A mix of genres in your short story collections

You might like: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu

Overview: A collection of short stories that run the gamut from the fantastical to the historical.

The TV Tie In: Good Hunting, wherein a magical creature has to adapt to a world where technology is coming and magic is going.

The adaptation: is pretty faithful to the source material, streamlining it some and giving the creature a clearer sense of purpose which is implied in the story, but never spelled out.

Sample passage

On the streets of Kowloon, we bought pastries and fruits and cold dumplings and a steamed chicken and incense and paper money, and caught up on each other’s lives.

“How’s hunting?” I asked. We both laughed.

“I miss being a fox,” she said. She nibbled on a chicken wing absentmindedly. “One day, shortly after that last time we talked, I felt the last bit of magic leave me. I could no longer transform.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, unable to offer anything else.

“My mother taught me to like human things: food, clothes, folk opera, old stories. But she was never dependent on them. When she wanted, she could always turn into her true form and hunt. But now, in this form, what can I do? I don’t have claws. I don’t have sharp teeth. I can’t even run very fast. All I have is my beauty, the same thing that your father and you killed my mother for. So now I live by the very thing that you once falsely accused my mother of doing: I lure men for money.”

“You told me once that the only thing we can do is to survive. I have to thank you for that. It probably saved my life.”

“Then we’re even,” she said, smiling. “But let us not speak of ourselves anymore. Tonight is reserved for the ghosts.”

Takeaway: The collection covers a lot of ground, featuring science fiction, fantasy, and some historical fiction too. Ken Liu skillfully draws on his cultural background in his writing, which brings a fresh perspective to genres that traditionally draw on western culture.

Notable Mention: The Regular – wherein a near future private investigator uses her cybernetic enhancements to handle both criminals and her own inner demons.

So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the Facebook comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: Science for Everyone!

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About Alex Doyle (40 Articles)
Alex Doyle is a father, programmer, smartass and a fan of anything that wastes no time to getting to the point. When he's not trying to be clever on the Internet, or irritating his kids with dad jokes, he can be found looking for the next great story that everyone has to read.

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