Cut Your Strings: “In the Lives of Puppets” Book Review
Victor Lawson lives with his father, Giovanni, in a spectacular treehouse complex in the middle of a giant forest. His life for the past 22 years has been solitary, but not lonely, thanks to his robot friends – Nurse Ratched (think Baymax, only sociopathic) and Rambo (if Dug from Up was a roomba). One day, while scavenging in the massive scrap yard near their home, they find a robot unlike any Victor has ever found. Unfortunately, this discovery starts off a chain of events that culminates in Giovanni being captured, with Victor determined to rescue him. Welcome to In the Lives of Puppets.
In the Lives of Puppets by T.J. Klune (The House in the Cerulean Sea) is a retelling of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio set in a vague, post-apocalyptic future where the puppets are robots, the whale is a giant airship, and the Blue Fairy is…best experienced on your own. While Klune may have used Pinocchio as a starting point, you can see bits of other works in here as well. There are elements of Swiss Family Robinson, Wall-E, and The Wizard of Oz, among others. It’s a nice mish-mash of familiar tropes.
A central theme of In the Lives of Puppets is freewill, the essence of humanity. Vic may very well be the last human left alive, and the robot he finds (HAP – aka Hysterically Angry Puppet) was specifically designed to eradicate the human race. We are treated to a textbook version of the events leading up to the robot apocalypse and the annihilation of humanity. And we are also shown that some of the robots have been able to break free of their programming and make their own decisions.
With all the recent discussions about Artificial Intelligence, the idea of robots developing emotions is one that should be considered. (And often is, let’s be real here.) The robots that make up Victor’s family experience sadness, loyalty, bravery, determination. They are every bit as human as the human they protect. It very much reminded me of Humans, in that it explores love and friendship between humans and androids and delves into how much humanity can be in a machine.
Like Klune’s other works, it features a queer romance, and a very non-traditional one. After all, Vic is human, and Hap is decidedly not. I like the idea of this more than the execution, primarily because I had trouble feeling the connection between the two characters. I suppose it’s because Vic has lived an extremely isolated life, and Hap’s memory was wiped so this is the only existence he knows. It’s a desert island romance; are the feelings genuine, or because they’re the only people they know?
Similarly, while I appreciate that Vic identifies as asexual – as asexual protagonists are not very common – it seems disingenuous that he lives set apart from the rest of society. He may be the only human left in existence. How could he possibly know that he doesn’t experience sexual attraction if he’s never been around anyone else? The book has an explanation, but the situation bothered me.
Nonetheless, Vic and Hap’s tentative exploration of something that is brand-new for the both of them is very charming. I will still count this as a win for ace representation because Vic is at least portrayed as having emotions, which a lot of ace characters are not. I didn’t expect to emotionally identify with robots, but I found myself weeping as I read the last few chapters. (Although, really, are you surprised?) The ending is bittersweet, but hopeful enough to be somewhat satisfying. I will admit that this isn’t my favorite book of Klune’s. But I do think it’s an enjoyable read.
In the Lives of Puppets by T.J. Klune is published by Tor Books and will be available April 25 wherever books are sold.
*I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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1 thought on “Cut Your Strings: “In the Lives of Puppets” Book Review”
Your question about how Vic knows he is ace without being around other people is akin to the way heterosexual people question how people can be lgbtq+ if they haven’t slept with/dated people of the opposite sex, or (insert other argument here). There is enough evidence of Vic being presented with the concept of sex in the book to understand how it brings him discomfort. An asexual person doesn’t need to physically be presented with an allosexual person to know they are asexual. To assume otherwise is to assume that a queer person is only queer because of their environment and that is not true.
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