RogerBW's Blog

Help Fund My Robot Army, John Joseph Adams 09 August 2017

2014 SF anthology consisting of short stories in the form of crowdfunding pitches and site updates.

The first thing I thought of when I heard this concept was Oulipo. The idea of using constraints to create better art is a very old one (one could reasonably argue that standard poetic forms are an example of it), and sometimes it even works.

Clearly, all of the stories were written specifically for this anthology (except for the first, which gave Adams the idea). The quality is highly variable, as one would expect; and there are several repeated themes, most obviously "the existence of this project is the thing that ends civilisation"… and, oddly, "I know who you are just from your having looked at this page". Timing is a recurring problem, though: many pieces manage to produce narrative progress via updates and comments, but quite a few simply produce a static situation and leave it there, thus avoiding any actual story apart from what the readers can produce in their own heads.

  • Help Fund My Robot Army!!! (Keffy R.M. Kehrli) is a fairly conventional story of mad science; the Kickstarter pitch was its gimmick, and at least it comes first in the book.

  • For Entertainment Purposes Only (Jeremiah Tolbert) promises a device that will safely erase the memory of spoilers; the tragedy is in the comments.

  • Zero G R&J (Mary Robinette Kowal) is a straightforward attempt to mount a production of Romeo and Juliet… with puppets… in space. There are stumbling-blocks, but it looks as if it'll work… and then it ends.

  • A Memorial to the Patriots (Jake Kerr) paints a dystopian future somewhat heavy-handedly ("This project has been pre-approved by the Domestic Security Agency"), and it starts to seem as though something really odd is going on. But there's no resolution.

  • I Want to be a Lioness (Chuck Wendig) has a single mother raising funds to be turned into a lioness because… reasons that she won't state, and the way in which they're given in the story seems forced, but it all comes together.

  • Liberty: Seeking Support for a Writ of Habeas Corpus for a Non-Human Being (Samuel Peralta) is pretty much what it looks like; anyone surprised by anything here probably doesn't read much science fiction.

  • Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One! (Harry Connolly) has someone trying to summon an elder god… in order to learn the ultimate taco recipe. No conclusion.

  • Fulfill My Destiny—and Save the World! (Matt Forbeck) plays with time travel but doesn't go anywhere.

  • LARPing the Apocalypse 2: The Nano-Plague (Tim Pratt) is a plan to end the world in order to make a really great post-apocalyptic LARP environment.

  • Fund Taphognosis Industries (Tobias S. Buckell), about human mind uploading, works all right, but really wants to be a more conventionally-shaped story.

  • Catassassins! (Veronica Belmont) is self-explanatory, really.

  • Finder of Lost Things (Monte Cook) perhaps tries too hard to be sweet, but worked for me.

  • Prima Nocta Detective Agency Needs You (Genevieve Valentine) has a paranormal investigator ("who gets the job done but follows her own rules") trying to set up in a new city, complete with supporting cast. Quite amusing but no progress.

  • So Juicy Transforming Strips (Matt Williamson) "offers a breakthrough solution to the embarrassing problem of spoxy drainage". The basic idea is to explain through context something that the "real" audience would already know all about; it works pretty well.

  • The Spirit of Mars: Fund a Sacred Journey to the Red Planet (Andrew Penn Romine) tries to be SF horror but never establishes enough sympathy or interest with anyone involved.

  • Flashed Forward (Bradley Beaulieu) is a fascinating story of time travel with a conclusion that felt bathetic.

  • Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead (Carmen Maria Machado) is another self-explanatory title, complete with predictable twist.

  • Be Careful What You Wish For (Michael J. Sullivan) is a Monkey's Paw variant; says what it has to say, then stops.

  • A Practical Mechanism For Overcoming the Directionality of Temporal Flow (David D. Levine) is more time travel, but written very effectively to suggest – well, I won't say. Probably my favourite piece in the book.

  • Life-Sized Arena Tetris! (David Malki!) is a story of obsession that goes nowhere.

  • Zippers (Derek Van Gorder) is an effective piece about a catastrophic meme.

  • I Used To Love H.E.R. (Maurice Broaddus) is a story of steampunk resurrection that is brutally shut down just as it starts to get interesting. Ho hum.

  • Locally Grown, Organic (Kat Howard) has just one gimmick, but grinds it in at excessive length.

  • Let's Keep Burt Grimsby's Head Frozen! (Heather Lindsley) has an alt-Walt-Disney but doesn't really do anything with him.

  • Jerome 3.0 (Jason Gurley) goes nowhere and does nothing and doesn't even generate static interest.

  • Help Me Destroy Cannes! (Jonathan L. Howard) is mildly enjoyable but has nothing to say that isn't in the title.

  • Save the Photophobic Hemoglobivores With the Sanguine Reserve! (Mur Lafferty) sets up a vampire reserve with insufficient precautions ("and as for me being hypnotized, that's a myth brought about by vampire hunters. That's what the vampires tell me when I visit them.")

  • Nosferatu, Brutus? (Scott Sigler) has an old-school vampire trying wipe out the new breed of sparkly vampires, but doesn't get beyond that.

  • Updates (Vylar Kaftan & Shannon Prickett) makes excellent use of the Kickstarter framework, and is probably probably the best integrated with the concept of any of the stories here.

  • You Only Live Once (Sylvia Spruck Wrigley) is mostly commenting on people's willingness to jump into an obvious rip-off, but has a good twist in the tail.

  • Mechanical Animals (Brooke Bolander) makes it clear what's going to happen less than half-way through, but is still competently written and involving.

  • Kismet™ (Daniel H. Wilson) promises to remove the burden of decision-making. Obvious, but again well written.

  • Bring About the Halloween Eternal!!! (Seanan McGuire) is the Most Holy Folded One story all over again, but longer and with less fun.

So for me at least this is a pretty mixed bag, not really surprising for an anthology of this type. It might be worth interspersing stories from this with other books, if the Kickstarter format wears on you, but I read this pretty much in one go and didn't think it suffered thereby. It seems only to be legally available on Kindle, but DRM-stripping is always a possibility.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:25pm on 09 August 2017

    All sparkly vampires must die.

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