Fiction Reviews

In the Lives of Puppets

(2023) T. J. Klune, Tor, £9.99, pbk, 458pp, ISBN 978-1-529-08804-5


This new wave novel is very touchy-feely, and what with the current rise of the 'romantasy' sub-genre, there is clearly an audience for this sort of thing.

We very quickly learn that a man (who was not a man) lived in a forest collecting bits of machinery and electronics to tinker and build things. The one day a couple burst in. They are being chased and they leave him with a baby boy. The couple flee and the man who was not a man never sees them again.

Jump forward over a decade and the boy (Victor) assists the man who was not a man salvaging bits and pieces from an automated scrap yard not too far from the forest. They live together with a robot medical nurse with a superficially sadistic attitude, and a somewhat needy vacuum cleaner. Until, that is, robots arrive and take the man who was not a man away. Victor and the robots were in hiding, but once the coast was clear they decide to set off to a far away (several hundred miles) to the City of Electric Dreams to rescue the man who was not a man…

This is a very well constructed and written novel that, as said, will undoubtedly prove popular with new wave types into touchy-feely books centred on faithfulness, friendship and loyalty. If that's your bag then you will lap this up.

Having said that, I am not this author's target reader. I prefer my SF up front: I am not a die-hard new wave fan, even though saying that would have had me crucified back in the day in the late 1970s when there was a fierce debate from the then nascent new wave types and more traditional SFnalists in Britain's SF book orientated conventions. Yet, strip away all the lovey-dovey and fantasy riffs and there is a solid SF story lurking underneath. There has been a robotic-apocalypse that has seen humanity wiped out and Victor may well be the last human alive…

So, if you like, this has two novels in one book: a new wave one centred on characterisation and emotion with a fantasy riff, and a firmly science fiction one based on a robot-induced extinction of humanity. If you enjoy such heart-warming, enchanting mixes then this book will certainly hit the spot.

As I said, I prefer my SF up front. If you are like me – and there is no reason why you should be – then may I point you in the direction of the Clarke Award short-listed Day Zero and Sea of Rust by Robert Cargill which fairly recently and vividly features a robo-apocalypse. Nonetheless, In the Lives of Puppets will surely garner its own substantive readership, and it truly deserves to.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Peter's take on In The Lives of Puppets.


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