Title: The Cybernetic Tea Shop
Author Name & Publisher: Meredith Katz (Less Than Three Press)
Publication Date: March 16, 2016
Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular ‘Raise’ AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.
Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master’s dream for the shop.
When Clara stops by Sal’s shop for lunch, she doesn’t expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…
This was a quick read and a sweet romance. I wasn’t expecting it to be as focused on the romance as it was, honestly, and I’m not sure why. Thecybernetic aspect was absolutely fascinating to me, and I wish the piece had focused a bit more on that and bit less on the romance going on. Don’t get me wrong, this is an asexual story. It took a bit for that to come around, and I kept waiting for it.
This piece was slow moving, especially in the beginning. I actually feel as though the first chunk of it (before Clara moves) could be eliminated from the story and we wouldn’t lose anything from the plot at all. That’s what made it incredibly slow for me. Once the two characters meet, the piece picks up and moves along at a great pace.
I found this a fascinating read. I’m always interested in the ethics of artificial intelligence; how we treat artificial beings who are sentient, and sapient according to this book, legally and socially. Here are two people who are outsiders, one by choice and one by design. Clara is a wanderer, leaving behind people and things as she moves from place to place. Sal is a robot, one of the last AIs in the world, and her appearance makes it clear what she is and sets her apart. When the two meet, the connection forms and deeply quickly. The two believe that their time is limited; Clara will move on, and Sal is anchored to her deceased owner’s tea shop. Events happen that will make both of them rethink what they believe about themselves.
It’s interesting that it’s something so fundamental that sets Sal free, so basic to who she is. And Clara finds that maybe she doesn’t have to leave everything behind. This was my first asexual book, and it makes total sense in this read. I’m not sure I fully understand it; I have questions that I have no idea how to even articulate. But my under-educated sensibilities have never impinged upon my open-mindedness and desire to learn. This was a great short read, and I have no problem recommending it to those who like sci-fi, and AI and robots as well.
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