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The Cybernetic Tea Shop

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Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

65 pages, ebook

First published March 16, 2016

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About the author

Meredith Katz

16 books180 followers
Author of LGBT+ romance and speculative fiction! Likes humans, monsters, and the hazy places between the two.
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5 stars
991 (34%)
4 stars
1,212 (42%)
3 stars
561 (19%)
2 stars
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17 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 616 reviews
Profile Image for lov2laf.
714 reviews1,058 followers
July 7, 2018
Five stars.

I originally saw this on Scribd but didn't get to it fast enough before they pulled it from their catalogue. I ended up buying it instead and it was worth every penny.

"The Cybernetic Tea Shop" is about as solid and perfect as a short story gets.

It's told from the perspective of two leads, a human and a robot. What Katz managed to inject into the experience of the robot, in particular, was pure excellence and I really felt for her character. Both the descriptions and characters were all extraordinarily vivid.

What you get is a nice little soul searching romance between an asexual Latina woman and a sapient robot set sometime in the future.

Nicely done. I loved this.
Profile Image for Jem.
408 reviews273 followers
October 6, 2018
This novella about an AI robot and a human programmer can be read as a sweet romance between two asexual individuals, as it was no doubt intended. But it is also so much more.

On a more profound level, it's a story of an artificial being's journey to humanity. It does so with an unusual but amazingly well-done robot 'voice' that's endearingly honest yet utterly believable. Even this jaded human can't help but fall in love with her, and even shed a tear or two for her lonely existence and her 'painful' past.

The book is deceptively simple. But through the innocent musings and introspection of the AI robot, it asks and answers the question "What makes us human?"
Is it the ability to learn new things? (AI is an expert on that)
Is it the ability to 'feel' emotions? (AI has sensors to feel anything and everything - - from 'pain' to 'grief'. (Well, except for sex. So she's technically asexual).
Or is "free will" the essence of humanity? Are robots capable of that? Even the AI ones? Surely they'd be restricted by their programming.

These are the deep questions the book presents, but without ever going preachy or philosophical or beating them over our heads. I find it refreshing that the book doesn't try too hard to twist the readers arms into accepting its message. The AI robot was never made to be human and that's as it should be. It has no lids and no tears. Physically, there is no mistaking that it's a robot. But as she goes about her day, fretting about work that needs to be done, fearing for her safety and the shop's, her 'joy' at finding a friend and companionship, pondering the meaning of 'life' and worrying about ultimately dying...she's just like us. She's just...one of us.

5 stars

P.S. The timeline is a bit problematic though. The AI robot has been alive for more than two centuries, going on three. 300 years in human history tends to bring drastic technological advances, if human history is anything to go by. But the human protagonist is still going cross-country by train. Except for the AI robot and the little bird one, nothing about the world looks remotely futuristic. And this can't have been set in the past. Imagine robot parts for a discontinued model being available for 300 years! Here, we'd be hard-pressed to find a replacement for a battery if your phone isn't named Apple or Samsung. :)
Profile Image for Danika at The Lesbrary.
527 reviews1,336 followers
December 19, 2017
I've got to say, with a title like "The Cybernetic Tea Shop," I expected this to be a fun, silly, quick read. Instead it was thoughtful and quiet, seeming to take up more space than the pages it occupied. This is set in a world where sentient, sapient robots were once mass produced, but given the ethical problems they raised, they're now illegal to make. Hundreds of years later, some of those original robots are still around, with questionable legal personhood and a lot of animosity aimed at them by a public who wants to forget the whole thing ever happened.

But it's not about the sci fi world, really. That's just backstory for Sal, who has been running a tea shop for more than 200 years, continuing after her old "master"/partner died, despite facing constant harassment and even violence. She meets tech Clara when she visits the shop, and despite Clara's wanderlust and Sal's complicated situation, they hit it off.

Although the word isn't used, both Sal and Clara are asexual. Clara explains that she doesn't have sexual attraction to people, even when she has a romantic relationship with them (and Sal isn't programmed for that).

I really appreciated how character-based this is. In a small amount of time, I felt like I really got to know both the character and how they complemented each other. I'm interested to read more by this author!
Profile Image for Luce.
521 reviews
July 9, 2018

Wow. I loved this story. I'm going to steal a few adjectives from other reviewers. Because they said it first and sums up most of the feels I have for this story.
Lovely, Lovely Story -@Michelle
Sweet and gentle story - @Joc
Grabbed my heart - @Corrie
thoughtful and quiet, seeming to take up more space than the pages it occupied - @Danika

I'm always amazed when writers can write short stories (or in this case a short novella) that are concise but not spare. As the book summary states - there is Clara, a very skilled robotics technician and her constant companion, Joanie, a robotic hummingbird that Clara re-programmed to have more emotional range but just short of being sentient. Clara is a nomad. She rarely stays in a place longer than a year. With her skills, she is able to find well paying jobs wherever she lands. Then finally there is Sal. Sal is a sentient, autonomous AI robot. She is rare, as few sentient AIs are left after creation of them was decided to be unethical. She runs a tea shop that was owned by her deceased master and she has been running it alone for almost 300 years. Warning: as others have said, you will fall in love with Sal. How can you not fall in love with someone who loves as deeply as Sal?

Hurry up and finish the current book you are reading or put it down for an hour or so and read this lovely novella.
Profile Image for Shira Glassman.
Author 26 books510 followers
July 28, 2016
Man, I would give this six stars if I could. The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a quick, emotional, uplifting f/f romance between an outmoded android and a robot repair tech, with an ending that reminds me of sunlight breaking through the end of a really wet rainstorm.

The robot is basically a robot widow, thinking of the woman who first acquired her to help with her tea shop with fond longing even hundreds of years after her death. It could all be read as a gigantic metaphor for the vulnerability of a new relationship (trusting someone to tinker around in your programming!), the yoke of grief, and living for someone else's goals because you miss them.

Or you could just jump up and down squeeing over lesbian robot romance, because both levels work equally well. Also, the human is asexual, and is really clear about it, so if you're looking for that, have at!

I love the sort of sparkly pretty fluffy worldbuilding of a future where it's common to have talking robot pets of all kinds.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews310 followers
February 21, 2020
“clara wrapped her hands around a hot cup, steam curling up around her face like gentle fingers...”

travelling the world while taking an odd tech job here and there, clara gutierrez remains virtually unattached to anything -- that is, until she gets to seattle, and meets one of the few robots left in this world. her name is sal, and she’s been running a tearoom for almost three-hundred years.

what follows is a remarkably thorough exploration of sal’s journey into dealing with her grief, her humanity, and finding new goals to set for herself. which is, as you can imagine, quite hard when you’ve been created purely for domestic purposes, have lost your partner many years ago, and are tentatively exploring a new relationship.

while also dealing with anti-robot sentiments that threaten the existence of your shop.

this read like a dreamy, fantasy-like experience. there’s something very delicate about the language and the imagery; mismatched teacups, lace ruffles decorating the tearoom, sal’s slender fingers making dough for pastries.

clara gently and carefully approaching sal and eventually helping to fix her up; the level of trust between them in order to make that work. you don’t just let someone else rummage around in your programming when one wrong move could cost you your memories or your entire personality.

the point of view switches between both sal and clara, providing you with a very different contextual background to the world author meredith katz is building. and to be honest, i thought i was gonna get something cute and short and sweet purely by the title, but this tale had a surprising emotional depth and heaps of grief to navigate.

it doesn’t feel short, but its world does feel a tad unrealistic, even if its core concepts were clever -- such as an embargo on continuing to build robots, because humanity simply can’t deal with the mess of creating people (with rights!) out of nothing.

everything taken together, it’s still a very sweet f/f asexual romance between a techie and a robot, so if that appeals to you, you’ll likely have a very good time with it.

3.0 stars.
Profile Image for Skye Kilaen.
Author 14 books318 followers
December 25, 2018
Robot romance FTW! Lovely, quiet novella about Clara Gutierrez, asexual lesbian technician, falling in love with Sal, the female robot proprietor of an old-timey tea shop. Sal is a rare remaining humanoid robot, since they were outlawed long before due to ethical concerns about their autonomy. Clara's never met one before even though she works on the more limited Robotic Artificially Intelligent Synthetic Entities a.k.a. Raises. When Sal's tea shop is attacked by anti-robot vandals, Clara helps Sal clean up, and a friendship is born.

Katz packs a metric ton of emotion into this story. Sal is still grieving her former owner/lover, and I actually teared up a couple of times while she wrestled with how to move on without losing what she valued from the past. Clara is adorably gentle in honoring Sal's personhood, especially when Sal lets Clara help her with maintenance. The domesticity they fall into is so warm and reassuring, and the mutual declaration of affection is so delicate. I didn't know what to expect going in, but this immediately got added to my list of favorite comfort re-reads.
Profile Image for Michele.
155 reviews29 followers
May 11, 2018
Just a lovely, lovely story. This is the second AI book I've read in less than a week and it's definitely the better of the two. Frankly, i'm amazed at how well this author developed the two MC's in such a short book, but damn did she.

AI Sal...I want to marry her. And you will too, trust me. But I have dibs.

Just read this book. It's so well written and lovely. I know what you are thinking, "You've already used that word dummy" but that is the word that just reverberates around my head every time I think about this book.

Please read Corrie's review and Joc's. Much better reviewers than me.

P.s. No sex...believe me, you want care at all.
Profile Image for JulesGP.
458 reviews123 followers
August 24, 2019
The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a warm hearted, clever turn on the interspecies romance. Clara is an AI tech who has inherited wanderlust from her retired parents who were once migrant workers, the family traveling where the job took them. She’s careful to avoid deep attachments so that she can keep moving on without too much fuss and doesn’t seem to mind. After all, she’s got her own AI companion to keep her company, a hilariously snarky but lovable mockingbird.

Then there’s a wonderful cute-meet with the twist being that Clara connects with a very rare sentient, female robot named Sal. It’s a short, delightful read with a nice depth to it which had me grinning the whole way through. The story is also low on tech/science so do not fear non sci-fi people. I can’t remember who recommended this one to me but please stand up and give yourself a big cheer.
Profile Image for Joc.
762 reviews179 followers
February 7, 2018
It's seems really silly to have tears in my eyes for a robot but this was a really sweet and gentle story about Clara, a technician, falling in love with Sal, a robot with artificial intelligence.
It's beautifully written and I loved how engaged I was by the main characters and the bird. It was so evocative that I could see it as one of those award winning animated shorts.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
379 reviews202 followers
March 9, 2020
God, this was lovely. It's short, fluffy, very slice of life - a perfect palate cleanser. Yet another book I wouldn't have read if not for the r/Fantasy Bingo challenge - short on time, I needed something to knock out the AI Character square quickly - and I'm very, very glad I did.

Clara is an AI mechanic who likes to move into a new town every year. When she moves to Seattle, she meets Sal - a fully autonomous robot running a tea shop. What follows is a very sweet, ace romance. With tea.

First of all, I loved the worldbuilding. It's set in the far future, a few hundred years after fully autonomous robots like Sal have been forbidden due to ethical concerns. Instead, people own Raises - AI assistants/companions in the form of animals who have personalities, but no free will, no ability to grow or change. And even though she's older than the law, Sal faces a lot of harassment and vandalism.

Another detail I liked - Sal's tea flavours sound delicious.

The writing style and the dialogue felt mildly clunky at points, but the worldbuilding, the characters, and the sheer charm of the premise more than made up for it. The biggest issue I had is that I want more set in the same world. The take on AI is interesting, and it feels like there's more to be explored. A short novella didn't feel like quite enough.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: anyone looking for a short, sweet read, fans of slice of life SFF, those looking for F/F romance (ownvoices) and asexual protagonists
Not recommended to:  well...if you don't like any of the above?

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
974 reviews94 followers
November 8, 2020
I was motivated to read this now for a challenge on my guild ("read Your Books") on Habitica for Asexual Awareness week. It came up on a list. I'm glad I read it.

It's a novella length story about a nomadic young woman whois an AI mechanic, fixing assistant/companion animal AIs' programming and what not. She ends up in Seattle and meets an actual sentient robot (it's now outlawed to create them), who's slowly deteriorating.

The story isn't so much about robots or asexuality as it is about accepting who you are and others for who they are and the respect that is inherent in that. It is very heartwarming how Clara and Sal, the robot, get together. Clara's AI hummingbird Joanie is the most adorable familiar. I love this idea.
Profile Image for Mimi.
699 reviews201 followers
January 11, 2023
3.5 stars

A nice story about two soulmates meeting at the right time in their lives with many moments of sweetness that warm the main pump of my circulatory system.

The writing reminds me of Becky Chambers with its futuristic, yet still grounded, hopepunk style and characterization.

The reason for the 3.5 stars is the slow first half. The story didn't become interesting to me until the main characters met and became friends, at around 50%.

Clara is a tech specializing in advanced AI animal companions. She's constantly on the move, often jumping from job to job, for no particular reason really. Not on the run; she just likes to travel and experience new things.

Sal is an advanced AI built to be a human companion for her previous... "owner" whom she has outlived by nearly 300 years. Karinne left Sal a tea shop which she still runs by herself all these years later. Because of her programming, Sal doesn't want anything else or rather she couldn't bring herself to want more out of life, and her quiet existence running the tea shop is enough for her.

Over the years, AIs like Sal have become controversial, and there has been much debate about (and violence that stemmed from) the "question" regarding their personhood and whether or not they should exist. The tea shop and Sal herself have been the victim of multiple hate crimes over the years, but because she stayed, she's had to endure them and rebuilt afterward.

Sal hadn't imagine herself picking up and leaving it all behind or that there's another way for her to live until meeting Clara. Their relationship starts out slowly as friends and then it deepens naturally over time. Even their routine and domesticity develop naturally, which is very sweet to see.

Clara is portrayed as asexual, but not aromantic, and Sal's programming does include physical intimacy, but she's not interested in a sexual relationship. Both parties discuss this subject like adults, awkwardly at first as they're unsure where the other person stands and then with relief when they find out that they're both on the same page. Like I said, it warms the main pump.

Out-living another person she loves is a weight Sal will always carry with her.
"I like you." Sal said it in a quiet, almost ashamed way, hesitant. The tone left no doubt as to her meaning, and Clara's heart, finally calming, began to pound again. She swallowed around a dry throat, turning her face more into Sal's shoulder, burying it there.

"I like you too," she said into Sal's dress sleeve.

"Even though...?" Sal didn't finish her sentence, but maybe she didn't need to. There were a lot of potential 'even though's. Even though she was a robot. Even though she was still attached to, still grieving for, her old love. Even though Clara would want to move on sometime or, at least, not stay here, while Sal would want to stay. Even though they both knew that eventually history would repeat, that Clara would grow old and die and leave Sal with whatever memories she had as Sal lived on.

But for the time being Sal chooses to live in the moment and enjoy her time with Clara, rather than dwelling on the inevitable.
Profile Image for Charlie Marie.
187 reviews70 followers
June 10, 2020
This lovely sapphic novella is one of my absolute favorite reads this year!!

Clara is an asexual lesbian robotics mechanic, with an adorable bestie/sidekick robot bird friend. They travel together, seeing the world and avoiding settling down.

Sal is a sentient/sapient robot, one of the last of her kind, who runs a delightfully anachronistic tea shop. Sal is still grieving for the love of her life, the original owner of the tea shop, who passed away centuries ago. She’s also navigating living in a world that doesn’t see her as the person she is, but a thing.

Watching Clara and Sal become dear friends and fall in love made my heart melt! And watching Sal find a way to hold onto her memories of her love while becoming more fully her own person- learning to live in the present and have dreams of her own- made me happy cry!

This tender, thoughtful, adorable novella is highly recommended for readers of sapphic romance and science fiction 💕
Profile Image for AnnMaree Of Oz.
1,502 reviews66 followers
October 13, 2020
Not sure what to say that others haven't already. Just a unique and emotional tale of difference between an AI and an Asexual technician.

Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Tiffany .
74 reviews70 followers
March 12, 2021
The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
Genre: Sci-fi romance
Short summary: A robot who owns a tea shop and a human fall in love.
My rating: 5/5 stars

This isn't exactly a plot-driven book, but what plot it did have, mostly character development, was done beautifully. I don't think I've read such good character arcs in a long time.

I've already mentioned the character arcs and development, so I'll try to focus on the characters themselves in this section.

Clara: She seemed like a real person to me. She had her own personality and never fell into stereotypes, and although this is only a novella, I felt as if I've known her forever.

Sal: My robot queen who must be protected at all costs. I liked her even more than Clara. The same things I said about Clara also apply to Sal.

I love everything about the setting, especially everything relating to the robots and Raises. The Tea Shop was such a pivotal factor in the plot that I must appreciate it as well.

I love how the "asexual=robot" stereotype was subverted here, by being taken literally. We have a robot and a human, both of whom are ace, fall in love. It has to be the most beautiful romance I've ever seen.

This book touches upon a lot of themes and philosophical stuff as well that I'm not going to go into here, but it was all very well done and never took away from the story.

Would I recommend it? Yes, yes, yes. Get yourself a copy of it right now and read it.
Profile Image for Amanda .
145 reviews26 followers
February 22, 2023
2nd read: February 2023.

Very enjoyable reading this little book again. I wasn't as blown away this time as I apparently was from my first reading of it, but it was certainly a nice read. Dropping the rating to 4 stars.

1st read: December 2020.

Oh, my heart, this short and sweet novella was so adorable! Not what I'd call fluffy, exactly, either. It struck a fine balance between cozy romance, while also providing a nice bit of social commentary.

I'm giving this 4.5 stars because the beginning was rather slow and generic. Excellent book otherwise! Highly recommended to anyone who wants a lovely, hopeful little read.
Profile Image for Sabrina Grafenberger.
111 reviews19 followers
January 15, 2019
The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a sweet and quiet asexual lesbian love story between Clara, a human technician and Sal, a sentient robot. It's also a story about overcoming loss, learning to move forward and finding new purpose.

The story works really well despite having only 65 pages, but it's a little too short to be completely satisfying. I wanted to spend more time with these two adorable characters and get to know them better.
Profile Image for Kevin.
1,563 reviews34 followers
November 22, 2019
Great SF novella about intolerance. The more intolerance I see in fiction or in the world the more I hate it. But here's a real zen koan for you, if you hate intolerance do you hate intolerant people, and if you do hate them doesn't that make you intolerant. Anyways I really enjoyed the story as I like tea and Ai, but even if you don't it still is a great story.
Profile Image for Pam.
849 reviews23 followers
December 5, 2020
This was really interesting. The writing and world-building were excellent, just not sure how much I bought into the relationship...
Profile Image for Amy.
686 reviews145 followers
January 19, 2023
After falling in love with the Monk and Robot series (starting with A Psalm for the Wild-Built), and finding others who adore it as much as I did, I discovered that there's a whole genre out there called "cozy sci-fi" that contains low-stakes feel-good sci-fi tales. This book certainly fits the category. It's about an ancient robot that owns a tea shop. You can read it in one sitting, and it's just plain pleasant. Sometimes, you just need to read a book for the pleasure of reading, and this fits the bill. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Edit: I had to prove I'm not a robot before posting this review.
Profile Image for Corrie.
1,522 reviews4 followers
February 1, 2018
The Cybernetic Tea Shop grabbed my heart. It’s such a compelling and sweet love story between a robot (Sal) and a robot repair tech (Clara).

Clara Gutierrez and her Raise companion ('Robotic Artificially Intelligent Synthetic Entity'), a hummingbird named Joanie never stay in one city for long. Clara likes to travel, explore new places, work there for a few months and then move on. When she arrives in Seattle she visits the Cybernetic Tea Shop where Sal has been working for the last 278 years.

Sal (Sarah) is a robot, one of the last of her kind. True A.I.’s (as close to humans as you can get) are no longer wanted in society and the ones that are left are eyed with suspicion, shunned and mistrusted. Sal was totally devoted to her original owner Korinne and when she died, Sal devoted herself to their legacy, the tea shop. Her promise to Korinne is to keep it going for at least 300 years as a lasting monument to their love. Sal, however, is slowly breaking down, her parts long out of style and no money left to pay for repairs. And then there are the attacks of vandalism on her tea shop.

Clara is fascinated by Sal and they strike up a friendship. Clara wants to help Sal, try to fix her. Will Sal trust Clara enough to let her in when Sal is literally stuck in the past, still grieving the loss of Korinne?

Author Meredith Katz created a fantastic story that will stay with me for a good long while. I highly recommend!


Themes: little hummingbird Joanie is a star, I really fell in love with robot Sal, she had so much humanity, between a non-sexual robot and an a-sexual woman there was so much love in this story

5 stars
Profile Image for Jessica Nguyen.
201 reviews20 followers
January 8, 2019
It was a very well-written novella. I enjoyed very much the emotion range described for Sal, given that she's a robot. What she felt was so realistic and sympathetic while at the same time logical and believable! I also love the fact about Clara being a tech nerd who can fix robots!
Profile Image for Brigi.
709 reviews63 followers
March 18, 2022
This is a really cute novella about Clara, an AI technician, and Sal, a fully autonomous robot. I love how quiet and domestic it is, and would have gladly read more about them. Also kudos for having two ace main characters!

Rep: ace sapphic main characters
Profile Image for Sarah.
832 reviews231 followers
February 5, 2018
The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a light, refreshing read that manages to be sweet without becoming saccharine.

Sal is one of the few remaining sentient AIs, as their creation was banned centuries before. Sal’s passed the years with a steady routine, running an old fashioned tea shop for what’s been almost three hundred years. The tea shop belonged to a woman she loved, and she keeps the shop going as a sort of shrine to her.

Clara is a technician who specializes in the programming of non-sentient AI companions. She’s a restless sort of person who never likes to stay very long in any one place. When she comes to Seattle, she finds Sal’s tea shop, and she brings some unexpected change into Sal’s life.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a quick story; I read it in the span of an hour between two of my classes. It’s listed as a novella, but at only sixty-seven pages, I’m not sure if it would actually qualify as a novelette. Anyway, it’s a book I guarantee can be read in one day.

What drew me to The Cybernetic Tea Shop was the knowledge that Clara was asexual. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a f/f asexual romance, and The Cybernetic Tea Shop is one that kept popping up as a recommendation. The word is never used, but Clara describes herself such that it’s clear she is ace. Part of me wonders if there’s some sort of pattern in SFF stories with ace romances of the ace person falling in love with a ghost or a robot or someone else where sex isn’t really an option anyway. I don’t think it’s a fault of The Cybernetic Tea Shop, but it’s a pattern I think I’m going to keep my eye on.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a lovely, quiet science fiction story about grief and moving on with life. If that sounds like your cup of tea, than I suggest giving it a read.

Review from The Illustrated Page
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