Brenton Nichol's Reviews > Robota

Robota by Doug Chiang
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Aug 05, 08

bookshelves: speculative-fiction, fantasy-and-adventure
Read in July, 2008

Doug Chiang is a talented concept artist who worked as an art director on the prequel Star Wars trilogy. During that time, he set about telling his own story, opting to have Orson Scott Card flesh out his meager narrative while he provided lush illustrations and sketches.

The problem is that the "fleshed out" story still feels like incomplete notes taken out of Chiang's spiral notebook. Now, I know that what I'm about to write is tantamount to a deadly sin for a sci-fi fan, but I have never read an Orson Scott Card novel. I am going to assume, however, that the massive amounts of respect he has garnered over the past couple decades are for good reason, and that this team-up was just a hiccup. Nevertheless, I can't help but say that the written story of Robota was bland, shallow, uninteresting and just plain bad. The concept behind the story is rather cool, but the dialog, the action, the descriptions...I felt like I was reading a very poorly done juvenile literature book. And perhaps that is what this was intended to be - a fun book with robots for kids. But I have a hard time telling myself that I would have enjoyed this read even fifteen or sixteen years ago.

I wonder if perhaps there was a certain trade off between story and art. The book is full of Chiang's beautifully rendered paintings of robots, jungle-covered skyscrapers, and vast landscapes. I could understand if the prose was left thin with the intention of the paintings providing additional information, but that doesn't excuse the very unpolished and sloppy feel I got from the prose.

The art is indeed wonderful, though at times you can certainly tell that Chiang was working on Star Wars while he created this; one robotic character is a dead ringer for Jar Jar Binks, and other robots in the book have many features similar to all the various Trade Federation droids in the prequel films.

Overall, this book was disappointing because given Chiang's talent for art and Scott Card's reputation, I was expecting something much more engaging.
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