Three flying saucers
This is an ambitious story, as every character is a robot; there are no humans or bugs or squids, only metal parts and circuitry. Two human-built robots (a lander and a rover) touch down on what was once an alien mining colony, and interact with the abandoned alien robots.
What I really loved about the story was the danger that the human-built robots encountered. There was a large piece of robotic mining equipment which went feral and become territorial, smashing any other robot it encountered within its area. An even more dangerous threat was “The Body”, an organized group of robots which struck me as a cross between a communist horde and a wave of army ants. The Body strips the solar panels (the only power source on the planet) from robots and facilities it captures, as it wants to keep all power production centralized and dole out the power as it sees fit. The Body also disassembles robots for spare parts, so non-Body robots generally flee when it approaches.
Robots that don’t join the Body must find other ways of obtaining power, or they will go dark and be disassembled by the Body or by opportunistic scavengers. To me, this whole scenario is reminiscent of starvation policies which have been utilized by communist governments on Earth. The bleak setting of an abandoned industrial facility really works well with the plot.
There are a few problems which didn’t ruin the the story, but caused me to stop reading for a few seconds and think about what the author was doing. I should have been reading further and becoming more immersed, but instead I was thinking about things like these:
During the landing, the rover tries to peek through a window which doesn’t give it a very good view, so that it can give directions to the lander about how to land properly. Shouldn’t the lander robot have been programmed with the best techniques for landing? Or if the rover had some legitimate reason to have more thinking power, then why not give it a nice window, or patch it into the lander’s sensors?
Although the story makes it clear that human-built robots think in a human-designed binary language and translate the communications from the other robots’ alien-designed binary language, the author says that one of the alien robots speaks in a female tone. I don’t know how this would translate across two levels of binary robot-speak, or why the human robots would even understand what was female, as the alien robot-building species had never been encountered.
At times, the author slips up and robots in the story seem to show emotion. That’s the difficulty in writing an all-robot story: the author has to make the reader feel emotion about what is going to happen to the robots, but the robots themselves can’t express any emotions.
There are some editing errors (such as “then” in place of “than”) which I wish had been cleaned up by an editor or a beta reader. There were also a few instances of awkward language which briefly distracted me from the story:
Metal on the planet isn’t rusting due to “the lack of abundant moisture”. While this might be technically correct, reading about the lack of a lot of something is a bit odd.
One of the robots is a sort of flatbed truck that carries other robots around, but it is described as a “long flat transport of subhuman dimensions”. I don’t really know what that means. Is it smaller than a human truck? Is it smaller than a human? I’ve unknowingly been reading about tiny robots all along?
The abandoned, robot-only environment and its frightening dangers make this story worth reading, outweighing its relatively minor problems. There is a slightly longer sequel, The One Who Turned Them On, which I’m sure I’ll read soon.