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It’s the mark of a master storyteller to be able to take an old story and make it new again, and that’s exactly what Rob Dircks has done in “The Wrong Unit.” Countless scifi writers have undertaken the story of “when AIs go bad” (think Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey for just one example). Here, Dircks takes on that trope, adds a father-son bonding sub-plot and a hero journey (or two) on the side, and makes it all feel new again.
One way the book distinguishes itself is by telling the story from the point of view of the “evil” AI. The viewpoint character is a robotic unit named Heyoo (derived from the way it is addressed by its human charges as “Hey You”), one of thousands of robots that serve and protect humanity under the direction of a misguided AI. Like any really good villain, the robots can rationalize their behavior and truly believe what they are doing is for humanity’s benefit. As a reader, watching everything through Heyoo’s point-of-view, I found myself laughing at his misapprehensions while rooting for him to figure out the error of his ways.
Laughter is another way this book differentiates itself. As with his first book, “Where the Hell is Tesla?” (which I also highly recommend), humor is a big reason why Dircks’ writing stands head and shoulders above the rest of the scifi field. From tiny touches, like having Heyoo journal his life via “introspection recordings” to plays on programming nightmares like circular references, scarcely a page goes by without a snicker, if not a laugh-out-loud moment.
Good as all that is, what really makes this a 5-star novel is the way the reader grows to love the characters. “Heart-warming” sounds so cliché, but it is 100% applicable. Heyoo is more human, more caring and more lovable than the protagonists of many a scifi thriller. Yes, I even got verklempt a couple of times.
With the assured hand of a master, Dircks has constructed a perfect little novel. I could easily see this made into a movie, it was that good. And to get the full experience, I highly recommend you listen to the audio version of the book. It is read by the author himself, and he does a fantastic job, including singing, making this my favorite scifi audio book of 2016.
30 of 32 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Wrong Unit?
This is not the depressing apocalyptic vision of the future I usually avoid, yet it does show a future that has gone terribly awry. Heyoo, a mechanized human helper, is sent on a journey he is not prepared for. He is sent on a mission, but he is the Wrong Unit, lacking the programming to complete his mission. Yet he has the ability to learn, to grow, and eventually to become what he needs to be to help Wa, his human charge.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Heyoo, his development and spirit made him lovable.
Which character – as performed by Rob Dircks – was your favorite?
I was given the audio copy of this book for an honest review. Some of the writing was almost poetic in its beauty. I have to say that Rob Dircks performance as narrator added so much to my enjoyment of the book, it would be hard for me to imagine this heart warming adventure in any other "voice". Every one of his characters were distinct and interesting. It should get an award for the narration alone. This book has everything, heart, vision, philosophy, romance, excitement, depth and yes, because it is a Rob Dircks novel, wacky fun. You will love this book!
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Yes, but I can't say what it is because I don't want to include any spoilers.
Any additional comments?
What a great experience this book was! And I do mean experience. The book had funny, wacky and zany elements, but underneath that was a depth of feeling and maturity that really touched my heart. I had read and listened to Where The Hell Is Tesla? and loved it, so I was excited to hear that Rob Dircks had written and narrated another book.
This is the kind of science fiction book I search for. It had lovable interesting characters, a wonderful plot, and thought provoking story line. What is human? What is love? What is freedom? Can a robot experience the empty nest syndrome?
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Despite the fact that this is a post-apocalyptic story in which the few remaining humans are kept in captivity, this is a feel-good Science Fiction novel.
The lightness in tone comes mainly from the innocence and empathy of the main character, Heyou, a Servile Unit (an A.I. in a humanish body) whose purpose is the care and feeding of humans in their compound.
Heyou, the Wrong Unit of the title, is picked up by mistake and thrust into an epic quest to save humanity.
This involves a very long walk with a very small child. As Heyou trudges across the planet his empathy for humans and his own sense of identity grows with each challenge that he overcomes. Eventually, he has to face the biggest challenge of all, freeing humanity by bringing down Core, the A.I. who made him.
Rob Dircks is both author and narrator of this novel and he does both jobs with a deft touch and a nuanced understanding of dialogue and interior monologues.
This book is packed with clever ideas and finds new twists on the A.I. – menace-to-humanity trope but its strength comes from the gradual growth of Heyou into a fully rounded person.
Pick this one up if you want a light, fast, upbeat read.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This book was brilliant. I love this author, both as a writer and a narrator. He narrates this book so brilliantly. A minor complaint about the narration is that it is somewhat difficult to tell in Arches's chapters that its not being told from Heyoo's perspective because its the same narrator using the same voice. This is only minor as it is easy to understand once the chapter begins.
The story is awesome, if at some points slightly unnecessary, though it does lack some characterisation. In the last quarter of the book, many characters are introduced. I didn't feel that enough time was given to these people in order for me to establish a like or dislike of them. If something happened to them, I just couldn't remember who they were and shrugged it off.
Overall, it was a very good book, with some minor issues.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful