Rec: “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Uncanny #18 September/October 2017, science fiction short story

Computron is a sentient robot who was created in 1954 in this alternate history story. Years later, he is part of a museum and sometimes answers questions from the audience to demonstrate his sentience. When one questioner asks him if he’s familiar with an anime called Hyperdimension Warp Record which features a robot similar to him, he admits he is not but, later that night, checks it out. The story discusses his entry into the world of anime and fanfic along with his collaboration with a human fanfic writer.

This is a very different story from “A Series of Steaks” from the same author, which I recommended earlier this year, but shares the same sparkling wit. There seems to be an ambiguity in the title where it’s a primer for robots on how to get into fandom but is also speaking of people’s appreciation of robots. There are in-references such as Computron’s being part of the Simak Museum (and perhaps even the Ellison and Williamson references aren’t coincidental) though, oddly, there’s no Asimov reference. The robot is characterized in an amusing way, describing how he can’t possibly be frustrated by it not being time for the show to air, yet constantly checking the time all the same. The descriptions of the quality of much of the fanfic and the chat between a couple of fans were especially funny.

I’m not sure how to interpret the story’s core, though. It obviously deals with “futures past” and how that which seems futuristic at one time becomes dated at another. It also has a elegiac feel when describing how few people seem to care about the old robots and how low-priority the information on them is. But it seems to be a celebration of those images and concepts and perhaps a call to embrace them and continue to reinvent them. There are a couple of contrary notes in the Hexode destruction incident and maybe a subtheme that humans are best suited to write humans while robots are best suited to write robots. Be that as it may, this story entertained me, evoked sympathy for the character(s), and was engagingly written. My only non-thematic quibble was that “bjornruffian” seemed to accept Computron (with the nick/screen name “RobotFan”) as human too easily and thoroughly (Computron’s not unknown and it and the museum would be easily researched, even aside from RobotFan’s remarkable commitment to its robot “role” as “RobotFan”). All in all, another good tale from a likely rising star.

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Rec: “A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad

In the course of finishing Clarkesworld I found another I especially liked.

“A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, January 2017 Clarkesworld, science fiction novelette

Helena is a nice girl with a dark past who is hiding under an assumed name in a temporary residence in China, working in a “gray area” as a forger of beef using a 3D printer. One day, she’s blackmailed by a mysterious and viciously foul-tempered person who demands a large amount of steaks. Eventually, working under a deadline she feels she can’t meet (almost typed “meat” there) she hires Lily, a boisterous, colorful bundle of energy and things get really interesting as the pair continue to work on the project while also working to get out from under the mysterious man’s thumb.

I’ve read plenty of 3D printing stories for years now but it’s still a strangely underdeveloped theme and I don’t think I’ve read one about steaks before. Beyond that, this story is constructed very well (though it’s a little long), and is extremely vivacious, funny, and entertaining. I don’t know if I’d want to read dozens of stories with the exact same tone which might have the same exhausting effect Lily sometimes has on Helena, but I really enjoyed reading this one. Even the present tense narration didn’t particularly bother me. My one quibble is that, while clever and somewhat satisfying (especially in the details), the conclusion wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as such a big wind up led me to expect. And, of course, if the narrative tone and the two main characters don’t appeal to you, the story is unlikely to, but then you’re immune to some pretty charming stuff.