The Wrong Unit *****
by Rob Dircks

Automation is such a beautiful human concept, or is it?

I received an ARC of this delightful tale on audiobook and let me just say, there is nothing better for last minute holiday errands than a tale artificial intelligence turning the world into a deserted wilderness.  In the 29th century Core watches over humanity in Sanctuary, the Earth’s lone massive community. Units control everything from security, to maintenance, to surgery. Hey You is a servile unit, who works with a group of humans in Sanctuary’s farm sector.

A rogue group of humans mistake Hey You for their operative and teleport the unit far outside of Core’s Sanctuary. Hey You was designed to help humans, but the unit had never encountered an infant until the robot found itself alone in the snow with one.

To the infant’s good fortune, servile units like Hey You are designed to learn, adapt, and cope with adversity in order to build relationships with the humans they serve. With half a map and half a clue on parenting, Hey You names his little charge Waa and the pair set off to find a way home.

One of the themes in this book poses the question- What does it mean to be a person? Human beings love to personify animals, vehicles, Siri, and even weather. Where is the line between an imitation and a person? I think Dircks poses the question well.

I think the novel also does a fine job of combining a traveling adventure with the growth and change of our protagonist Hey You. His reactions are first the mandate of his program, but then task to protect and deliver Waa becomes a labor of love. This is a story about a boy and his robot foster dad, discovering and fighting for what is really important in the world.

The author also narrated the audiobook and did an outstanding job! Each character has a distinct voice and Hey You really sounds like a robot, in my opinion. More than once, the characterization reminded me of Data from Star Trek TNG. It was exciting to hear Hey You encountering slang and trying to invent names for things he didn’t have on memory, like snow and wolves.

The pace of the novel was perfect. Normally I like to road trip audiobooks, but with xmas around the corner, I had to get stuck in snowy weather on the highway like every over cog in our consumer culture. Listening for spurts of 30-90 minutes left me in Hey You and Waa’s plight as I slogged a stroller through the mall and drove two towns over for the hard to find wooden train.

I love walking and there was plenty of it in this book. I know that next time I’m walking and I get a full eye full of untamed Earth, I’ll think back on the adventure I shared with Hey You and Waa.

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