I was really enjoying this “chapter book” by picture book author and illustrator Peter Brown.Itâ€™s rather odd in a way, and maybe pitched a little young for a middle grade novel. Iâ€™d say grades 2-4, and maybe fifth graders who want â€œshort booksâ€. But I liked the writing style, short sentences with somewhat robotic dialog, and the oddball storyline.
ROZZUM unit 7134, Rez for short, is stranded on an island when a hurricane sinks the cargo ship she is on. Accidentally activated by a group of inquisitive otters, Roz is designed to “move, communicate, and learn.” Over time, she will “find better ways of completing [her] tasks. [She] will become a better robot.” However, Roz is shipwrecked in an unexpected environment. She finds herself on an uninhabited island with only wild animals for company and instruction. So Roz learns to be wild and to live with nature. In fact, in an author’s note at the end of the story Mr. Brown calls this book “a robot nature story.”
As I said, I was enjoying the fairly simple sentence structure and the robot-in-the-wilderness plot right up until the final few chapters, in which the story takes a rather violent and disturbing turn. After Roz has been on the island for an entire year (spoiler alert!), her manufacturers send three RECO robots to find Roz and bring her back to the factory to be reconditioned and reassigned to a new work place. But Roz has become wild and made friends with the animals, and she doesn’t want to go anywhere. So Roz’s animal friends fight against the RECO robots (who are armed with silver-colored rifles) in a battle royal. Robots are killed; animals are injured. And Roz herself is damaged beyond the ability of the island animals to repair.
I wish Mr. Brown had been able to come up with a better ending for his robot story. After having anthropomorphized Roz by making her a friend to the animals, the slaughter of the RECO robots feels kind of ruthless and unnecessary because Roz ends up doing exactly what they wanted her to do before all the fighting started. I was getting ready to recommend this one to nature lovers and technology geeks among the younger set until the ending gave me pause.
I may have to wait a long time to find another robot nature story with as much initial promise. Sci-fi nature lovers, it’s a niche that’s waiting to be filled.