Hugo reading 2018: The Secret Life of Bots, by Suzanne Palmer

The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer was perfectly fine, but appealed to me less. The viewpoint character is Bot 9, an elderly robot, which is woken up to perform maintenance on an equally old ship headed to a perilous destination. The ship, it seems, is the very last ship left, being sent in a last-ditch attempt to save Earth from invasion.

The ship is captained by humans, but by and large run by bots, and the bots are the main characters in this book. The Bots are numbered in order of construction, and most of the bots on this ship are in the 8000s and above, and highly specialised, where Bot 9 is a multibot, capable of a variety of tasks. Bot 9 also has an Improvisation Routine, not included in later robots, because it made them unpredictable. The newer robots tend to view Bot 9 with a combination of respect and pity, and part of the story could be said to be about Bot 9 finding its place among the robot crew.

Altogether, this is a perfectly good robots-in-space sort of story. It presents a problem and solves it with the tasks to hand, and the robot characters are quite interesting. I like their ‘botnet’, which seems to be IM for robots, which allows them to share information – far more than the human crew might realise or desire – and make decisions based on that information.

I can’t quite say why this one isn’t my cup of tea. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but I don’t love it. It’s probably going to sit in the middle of my ballot, unless everything on the list turns out to be brilliant.

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