Ana Matronic really really really likes robots. Perhaps her name should have been something of a clue.
She is perhaps best known as the female lead singer of the Scissor Sisters. Matronic is also the author of 2015’s Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. Which is (I am sure this will astound you) a book about robots.
This 225 page hardcover is a coffee table book, a glossy paged, heavily illustrated guide to the hundred most epic robots and automatons of fiction and history.
The work is divided into two broad categories: Robots Imagined and Robots Realized. The nine chapters comprising the first section make up most of the book; the four chapters of the second section are only 72 pages long. Automatons and robots have sparked human imagination for millennia, while the ability to actually construct them is of more recent vintage.
The author has an understandable tendency to focus on fictional robots and cyborgs from illustration-friendly media, characters like Dr. Who’s daleks, Battlestar Galactica’s cylons, Robbie the Robot, and, inexplicably, Twiki. She does include some text-original robots, prose luminaries such as R. Daneel, Tik-Tok, and Adam Link. Her examples range from Greek myth to Baymax from 2014’s Big Hero 6.
I was a bit surprised to be sent this book for review. I mean, how on Earth would someone at Sterling Publishing even hear about me? I wasn’t even sure I should accept this unexpected gift. Maybe I would never get around to reviewing it. Or perhaps I would hate it.
On the other hand, knowing it was there and unread led to a mild irritation, like a million white-hot ants trying to chew their way out of my head. So I read it.
Paper. I am not a fan of glossy paper. I find it hard to read. That said, I understand why a book with this many photos, stills and illustrations needed to be printed on glossy paper
There is an index. I hate to keep harping on that detail but indexes matter. It is not a long index but it is functional enough.
The selection. Obviously, picking the 100 most epic automatons and robots means excluding all the candidates who were at best the 101st most epic automatons and robots. Some candidates will not make the cut1. Still, Twiki and not Jenkins? Even a blank page would be better than Twiki. Other robot favourites are missing: Tanith Lee’s Silver (from The Silver Metal Lover), the quasi-robots from Lee’s BEE books. I hope that their absence means that the author simply has not encountered them … yet. New frontiers!
I was frankly astounded to find Adam Link in the book. Talk about obscure! Yes, important to the field but not, I think, well known. But reassuring to see.
Despite all the nitpicking, I did enjoy this after all. Not only that: I came away from reading it knowing things I did not know before I picked it up. I would certainly read another book by Matronic, particularly if she moved to a format that was a bit meatier2.
Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future is available from Sterling.
1: I can see how it was that 1A didn’t make the cut. The comic in which we meet 1A is somewhat obscure. The comic is also focused on beating the crap out of robots to keep them in their place, a programme which I cannot image Matronic would appreciate.
2: Metaphorically meatier. I wouldn’t like some Lady Gaga-esque text written on steak.