In the Lives of Puppets by T.J. Klune
Published by Tor Books
Publication date: April 25, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction
They gave us life, and eventually, the power of decision-making. We were rational creations, not guided by emotion. Our jobs were simple: to do what we were told when we were told to do it. But with their teachings came a price they did not expect: we began to ask why?
A father, son, and their two eccentric robots are the tight knit cast of T.J. Klune’s new novel, In the Lives of Puppets. They live happily in a compound deep in a forest until one of the son’s adventures leads to unimaginable consequences, forcing them to leave their beloved home behind and venture into lands unknown to reclaim the only lives and love they’ve ever known.
Deep within the forest Gio Lawson built himself a small compound where he lived, inventing, building, creating for three years. But as the echoes of loneliness begin to fill his heart a miraculous event occurred; a man and a woman find him and beg him to take their infant son. An abandoned child doesn’t normally count as a miracle. But in Lives of Puppets it is, because the child is human. Gio is not. He’s an android, but he becomes a father to Vic, raising him as his son. They live in isolated joy pillaging what they call the Scrap Yards, massive piles of detritus discarded by others Vic has never met. From these piles he rescues and modifies Rambo, an anxious, childlike vacuum cleaner and Nurse Ratched, a nursing bot.
Life is simple until Vic unearths an unusual android. Unlike the bits and parts he usually finds this one is not only almost complete it still has some power left. It’s the rescuing of this robot they call Hap that leads to a tragic series of events and launches them on their quest.
Klune writes characters so joyously with such humor and heart I will read his novels for them alone. Nurse Ratched deserves an Oscar, a Pulitzer, whatever prize one would give to a fictional robot. She is programmed as a nurse, but has a humorously sadistic side, meaning she loves to spout the worst possible outcomes, threaten the most unpleasant treatments, all while flashing trite sayings on her display panel. Her wit is desert dry and fabulous.
All of the details In the Lives of Puppets are vivid and draw the reader in thanks to Klune’s world building skills. In times like these, when AI becomes less a matter of science fiction and more a reality, its pairing with the technology to make human-like robots, is inevitable, and frightening. Klune looks this fear squarely in the face and flips it, providing a broader perspective and in doing so dilutes fear with understanding.
At the same time, I found the plot less compelling than the characters. It felt more surface, with a futuristic Wizard of Oz vibe. In the Lives of Puppets is entertaining, but it lacks the emotional resonance of his other novels. The robots and dialogue carry the day.
For a Klune novel that has it all The House in the Cerulean Sea is my favorite.
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