In Moran’s (The President Is Missing, 2017, etc.) sci-fi thriller, the CEO of a successful robot-manufacturing company hunts for a possible saboteur after his products lethally malfunction.
Mike Bateman’s chain of Robot Depot stores is a rousing triumph. From outlets in 30 states, the company sells robotic devices for various tasks, from cleaning to security. However, Mike and his wife, Jenny, an engineering professor and the company’s vice president, are understandably shocked when they receive a peculiar complaint from a customer. John Beekman is dismayed because he thought that a defective “hubot” (humanoid robot), whom he met in a bar, was a real person—and married it. Beekman’s lawsuit sparks a public outcry against Robot Depot, with some people believing that androids will contribute to human unemployment. Then five floor-cleaning bots in separate states overheat, leading to 10 human fatalities. The reports only worsen, and, in one instance, it appears that a gathering of Robot Depot creations led to an explosion that took down a skyscraper. Mike thinks that terrorists may be sabotaging the bots, so he contacts his FBI agent pal, Rick Bellamy. Soon, it’s revealed that someone is turning company products into bombs. Despite all the deadly occurrences, Moran’s novel is refreshingly pro-technology; for example, a sentient robot named Angus is shown in a positive light, as he proves to be a better diagnostician than humans. However, some of the story’s dialogue is repetitive: Jenny has an oft-referenced and frequently displayed “salty tongue,” but her manner of speaking is virtually identical to that of public relations executive Blanche Whiteacre. The humor also sometimes calls too much attention to itself, as in an explanation of why the coffee-making bot is named “Joe.” Nevertheless, the book’s thriller elements effectively escalate, and the final-act twist is memorable.
A mostly satisfying sci-fi tale that aptly conveys both the dangers and benefits of technological advancement.