The Last Human, by Lee Bacon

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Last+Human+lee+bacon&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss The Last Human, by Lee Bacon (middle grade, Abrams, Oct 8, 2019), is set in a future in which robots exterminated humanity to save the earth from environmental destruction.  Now the robots live peaceful lives, carrying out their duties, and every day the President reminds them via its universally shared messages just how horrible humans were, and how good robots always do what they are supposed to do (which includes never keeping secrets).

12-year-old XR_935 is a good robot, working with his team-mates to install and maintain solar panels every day, then going home to their family units to recharge.  Each has a role--Ceeron is the brawn of the group, lifting and carrying, zippy little SkD is the electrical engineer, and XR-935 is the analytical one, making sure all the numbers work.  Then one day their peaceful lives are disrupted when an Unknown Lifeform comes into the solar field where they are working.

It is an unthinkable lifeform, a human girl called Emma.  Emma survived with a handful of other humans in an underground bunker, but was the only one to make it through a devastating sickness.  Now she is trying to do what her parents wanted, following a map to the place they wanted her to go.

The robots face a dilemma.  Emma doesn't seem like a monstrous world destroyer; she seems like someone who needs their help.  XR_935 crunches the numbers, and realizes that the probability of Emma making her way through a world full of enemy robots is almost nil.  A little bit of help for Emma at the beginning snowballs into the robotic threesome going AWOL, setting out with Emma and getting themselves into greater and greater trouble.   

The journey with the human girl forces XR_935 to question not just whether humanity was a horrible as it's been led to believe, but whether the President is in fact not being a good robot itself.  And indeed, the President has been keeping information from the robot community; information that can, and does, change everything (the ending offers the promise of human/robot co-existence).

It's a story told in short chunks, making it very friendly for readers daunted by large swaths of text.  XR_935, and his comrades, are also very engaging traveling companions, and it's delightful to see XR_935, the point of view robot, stretching its consciousness past acceptance of the status quo.  Ceeron and SKD are delightful in their own ways as well, bringing considerable humor to the tense adventures.

I thought at first this would be a dystopia from the human point of view--attempted extinction and a world ruled by hostile robots is fairly awful.  But it turns out that the robot society itself has dystopian elements, with knowledge controlled by a de facto dictator, and free will (these robots are so advanced that free will is possible for them) suppressed.   I also thought Emma's journey would be the center of things, but instead it's just as much as story of XR_935 growing from trusting kid robot to questioning thinker, taking responsibility for its own actions.   And so I found it much more interesting than I expected!

I enjoyed it lots, and I think it has tons of kid appeal. Definitely one to give to fans of The Wild Robot, or kids who love reading about plucky kids copying with unimaginable circumstances.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds terrific. Thanks for the heads up. I will try to check it out.


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