Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robota is the brainchild of artist Doug Chiang and author Orson Scott Card. Chiang envisioned the world and began painting images of Robota long before Card came on board the project. When Chiang, who has worked in numerous films, including “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” decided to turn his images into a book, he brought Card on board to write the accompanying text. Unlike many art books, in which the text is merely a description of the art or the artist’s style, Card has written a fable to accompany the paintings by Chiang.
While most of the paintings included in the work are completely finished, Chiang has also elected to include several character and scene sketches, which adds to the depth of the work by allowing the reader to see the paintings in their unfinished form. Where the paintings are complete, they show a tremendous range of color. Chiang’s paintings have a depth of detail and multiple paintings of the same characters or locations actually appear to show the same entity, often from different angles, but always recognizable.
The first half of Robota is a pretty straight-forward fairy tale, with little attention paid to characterization and most paid to the setting and the quest. Towards the end, however, while Card never really focuses his attention on the characterization, he does provide an ever increasing series of twists which are only predictable in that Card is challenging the reader to come up with the most outlandish possible twists. In a longer book, this might have caused a problem, however the text of Robota is short enough that the reader gets to Card’s plot twists quickly.
The world of Robota, formerly Orpheus, is inhabited by a wide range of creatures, both organic and inorganic. The inorganic robots are led by the mysterious Font Prime and its more accessible deputy, Kaantur-Set. The inorganics are trying to wipe out the organic creatures, whose time, they believe, has passed. The organics, in the story, are represented by Juomes, an hunter-beast, Rand, an intelligent monkey, Beryl, a human girl, and Caps, a man who has no idea of his past and is the central figure in the tale. While normally the cliché of a man with no knowledge of himself or his world would wear thin, Card manages to pull off Caps’s character exceedingly well and to the benefit of the story as a whole.While it is possible to enjoy the text of Robota on its own, the book really comes alive with the marriage of text and artwork. Chiang has created depictions of Robota which Card has elected not to feature in his story, thereby given further depth to the world. There are a few minor quibbles with placement of Chiang’s paintings. At times, Chiang has placed paintings that Card has worked into the story earlier than Card’s references, which causes a little unnecessary foreshadowing, but in general this is not an issue.
Robota is a pleasing book for both the eye and the brain. While typically this sort of book is stronger in either the painting or the text, Chiang and Card manage to complement each other extremely well and neither continuously takes the foreground, instead they two support each other, making Robota an excellent collaboration.
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