“Steel Guardian” by Cameron Coral- An SPSFC Book Review

We’re reading finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, and I’ll have reviews up here for every single one! For more coverage of the contest, including many, many reviews and some interviews with authors, check out my SPSFC Hub!

Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral

Block is a CleanerBot who just wants to do what he’s programmed to do: clean a hotel. When readers start the story, we’re dropped into a post-apocalyptic world in which an AI uprising led to widescale destruction and killing of humans. Pockets of humans survive, and robots are aggressively hunting them.

Block, though, is trying to find the perfect hotel to keep clean. He’s struggled to do so due to the state of disrepair or destruction of several he’s encountered. Nevertheless, he presses on. Eventually, as he’s taking cover from some fighting with SoldierBots, he finds an infant that he decides to take care of. In doing so, he works to nab a human woman being sold at auction by malevolent bots, meets up with more humans, and goes on a bigger adventure than he’d been planning.

Steel Guardian is a comfort read type of book, in my opinion. It’s fairly predictable so far as the plot goes, and the attitude of Block makes even the most intense action scenes read as just another step along the way. Block is a fine narrator, though he’s clearly confused about how the world works at times. This makes him more endearing than he may otherwise have been. The narrative voice from Block is perhaps not quite alien enough [or robotic enough] to feel anything other than human [read: robot], but it gets close enough to suspend disbelief. The few twists near the end made the setting more interesting. It remains a bit generic, in my opinion, but the major plot details that are revealed late in the game do bring up some interesting questions.

I did, however, have some difficulties with the book. For one, characters appear and drop off at extremely convenient moments and basically always do exactly what they need to in order for the main plot to advance. And here, I need to elucidate a specific example. When Block starts off the story, he’s traveling with a Vacuubot, a rather simple-minded bot with an interactive interface that basically just makes smiley faces like “=-)” or frowning faces in the same vein. I was immediately drawn to this Vacuubot as a kind of cute tag-along with some potentially momentous smiley faces about to drop. For the first 10-20% of the story, I was riveted to its interactions with Block. But then, when Block is forced to go looking for a power source, he leaves Vacuubot behind. When the crap hits the fan, he’s unable to immediately retrieve his buddy bot, but then… he never does. Vacuubot is just left in the woods for the remainder of the book and the only reference later is that Block at one point wishes he’d been able to stay in the woods with the other robot and that would have meant death for him. Well, apparently it does mean death for Vacuubot! =-(, indeed! Worse, the implications of this are never really acknowledged by Block. I just wanted the robot buddy comedy to continue. This is the most egregious of the times in which this happens, but more than once characters just pop in and out whenever it’s most convenient for the sake of plot. It makes it feel more contrived than it ought to.

There are a few plot threads that got more interesting as the story went on, especially the question of the malevolent AI and why robots are so interested in chasing a baby down. These made the story interesting front-to-back. I never got bored reading the book, despite the issues I mentioned.

Steel Guardian is a good robot-centered read. Fans of AIs, robots, and post-apocalyptic settings should check it out.

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