by Adam Rifkin, Les Toil (Boom!, 2008)

It's a cute idea that kind of, sort of works.

Imagine a world where robots have been designed that will take over the mundane and dangerous but necessary tasks that keep society running. Now imagine a world where government bureaucracy and low-bid contracts have produced a multitude of faulty 'bots that are lazy, incompetent and surly. That's the world of Shmobots.

The book revolves around Miles, something of a loser guy in his 30s who hangs around with shmobots Rusty, 69.5 and Eyeballs. Together, they have a band, but no steady income. All of them are perpetually horny, and the three 'bots have extendable or attachable penises that allow them to enjoy sexual congress with humans as well as fellow robots. Apparently they enjoy it, although it's never made clear how or why.

There's also a nice Jewish girl who's been having a year-long affair with a sexbot, and her shlumpy husband who is enraged to learn of her numerous transgressions. There's a pretty diner waitress who doesn't like 'bots. There are several hookers and exotic dancers. There's a world-weary doorman.

There's a general prejudice against shmobots, who are viewed by many as a worthless drain on society. Their rights under the Constitution are sketchy at best.

Oh, and there's a killer on the loose who likes to cut shmobots into tiny, unrepairable pieces.

Against all odds, the concept works -- at least, it's entertaining on its most basic levels. The three 'bots and their boy are comic relief of the slapstick-and-sadsack variety, but I can't help but think the idea had more potential than writer Adam Rifkin drew from it. Maybe next time he'll delve a little deeper into the possibilities.

review by
Tom Knapp

6 September 2008

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