Book Review: In the Lives of Puppets
TJ Klune's latest finds the heartbeat beneath the machinery
In the age of technology and with the rise of artificial intelligence, sometimes it feels like the science fiction genre hits a bit too close to home. But in TJ Klune's latest novel, In the Lives of Puppets, there may be some hope yet.
In the middle of a secluded forest in a home built among the trees lives Victor Lawson, a human, alongside three robots — Gio, his adoptive father; Nurse Ratched, a sadistic yet caring nurse machine; and Rambo, a small vacuum who is naïve but adorably lovable. Together, they have built a family home that, while small, has been enough for them and has kept them safe.
As he grows, Victor becomes more adventurous, often visiting the scrap yards where machines are discarded after decommissioning, hoping to find something to salvage for parts. Along with Nurse Ratched and Rambo, this is where Victor discovers an android labeled "HAP," whose battery is weak but still holding a small charge.
Victor rescues HAP from the pile of other androids — all of whom are lifeless — and repairs him in his workshop, bringing him back to life, but with very little memory of a past spent hunting humans — a past shared with Gio. When HAP unknowingly alerts robots from the City of Electric Dreams of Gio's whereabouts, the family finds themselves in danger. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City, leaving the remaining family members to journey to save him. In his quest to save Gio, Victor learns a lot about the relationship between robots and humans along the way.
One of the most fantastic aspects of TJ Klune's novels is how each character is so unapologetically true to themselves throughout their character arc. Whether it is Victor who experiences a range of emotions he is not used to, or Rambo who learns to be brave even when he is scared — you can't help but feel invested in their development.
Klune's writing is also irrefutably his own, allowing readers a view into worlds he has built alongside emotions, problems, and solutions that each of his characters face and overcome. The strength of each character and their likability is evidence of Klune's dedication to his writing and his creations — even Nurse Ratched, with her deadpan delivery and brutal nature, becomes one of the more lovable characters by the end solely because of these characteristics.
In the Lives of Puppets is a testament to the future, to knowing that it is not too late for us to put more kindness into the world, and that even the hardest of hearts can learn to embrace emotion.
Tor Books // 432 pages // Fantasy, Science Fiction