“‘You know,’ added Alma, ‘the older I get, the more I think it’s not war or politics or all that stuff that makes history what it is. From what I can see, it’s all about the house prices.'”
Imagine a world in which robots and machines have decided that they are superior to the humans that created them and have taken over the world. That’s the setting of Chris McCrudden’s Battlestar Suburbia.
Humans have been reduced to custodians, and live on small satellites in orbit around Earth, called The Dolestars. They exist to service their machine overlords, and that’s about it.
In this world, the internet has been completely banned, and anyone that uses it will be persecuted, whether machine or human.
“Of course, officially no one had accessed the Internet for millennia. The ‘Schism’ between the machines who lived as software and hardware dated back to the first few foggy decades after artificial intelligence kicked humanity out of power. There had been a war. A brutal one, with countless machines dead on either side just from defending their edits on the war’s Wikipedia page. It had been the first, and thankfully the last, incident where robots fought one another. In the end they agreed on two things: that they should try living apart, and if anyone were to blame it was the humans.”
The story follows two humans, Darren and Kelly, as well as a sentient breadmaker named Pamasonic Teffal, aka Pam.
Darren and Kelly are on the run after accidentally damaging a floating spy streetlamp. Pam has been asked to track the humans down by a smartphone named Sonny Erikzon.
Kelly leads Darren to her mother’s underground hair salon, Kurl Up and Dye, where he is introduced to the last four cyborgs in existence. Together, they fight against the machines as they reject their robot rulers. The tale is an exciting adventure through the Dolestar Discovery and the robot surface of the earth, where the skyscrapers reach high into the atmosphere and the oceans have been filled with concrete.
Battlestar Suburbia reminds me a lot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s funny, exciting, and very ridiculous. I had never heard of Chris McCrudden before, but the cover caught my eye, and after reading the synopsis, I had a strong feeling I would love this book.
I loved the premise of both software and hardware deciding they no longer wanted to be ruled by humans and then gaining control of the planet. There are so many scenes of what the internet has become that made me laugh:
“On the Internet, however, World of Warcraft avatars merged with Reddit trolls to spawn a line of programmes so fanatical about defending the purity of their messageboards that they made a terrorist cell look like a basketful of sleeping kittens.”
The machine brothels were also pretty hilarious. Machines pay humans to “service” them, and role-play that humans are still able to use the machines as what they were originally meant to be.
There’s also a quip at our current administration and racism:
“Sonny’s broadcast was a masterful piece of propaganda, in that it gave already paranoid machines the excuse to treat their prejudices like they were facts. ‘Now, don’t get me wrong,’ rang the conversation in billions of homes, offices and public charging points, ‘I like humans. The lady who cleans our house is a sweetheart. But these people are different. And he’s right. We have to do something.”
I enjoyed the book very much as an adventure story. It’s fast-paced, and the characters travel through both the physical world and the world of code. It’s interesting to have characters divide themselves and work among memes and firewalls.
There was one aspect of this book that prevented me from giving it five stars, and that’s simply that I could not picture the machine characters, at all. Are these sentient breadmakers and smartphones just floating? Do they have human-style arms and legs? I have no idea. Most of the book, I pictured some variation on this:
There are scenes where Pam has an LED nail job, so I’m guessing they at least have arms attached? I wish the author had spent more time describing the machine characters in order to give the readers something easier to imagine.
At the end of the book, there’s a brief advertisement for the second book in this series, which made me really happy. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
4 out of 5 stars. It was immensely enjoyable to read, and I appreciate any book that makes me laugh out loud.