A Review of Made to Order

Made to Order is a science fiction anthology with short works by some of the best SFF/speculative fiction authors currently writing today. Every story was thought-provoking and thematically compelling, even if I preferred some stories to others. Due to its breadth and scope, it’s an anthology that deserves to be an essential part of every sci-fi reader’s library. Not only did I enjoy every minute of this read, but I was always excited to begin the next story, which, to me, is the sign of an excellent anthology.

1. A Guide for Working Breeds by Vina Jie-Min Prasad – 5 stars

I adored the narrative voice on this story, and felt so connected to the characters. It’s written in a chat-type message stream between two robots, and also includes fun bits like the online search logs for the characters. This story is charming and witty, and was an excellent way to start the anthology.

2. Test 4 Echo by Peter Watts – 2.5 stars

This story is much more of hard sci-fi in nature, which is not usually my cup of tea. I thought this story was well conceived thematically, and was an interesting take on the when-is-an-AI-a-lifeform theme. Although I found the story interesting thematically, I didn’t connect fully with the characters or the plot.

3. The Endless by Saad Z. Hossain – 4.5 stars

The Endless was such a fun story, and has such an unexpected narrative voice. This story is a delightful robot version of Office Space, but with the authorial voice of Martha Wells’ Murderbot. Plus, this story had the best quotes: “They ask me how I’m fitting in- I tell them its a soul-crushing job and we are currently sitting ten floors underground with no hope of ever seeing the sky,” our main character-robot says over cake at his work anniversary party.

4. Brother Rifle by Daryl Gregory – 2 stars

This was not a stand-out story for me. It’s a very dark short story, was difficult for me to read at times, and had a fairly unsatisfying conclusion.

5. The Hurt Pattern by Tochi Onyebuchi – 3.5 stars

Thematically, this story was so on point for me. It’s a progressively nihilistic view of the future with big corporations and big banks running the show. It was one of the only sci-fi takes on police brutality against people of color that I’ve read, and I thought it was very effective. Oh, and it discussed the weight and oppression of student loans to boot. All that being said, the story is dark, and could be quite difficult to read. I urge caution if any of these themes might be triggering for you individually.

6. Idols by Ken Liu -5 stars

After reading this story, I now want to read anything and everything by Ken Liu. The story was brilliantly existential, and had such a novel take on what is, actually, a true “self.” This was definitely one of my favorites of this bunch.

7. Bigger Fish by Sarah Pinsker – 4.5 stars

Bigger Fish was a fun story, and was a nice read after the heaviness of the few entries preceding it. It tells a noir-esque story of a PI investigating the death of a filthy rich man who was believed to be murdered while he was alone in his smart house. It was short, to the point, and I would have loved it to be a little longer and more fleshed-out.

8. Sonnie’s Union by Peter F. Hamilton – 2 stars

This was not my favorite. It’s another hard sci-fi story, and I, again, was just unable to connect.

9. Dancing with Death by John Chu – 5 stars

This was another brilliant stand-out in the collection. It was such a beautiful story of a robot with a failing battery and her friend/maybe more-than-friend who tries to fix her. It was remarkably tender, and a different sort of robot story than we usually see.

10. Polished Performance by Alastair Reynolds – 5 stars

I think this was my favorite of the collection. The main character here is Ruby, a squat little bot who polishes the floors on her spaceship. Her processing engine doesn’t function at as high a level as the other robots, but she more than makes up for it in character and heart. This story was amazing and so much more than I was expecting.

11. An Elephant Never Forgets by Rich Larson – 1 star

This is my only one star of the anthology. I really didn’t jive with this one, and it felt out of place in the collection. It was very graphic and had some pretty disturbing images.

12. The Translator by Annalee Newitz – 3 stars

This was a really cool story, and I, as a previous English major who loved linguistics, enjoyed the concept quite a bit. It was short, sweet, and just enough.

13. Sin Eater by Ian R. MacLeod – 2 stars

There were some really compelling themes here – particularly the idea of religion in a world devoid of humans. It wasn’t my favorite story of the collection, but I thought it was compelling and would be a better fit for other readers.

14. Fairy Tales for Robots by Sofia Samatar – 2.5 stars

I enjoyed these fairy tales, which are told to a “child” robot. The reason for the lower star rating here is purely because this wasn’t my my favorite narrative style, which made it difficult for me to connect to the authorial voice.

15. Chiaroscuro in Red by Suzanne Palmer – 5 stars

This is the story of a college student who is given a robot by his parents for his twentieth birthday. There are multiple catches, though. 1) The robot does manual labor and lives at a manufacturing plant, and 2) his robot is old and should probably be decommissioned. I thought this story was fascinating economically, and I really related to the characters. It was fun, compelling, and thoughtfully unique to the collection.

16. A Glossary for Radicalization by Brooke Bolander – 5 stars

Robo-revolution, as my husband and I coined while playing the amazing Detroit: Become Human video game, is such a fun concept and is so well done here. This is a cautionary tale, of sorts, for what can happen when we make robots in our own image, and when we give them our own emotions, desires, and urges. A perfect end to the collection.

My ratings for each story averaged together is about a 3.6, but my reading experience for these stories collectively is much higher, closer to a 4.5/5. And, honestly, I haven’t read this many 5 star short stories in such a long time. This was a beautiful collection, and I can’t wait to pick up a physical copy for my collection.

Made to Order releases on March 17, 2020. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me an eArc of the anthology in exchange for review!

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hhbennett

Book Blogger for all things science fiction, post-apocalyptic, near-future, speculative, horror or just otherwise weird and cool.

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