Love, Death and Robots

Love, Death and Robots

love death and robots

I was pretty excited when I saw this anthology pop up. I mean a collection of sci-fi stories that have been animated? Yes please! Then I saw that almost all the stories had been written by men and it was in fact a very male project and I deflated somewhat. There are still some good stories in here that are worth a look, but the fact that it’s not a massively diverse production shows and that was a shame. I hope if they do more in future they will look at that.

There are only two stories written by women as far as I can tell, it’s harder to be sure about other diversities without looking up the authors in more detail. One story is for sure written by a person of colour, unsure about any of the others though and certainly no idea about sexuality representation except to say that the stories don’t have much of that in them.

 

Sonnie’s Edge (4*)

Written by Peter F Hamilton

sonnie

The first short is about a feminine presenting person who pilots a fighting monster in an arena, the only woman to do so. She is asked to throw the next match by a rich man and refuses. It is suggested that the fact she was gang raped a year previously is what gives her the edge in fights and why she has had such a long-running streak in the arena.

Bad: Rape as a background for a female character is very, very tired and was only necessary as a misdirection.

Good: Above motivation does not turn out to be what gives her the edge she has in a fight, which I actually appreciated. Also liked the casually queer character, that was a nice touch.

Generally this is fine to watch, with the caveats regarding her backstory as mentioned above. The ending is quite satisfying.

 

Three Robots (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

three robots

Three robots are on holiday in a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s a beautiful nod to Terminator a short while in where one of the robots steps on and breaks a human skull. It’s overall a very humorous look at them not really understanding human things and making a lot of wrong assumptions. The bit with the cat is absolutely perfect, especially the reference to Exploding Kittens.

Bad: There is use of pussy as an insult early on which always annoys me. No need for that really. I don’t mind genitalia-based insults, but where there is no equivalent male swear that means the same thing I dislike it.

Good: Overall one of the best ones in the anthology, well written, makes some interesting points about the fate of humans and manages to be really quite funny at the same time.

 

The Witness (2*)

Written by Alberto Mielgo

thewitness

A woman in a hotel room witnesses a man murder a woman in the hotel opposite her and runs. He starts pursuing her across time and she becomes more and more desperate to get away from him.

Bad: It’s extremely oversexualised, which for something with violence at the core of it was not a good look for me. There’s a particular scene in a private club which spends ages lingering over shots of naked women or people in BDSM gear and it adds very little to the whole thing other than to titillate and I definitely could have done without it.

There is a “twist” ending which is set up right from the start if you pay close attention and smacked to me of thinking it was way more clever than it actually managed to be.

Recommendation is to give this one a miss the premise isn’t good enough to make up for the way it treats violence against women and in fact women in general if I am honest.

 

Suits (4.5*)

Written by Steven Lewis

Love-Death-Robots-Suits

A group of farmers have some mech suits to help them defend against an incursion of massive bugs. A new wave of them is approaching and the farmers take to their suits to protect what they own. It has a very sci-fi frontier feel about it, helped along by the soundtrack. Mostly it’s a story about normal people working together in difficult circumstances.

Bad: Not much if I am honest. My main complaint would be that it’s the guys who pilot the mechs for the most part whilst the women do support systems, but none of them are useless and the older woman pilot is a badass. There is also a random mother-in-law joke, kinda tired of those.

Good: Pretty much everything else. It’s a good story, well told and it draws you in from start to finish. You find yourself rooting for these people very quickly which makes the events poignant and something you definitely care about.

One to watch, one of the best ones in the anthology.

 

Sucker of Souls (2*)

Written by Kirsten Cross

suckerof souls

The story starts with two men running away from some sort of monster. They appear to be underground. It then flashes back in time to when they uncovered the tomb of something called the sucker of souls.

Bad: The team involved in the expedition appears to be pretty much all men, not a woman in sight.

Good: For some reason I am deeply amused by random monster penis. Was it needed? No, but it was funny. Also, Dracula being afraid of cats which I did appreciate, though it did lead to a pussy joke that I definitely could have done without.

Please note this story does contain ridiculous anime levels of gore so if that is a problem for you then definitely skip this one. Other than that, it’s not bad. It’s not a great story, I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting about it though.

 

When the Yoghurt Took Over (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

yoghurt

This is a bizarre little story about how humanity was taken over by sentient yoghurt. The narrator appears to the same voice actor who voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain and that is distracting. Not sure what else to say about the plot, watch it and see how it unfolds is what I recommend.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a fun little story with an excellent point to it.

Good: It’s surreal, it’s weird and it’s well done. Definitely watch it.

 

Beyond the Aquila Drift (4*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

aquila

The crew of a ship execute a jump to their destination, but something goes wrong and they end up a long way from home and must deal with the consequences of what that means, with the help of someone else who is stranded out there.

Bad: Not much really, it’s a very human portrayal of what would be a pretty terrifying experience.

Good: It’s nice to see something that plays with perception and reality and also shows that compassion is by no means solely a human thing.

 

Good Hunting (4*)

Written by Ken Liu

good hunting

The son of a spirit hunter makes friends with a spirit and together they navigate a world changing from one of magic to one of technology, both being harmed by the influence of the British Empire on China.

Bad: Lots of sexualisation of women, there is a point to it but it’s still frustrating, especially when the motivations of the main female character are largely based on revenge for her treatment at the hands of her clients.

Good: It’s one of the few stories in this collection with diverse representation at the heart of it. It also does not shy away from being quite blunt about the effect of colonialism and racism on a people. I also enjoyed the Steampunk elements of it, as well as seeing how that sort of genre can be approached in a different way.

 

The Dump (2*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

dump

An old man who lives in a dump faces eviction and tells the guy a story about what happened with a friend of his not that long ago as a delaying tactic.

Bad: I really didn’t like this one, no female characters in it to have an issue with, but my main problem was just that I hated all of the characters and as a result found it impossible to care about their predicament or what was happening to them.

Generally I would say skip this one as well, not worth bothering with.

 

Shape-Shifters (3*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Love-Death-Robots-Shape-Shifters

A group of werewolves are part of US operations in the middle east and are not well liked by the rest of the soldier, derogatorily called dog soldiers, they run into some trouble with some local werewolves.

Bad: Another entirely male orientated story with the typical sorts of sexist jokes that is expected and taken for granted as being part of the military and whilst that may be true, perpetuating that it is OK does not help make the service comfortable for anyone not coded as your typical male.

Good: It’s overall not a bad story, I quite like the idea of how a military force would deal with deploying supernaturals. It also has a strong core of male friendship at the core of it and that’s definitely something I can get behind.

 

Helping Hand (5*)

Written by Claudine Griggs

Love-Death-Robots-Helping-Hand

A woman on a solo mission runs into trouble and has only herself to rely on to get her out of it. It’s a pretty harrowing tale of what can go wrong in space and the lengths people can go to in order to try and survive it.

Bad: Um, nothing really. It’s one of the few stories in this collection told from the perspective of a woman that isn’t sexualised or deals with sexualised violence.

Good: All of it really. Excellent characterisation, it shows well the dangers that someone might experience in space and the things people are capable of doing in the direst of circumstances to help themselves. She doesn’t need rescuing, she manages the whole thing herself and I loved it for all of that.

 

Fish Night (3*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

fish night

Two Salesmen get stuck in the desert when their car breaks down and they witness the ghosts of ancient seas flying around overhead.

Bad: It’s pretty predictable about what will happen in some ways, at least after the initial weirdness happens.

Good: The ghosts are an interesting concept and drawn very beautifully onscreen, I mostly wish more had been done with this concept than once but it’s enjoyable enough.

 

Lucky 13 (5*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Lucky-13-Love-Death-and-Robots

This story is about a female pilot recounting her time when she flew a ship called Lucky 13, which was assumed to be anything but.

Bad: Nothing really.

Good: Seriously I really loved this one, the main character is a black, female pilot and the story is told well and is a lovely look at the bond between a pilot and ship, especially in the midst of war. It’s also another one of the few stories where the motivation of the female character

 

Zima Blue (5*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

love-death-and-robots-zima-blue

An artist known as Zima Blue tells the story of his origins to a journalist before he unveils his last artwork and it is not quite what she expected to hear.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a lovely story and it’s portrayed very well on screen.

Good: It’s a beautiful story about the nature of art, being a person and what true fulfilment can look like. The ending is a bittersweet triumph and I really enjoyed this story.

 

Blindspot (3*)

Written by Vitaliy Shushko

blindspot

A group of cyborg thieves try and pull off a heist and things do not quite go quite as well as would be expected. Pretty gory and very anime in feel.

Bad: One female character who almost immediately has to defend herself from sexist jokes thrown her way, so very tired of that.

Good: It’s fun enough I guess, and the ending isn’t something I saw coming, though also annoyed me though I won’t explain why as that might ruin it. It may be pretty obvious when you see it though.

 

Ice Age (5*)

Written by Michael Swanwick

ice age

A couple find that they have an entire civilisation developing in their ancient fridge at a highly accelerated rate and watch it evolving in front of them.

Bad: It’s not a massively original premise, but it is done well so it’s not a big detriment.

Good: It’s well done, it’s amusing, though the very end shot does make my inner archaeologist twitch a bit.

 

Alternate Histories (4*)

Written by John Scalzi

alternate histories

Multiversity is an alternative history app which shows you a demo of what would happen if Adolf Hitler’s death had happened in different ways. The deaths get increasingly sillier and more amusing.

Bad: It does use sex as one of the deaths, which made me roll my eyes.

Good: It’s a very entertaining and pretty hilarious parody of alternate history as a genre, instead of the more usual what if questions, it does wilder and wilder until you can’t help but laugh at them and I definitely enjoyed that.

 

The Secret War (4*)

Written by David W. Amendola

the secret war

A group of Soviet soldiers hunt monsters that have been killing villagers and track them back to where they came from with the hopes of destroying them all and stopping the onslaught.

Bad: Mostly it’s very brutal and gory so may not be for all. Also all male, which whilst could be seen as accurate, I know that women fought in WW2 so did not have to be that way.

Good: It’s a compelling story and handles it all very well with an ending that is both poignant and pleasing.

The Umbrella Academy (TV)

I keep meaning to do some writing about more things than books and I have failed so far, but with the arrival of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix I finally feel inspired enough to write something.

Firstly I want to say that overall I did enjoy it more than not and it is likely I will keep watching into season 2. But there are elements of it that I found problematic and I want to discuss them further. Warning this blog most definitely contains spoilers, lots of them, so you may want to avoid reading it till you are done watching the whole thing.

One final thing, I know that the series is based on graphic novels. I have not read those so I am only referencing things that happened in the show in this post.

 

 

**WARNING: PAST THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS!**

Now I am done leaving a little spoiler space, let’s get onto the meat of the matter.

Soooo… where to begin. I mostly want to address the treatment of women and PoC in the series because it really does leave a lot to be desired, which is a shame, because the series could have done so much better. This isn’t all going to be negative, don’t worry, I shall try and end it on a positive note, but I do want to cover what I felt were failings.

I shall start with the female characters as I am on more familiar ground there. Firstly I want to say that I do appreciate how many female characters that actually is, it’s nice to see in a series. We have the two female students of the academy out of the 7, Allison and Vanya; Cha Cha the assassin; their mother, Grace; Agnes the waitress at the donut place; Detective Patch; and The Handler.

Allison 

Allison is one of two PoC in the academy group. Her power is basically making gossip true, well it’s supposed to be reality bending through her words, but since she has to start every use of her power with “I heard a rumour” it basically comes down to gossip. So that annoyed me to start, it’s something of a bad female stereotype that we are all terrible gossips so it felt a bit frustrating that this was her power.

I did appreciate that she genuinely cared about her sister, though so many of their conversation seemed to revolve around men that I am not entirely sure the relationship passed the Bechdel test. The fact she was so willing to forgive Vanya and tried to get Luther to let her go when she was imprisoned was excellent, him using his superior physical strength to block her and then creepily following her to her room and deciding to watch her even when she physically brushes him off and turns her back on him was not OK, not when they spent episodes building up the relationship between Allison and Luther.

When I thought they had killed her off towards the end I was absolutely fuming. the last image where there are all the guys looking at her on the ground was such a blatant sense of fridging that it made me visibly grind my teeth together. Yes, she’s not dead. But now she may have lost her power, thus rendering her in some ways weaker and if she ends up having to be looked after/rescued by the rest of them in the next series I will not be remotely surprised.

Vanya

For a good chunk of the series we are confused as to how Vanya can possibly be powerless if she was born in the same circumstances as everyone else. We also watch her be excluded, belittled and pushed away by her family. I see her loneliness and it made me ache for her.

So a guy comes along who actually seems to like her for her, who treats her with love and kindness and then naturally turns out to be a manipulative horror who is using her as a weapon against the rest of her family because he hates them because they laughed at him when he was a teenager. I am not saying that coercive controlling behaviours are not a real problem, but I am not sure it was a good choice with everything else that was going on. Her discovering that people had been lying to her and hiding what she was her whole life could easily have been reasone enough to lose it.

The other thing that confused me is that when we see her with her powers as a child she basically seems to be a callous horror who just casually kills her nannies because she can. This doesn’t remotely fit with anything we see of her later personality and it is pretty unclear if it is trying to say that the power has a separate personality to main Vanya or not.

The fact that her adopted father doesn’t bother trying to teach her control when she is older than four years old, but just sticks her on medication for the rest of the life whilst giving her a complex about never amounting to anything is just adding insult to injury. I would also appreciate the fact that she seems to be the most powerful of all of them if that didn’t automatically come with her becoming the villain.

Cha Cha

Generally I thought she was done quite well. I genuinely liked the partnership with her and Hazel throughout the early stuff and she seemed like the more competent of the two. She was a bit too much kickass woman stereotype at times though and given how much time they spent giving Hazel character development and such, it would have been nice if they had bothered to do the same with Cha Cha.

I kept trying to work out if she was angry with Hazel over the dissolution of their working partnership, or because he was in love with something. Never quite managed to make a decision on how they wanted me to view it.

So not too bad I think, would have liked to see more of her (another female PoC in the same series no less!) and her ending was incredibly disappointing if I am honest. Randomly killed off in the big blast felt a little cheap.

Grace

The mother to the academy children and a robot who seems to basically have been designed to a 1940/50’s stereotypical housewife. I mean, she wasn’t a sex bot so that is a plus point, but I am not sure a nanny bot was really raising the bar for the portrayal of women in the series.

There is also the episode when her own son shuts her down because she seems to be malfunctioning, which I am not entirely sure I got the whole point of. She is taken to be the emotional core of the academy group in some ways, but again she doesn’t have much personality or development and mostly seems to get used as motivation for other characters.

Agnes

Firstly I have to say that I adore that there is an older female love interest subplot in the series. Yes please, more of that. The relationship between her and Hazel is also done really slowly and sweetly, which I also enjoyed.

In fact I was really loving all of that until Cha Cha kidnaps her, ties her to a chair and then threatens her life just to make Hazel suffer. More fridging, no thanks.

The end where she and Hazel die as they share a last kiss I am pretty ambivalent about. On one hand it’s a darkly cute moment, on the other it’s another dead female character and I can do without that for no good reason.

Detective Patch

We basically get introduced to her just long enough for it to be a, hey, this is a kickass police woman who has a history with Diego. She’s smart as hell and good at her job and oh look she’s been killed just to provide motivation for a male character.

More fridging. Seriously, how much can you stick into one series? This was the first instance, but as mentioned above, hardly the last. Oh and she’s another PoC, which just rubs salt in the wound.

The Handler

I am not sure I have much negative stuff to say about her. She’s clearly in charge, definitely competent at her job and pretty darn intimidating at times. As an antagonist she is excellent, though I would love to have more of an understanding as to why she believes so much in the The Commission. Hopefully fuel for season 2 and there will be more of what she is up to and why.

Other Points

So I have gone through the treatment of all the main or commonly recurring female characters and I do want to say a little about the men before I stop. There was a diverse cast, which was excellent, though I think they could have made some more interesting choices in what roles those characters played. The leader of the Academy children seems to be either Luther or 5, depending on how you want to look at it, both white, and Diego’s attempts to be in charge seem to be generally considered with eyerolling by the rest of the group.

Then we have Ben, the only Asian character, who is killed off basically in narration without any explanation of what happened to him. His power is also basically being possessed by Kaiju so yeah… a little bit of a problematic choice there as well. We see very little of him, hear very little of him even though he haunts Klauss and it was honestly pretty frustrating.

Good Things

Honestly this show is worth watching for Klauss alone. He is an amazing character and manages to shrug off being too much of a stereotype. A goth type who can see and hear ghosts and takes drugs because he is scared of them is definitely an interesting idea. He is also gay, although the fact that he is portrayed as the weakest of all of the brothers is therefore somewhat worrying.

Still, he is wonderfully acted and if you are not entirely in love with the character by the time he is dancing around listening to music whilst a fight rages all around his home, then I worry for your soul.

The kid who plays 5 is also absolutely amazing. Honestly I am not sure how he manages to pull off Adult in a child’s body quite so convincingly, but he is extremely convincing and without him the series would not be anywhere near as watchable as it is.

The fight scenes overall are very good and the whole show has a sort of madcap nonsense to it in places that balances the darker material quite nicely.

Oh! And there aren’t any rape plots or sexual assault plots of any kind that I can recall (and they usually stick with me). Wish this wasn’t something I have to raise as a plus point, but in a show with darker themes it’s very much a rarity.

So yeah, overall a pretty good show that I did enjoy, but it’s good to be aware of its problematic elements. The show could have been so much better if they had more awareness of what they were doing, which is a shame because then it could have been truly excellent.