cover image Barren Cove

Barren Cove

Ariel S. Winter. Atria/Bestler, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9785-4

Winter (The Twenty-Year Death) follows up his debut, a lively homage to noir detective fiction, with a less successful foray into science fiction: a torpid melodrama in which robots and humans seethe with jealousy and resentment toward one another. In the novel’s future world, robots have attained supremacy over their human creators and many blithely disregard Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics (“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”) by occasionally attacking humans for sport. Enter Sapien, an antiquated robot who rents a beachside cabana in the quaint town of Barren Cove to recover from an accident, and who possesses a “strange fascination with human culture.” In the main house next door reside three robots and one bedridden human, Mr. Beachstone. Sapien tries to untangle the relationships among the members of this enigmatic, nontraditional family, all the while seeking a reason to go on living rather than “gracefully deactivat[ing]” himself. Winter expertly handles certain scenes—a young boy teaching a robot how to make up stories, or Sapien tripping on “sims,” a robo designer drug—but too many others devolve into stagey villainy or silliness, as with a sexual assault via USB plug. The set up is intriguing, but the badly behaving robots could have been engineered with a lighter touch. (Apr.)