Review: Robosoldiers: Thank You for Your Servos, edited by Stephen Lawson
Robosoldiers is an anthology all about - you guessed it - artificial troopers. Some of these futuristic servicemen are mechanically enhanced humans, some are all software, but all were built with warfare in mind, whether that be bomb defusing, PTSD counseling, or straight up blowing stuff up.
The stories in this anthology run the gamut from straight-up action adventure to political thriller to psychological sci-fi. Stories range from a soldier pinned down in the Hindu Kush with only her robot companion at her side to a retired technician with a new calling as feral robot tamer to a bomb squad expert working with an AI colleague to resolve a hostage situation to an astronaut having to deal with a computer that has fallen in love with her. Each of these stories is different enough that it doesn’t feel repetitive, but each maintain a common thread that keeps the anthology working as a coherent whole. I would not say that the stories all have the same tone, but when the tone does change, it does so seamlessly without jarring the reader going from one story to the next.
You might expect the most interesting characters in Robosoldiers to be the robots and computers, and you would not be far off: the artificial warriors are the main show more often than not. But their human companions are not given short shrift, either. The interplay between artificial intelligences and the human protagonists is where this anthology really shines, often playing with the gaps in perspectives between humans and computers that can lead to deadly misalignment of priorities on one hand or, on the other hand, a gestalt combination superior to either synthetic or biological alone. Some of my favorite characters include a double amputee astronaut, a computer that thinks its in love with its operator, a PTSD survivor with an AI therapist implanted into in her brain, and a bomb defusing robot intent on being the best it can be.
The worlds span the globe and beyond. Settings range from the jungles of Belize to the mountains of Afghanistan to Russia to the Strait of Taiwan to Antarctica to near-earth orbit to the Lunar surface to down home on American soil. The varied settings bring out the distinct subgenres of each of these stories well, whether it be the Tom Clancy-esque globe hopping around a near-future showdown between the USA and the PRC, or the intimate setting of the living room of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress from enduring a brutal period in captivity.
Real world politics in this anthology only really comes to play in a global sense, save for a few instances. By and large, the Russians and Chinese are the enemies. Americans are generally the protagonists, and usually the “good guys,” though there is some grumbling about U.S. politicians, and an instance of domestic conflict within the states.
There is plenty of violence in the anthologies, although most of it is not described in graphic detail. That being said, there are on-screen depictions of decapitations, maiming, and plenty of gunshots. There are offscreen implications of rape, abuse, and torture.
Who is it for?
Robosoldiers is easily for anyone who loves military sci-fi thrillers, especially if you love depictions of unmanned robots in combat situations. I also think anyone interested in the psychology of artificial intelligence will be pleasantly surprised by the anthology.
Why read it?
Read Robosoldiers for the thoughtful depictions of human interactions with unmanned combat drones, cybernetics, and nanobots, as well as the barriers in communication between human and artificial intelligences. Also read it for the awesome scenes of robot soldiers blowing stuff up and being blown up.