JAK037 is a warbot.
Built for the sole purpose of killing the enemies of Dalrea, he has survived longer than any other and is the last of his generation still in operation. Being the last JAK model, he is simply referred to as Jak, no unit number necessary. When word comes of a treaty with their nemesis, Carthia, Jak holds out hope his final days will be ones without war. It is with disappointment he learns the treaty is so a new front can be opened against a race of settlers from another world.
In the coming conflict, can Jak and his comrades of aged warbots survive against an enemy with superior technology? In a mission to wipe out the settlers, will it succeed? Or will Jak’s days finally be numbered. With the aid of a human child, a seven-year-old girl named Hannah, Jak hopes to end the war and save his people from what he believes is a looming disaster. It’s a race where not only humans but Carthians, Dalreans, robotic laws, and his own failing body all conspire to stop him.
This book is a satisfying read, somewhat a cross between Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot” and Mark Owen’s “No Easy Day”. It also reminds me quite a bit of Nevil Shute’s work, particularly in the straightforward description of various scenes of conflict.
The book is certainly science fiction, but in the contemporary mode, where the emphasis is more on the characters and the situation, and less on the intricacies of the science.
At a high level, the story is nicely structured, with a solid introduction, a rapidly paced and logically developing story, and a satisfying conclusion. The author has a straightforward writing style that makes the book a surprisingly fast read, particularly given the level of detail of some of the scenes.
Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC for this novel. However, both the decision to post a review and the contents of the review are voluntary and my own alone.
I liked a lot of things about the story:
The wearing out of robots: Most science fiction stories gloss over the likelihood that robots will be extremely expensive to maintain and repair. This story addresses that problem directly, as our protagonist JAK 037 (aka Jak) has a number of unresolved maintenance issues that accumulate as the story progresses. As humans, we are pretty used to being self-repairing (at least to a large extent) and I liked the way that Jak’s continually degrading maintenance issues provided tension in the story. It gave an odd sort of unconscious heroism to Jak’s actions that worked very well.
Hannah: Every robot needs a quest, and in this story Jak’s quest is to return Hannah (who is a child of the enemy) to her people after Jak kills her father. This worked better than I expected as it allowed for contrast between Jak’s generally blunt and militaristic approach to things, and Hannah’s more idealistic view of the world. This is most certainly not new (the 1939 Isaac Asimov story “Robbie” has many of the same elements, as does the 2021 series “Bad Batch”). Whether original or not, it gave an empathic underpinning to the story that I rather liked (I didn’t expect to like this when Hannah first appeared in the story, by the way; but it grew on me!)
Robotic laws: Of course, no robotic story is free without some version of the Laws of Robotics (note my comment about Asimov above) and this story is no exception. In this story, Jak’s Laws of Robotics are deleted upon his request so that he can return Hannah to her people. Jak is surprisingly flexible (particularly for a war robot) which raises all sorts of interesting questions about “What is free will anyway?” that aficionados of the genre will enjoy pondering.
Rational conflict scenes: Jak is a warbot, so it is inevitable that there will be conflict situations. Conflict in science fiction stories can degrade pretty rapidly into strings of unrealistic back-to-back combat situations (think video-game). That didn’t really happen here. Yes, the conflict was focused and grim (this is probably not a story for the under-13 group), but it tended to be well-thought out, realistic, and consistent with Jak’s quest.
There was really just one thing I struggled with in this story, which was that Jak is perhaps too human. Jak NEVER came across to me as a robot (in spite of all his mechanical issues). Instead, he seemed to be an entity with significant biological content (a clone or a cyborg or something similar – basically, human grafted to mechanical). The issue is that Jak is repeatedly described as having emotions of one type or another, which struck me as a stretch for a warbot. I could see a warbot going through complex decision trees to determine his next actions, but Jak is regularly described as experiencing emotions. “I get melancholy …”, “I feel euphoria …”, “I feel for them …”, “I feel sorry for him …” and the like. This doesn’t detract from the story, by the way; but did push the story further away from the “classic” science fiction category and more into the contemporary category.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 11 members
Everything I want in a good read! It’s not every day that I read a book narrated by a robot. And JAK037, aka JAK, is not an ordinary robot. He is a warbot, designed for fighting in the conflicts between Dalreans and Carthians, the native inhabitants of the planet Mervos. Throwing human settlers into the mix of enemies presents some new challenges. as JAK discovers during their first encounter. I will say no more about the story line because it would be mean to spoil any of it. The idea of a robot narrator was appealing, but the fact that he is a warbot made me wonder if the book would be just a succession of battles. I was delighted to discover that I was wrong. There is plenty of action and an exciting plot that made the book hard to put down, but there is much more to the narration. War necessarily involves violence and death, but JAK mourns the loss of his comrades and even regrets the deaths of some enemies. The characters come across as warm and “human”, even the ones made of metal. The first-“person” narrative gives us a chance to see into JAK’s mind, and what I loved most about the book was his intelligent and down-to-earth philosophical musing about things like war, ethics, free will, and life in general. These were beautifully expressed in observations like “to truly enjoy a nice, sunny, breezy day the way a Dalrean can is beyond my ability, True life senses are just not in my makeup. Too bad. I bet it feels wonderful.” It makes me appreciate being a human just a bit more! War and free will in particular present interesting challenges for JAK. He admires the various warring species doing acts of kindness as they recognize what they have in common, but like all robots he is bound by the laws built into all mechanical beings that force them to obey orders. Of course, Isaac Asimov’s robot stories were the model for most modern robot SF. Requiem for a Genocide fits that model very well but is original and a delight to read. I think Isaac himself would give it five stars! I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book from Netgalley and the author.