Friday, March 31, 2017

DMI2017, Week 13: "Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal

This week's card, the Eight of Diamonds, leads us to a very short and intriguing story from the collection Twenty-First Century Science Fiction.

"Evil Robot Monkey" is one of those stories that gets into my Deal Me In roster solely due to its title. Who could resist wanting to know what that title means? However, having finished the story, I am still not sure.

The story centers on Sly, a chimpanzee who has been altered with some kind of brain transplant that makes him hyper-aware of his interactions with humans. In fact, the story is told from his point of view, showing that he very much has what we would recognize as human consciousness. He even creates beautiful pottery on a pottery wheel in his enclosure. But there's the rub -- he's a fully conscious animal in what appears to be a zoo. One day he's startled by a group of schoolchildren and ruins the pottery he's working on. He flies into a rage and acts out, scaring and embarrassing the children and their teacher, who complains about the "evil robot monkey."

One of Sly's keepers, Vern, is sent to talk to Sly (through sign language) and explain that he has to be disciplined for his behavior, which involves taking away the clay for his pottery. Their conversation reveals that Vern actually "gets" Sly, unlike most people, which makes Sly trust Vern and accept the punishment. But between them, they figure out a way to get around the punishment so Sly can still make pottery.

In the brief introduction to "Evil Robot Monkey," the collection's editors make the statement that this story is "a reminder that it's possible to tell a fully-realized SF story in fewer than a thousand words." That may be true in general, and this story is definitely short, being just a couple of pages long, but I am not sure it succeeds in being a fully-realized story. It's an interesting story, but it seems very bare bones and left way too many unanswered questions for me, with the result that it feels very incomplete. However, it's well-written so it gets four stars from me.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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