When I first picked up Robots vs. Fairies, I almost expected the stories to be about literal wars between the two, so I was very surprised to find that it was actually a collection of alternating stories from authors who had chosen “team robot” or “team fairy”. It was such a fun and unique idea, but I found that most of the stories were kinda “meh” for me.
→ Build Me a Wonderland by Seanan McGuire – ★★★★★ ←
The collection opened on such a strong note, as this was tied with one later story for my favorite. It tells the story of a group of theme park engineers who create little robotic critters for the park, but it has a really delightful twist and the prose is beautiful. It was my first taste of Seanan’s writing, and I loved it so much that I bought two full books by her within a week of reading this story.
→ Quality Time by Ken Liu – ★★☆☆☆ ←
Unfortunately, after the majesty of Seanan’s story, this one was a bigger letdown than I expected. It was about a young man who went to work for a new company, designing “helper” robots, but he took things too far and created a massive disaster. The characters were so unlikable, and the plot itself was honestly pretty boring.
→ Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt – ★★★★★ ←
I actually originally had this one written down as a 4-star read, but while writing this review, I fangirled a little too hard not to move it up to 5. It’s a story about a human librarian who takes care of a fairy library, and is forced to go on a rescue mission when the fairy princess is taken hostage by a wicked man – who also steals away the narrator’s girlfriend. Did I mention that her girlfriend is literally a living book? It’s so fun, and unique, and magical, and fantastical, and sweet.
→ The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto by Annalee Newitz – ★★★☆☆ ←
I really wanted to love this story, in which a robot is taught that there’s more to life than just the factory he’s been living and working in. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t really get into it enough to justify a higher rating; the writing itself was moreso worthy of 2 stars for me, but I did really enjoy the political commentary thrown in.
→ Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey – ★★★★★ ←
This story is so full of fae lore, and is so twisted and dark. This is exactly what I want from fairy tales: I want dark, creepy, glamour-utilizing tricksters and conniving little shape-shifters. In this story, a fairy becomes obsessed with a boy, and follows him into adulthood, but when he hurts her beyond words, she finds a way to strike back. I absolutely adored the ending – it was so cunning and sick, and I found myself cringing a few times during it, but in the best way.
→ Ironheart by Jonathan Maberry – ★★★★☆ ←
I was honestly stunned by how sad and heavy this entry was. It follows a veteran suffering from war injuries and PTSD, who’s had a robotic heart transplant due to the incidents on the battlefield. He lives with his grandparents, who run a farm with the assistance of robots, all of which are steadily breaking down due to a lack of funds to repair them. It’s honestly less about robots and more about how poorly we here in the USA treat our veterans, and how useless and unhappy disabled vets can feel. There was a line where the MC mentioned that he gave his life on the battlefield when he should have been at home, taking care of his own family, and it broke my heart into all the little pieces.
→ Just Another Love Song by Kat Howard – ★★☆☆☆ ←
This story actually had some neat aspects to it – mainly, the fact that I’d never seen a banshee in a fairy story before, and I was obsessed with banshees as a kid, so that was cool – but a lot of it was just really predictable and formulaic, and I couldn’t get particularly attached to any of it. I did enjoy the ending, though.
→ Sound and Fury by Mary Robinette Kowal – ★★★☆☆ ←
A space crew is taking a giant robot to this new planet, supposedly to have a meeting with these higher-up types, but in true colonialist fashion, there’s a little more to the story than the crew members have been informed of. This story was a little bizarre, honestly, but a pretty fun ride! It didn’t “stick” with me, though – I actually had to look at my notes to refresh myself a little by the time I wrote this review.
→ The Bookcase Expedition by Jeffrey Ford – ★☆☆☆☆ ←
This one was literally the point of view of a man watching little bitty fairies go on an adventure on his bookcase in his office. I was so bored, and I kept expecting there to be a pointto the story, but there really wasn’t one. I’m sorry, but I genuinely don’t understand why this story was even included.
→ Work Shadow/Shadow Work by Madeline Ashby – ★★★★★ ←
This story was honestly so precious and meaningful to me. It was about a robotic assistant to an elderly woman who believed in and practiced magic, but was becoming senile and unable to take care of herself fully. She berated her assistant frequently in the beginning by calling him soul-less (because he didn’t have a name), but we get to watch him slowly grasp more of her personality, as she comes to respect him as a friend. My own grandmother was a practicing witch in her younger years, and was senile in the later years of her life, and this story reminded me so much of her in some ways and really found a special place in my heart.
→ Second to the Left, and Straight On by Jim C. Hines – ★★★★★ ←
If you’ve ever talked to me about Peter Pan, you already know I don’t care for it at all, so when I realized this would be a retelling, I didn’t expect to enjoy it, but it is so twisted and haunting and beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking. I enjoyed it so much. It’s about a private investigator who is seeking out little girls that have been abducted by Tinker Bell. The little gang of girls is called the “Found Girls”, and there are just so many lovely little comparisons and parallels to the original tale, but it still feels really fresh and new.
→ The Buried Giant by Lavie Tidhar – ★★☆☆☆ ←
This was another retelling in the form of Pinocchio, but the roles were reversed, with a human boy wanting to become a robot. I honestly just didn’t jive with the writing style – it was pretty, but a little hard for me to follow at times – and the story was so disjointed. The ending was really open, too, which made it even tougher for me to get into. That said, I feel like I might like this author if I read something a little longer by them!
→ Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans for the First Time by John Scalzi – ★★★★★ ←
UPDATE: I originally gave this story a much lower rating, but after going back and re-reading it, OMG, it is hilarious and I love it so much. It follows a trio of robots exploring human objects after humans are all gone, and one of the stories includes a cat, which… well, you just have to read it. It’s wonderful.
→ Ostentation of Peacocks by Lila Bowen – ★★☆☆☆ ←
This is – are you ready for this? – a fairy story in the form of a western. I don’t read westerns often, and I’m not a big fan of the genre in any media format, so I am solidly convinced that I am just not the target audience for this story. I appreciated the imagery that was painted by the writing – and would absolutely read more from this author – and there were some little things here and there that were really fun (like the main character’s mention of her favorite aesthetic being “all of the prettiest parts of men AND women”), but mostly, I just strongly believe that fairies and westerns shouldn’t intermingle.
→ All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★ ←
First of all, where have I been my entire life that I’ve never read anything by Alyssa Wong? This story was tied with Seanan McGuire’s for my #1 favorite of the collection. It displays a society in which robots have been used to mimic the bodies and personalities of celebrities in pleasure hostels, and follows a young woman who frequents a hostel to spend time with the deceased members of a decade-old Japanese pop icon group. The twist is given away very quickly, but it somehow adds to the haunting feel of the story as you watch everything unfold. I would have loved more time to spend in this story, and will be adding more of Alyssa’s work to my TBR ASAP.
→ Adriftica by Maria Dahvana Headley – ★☆☆☆☆ ←
This rating honestly feels so dirty and unfair to me, because this story was doomed from the start. I don’t care for Shakespeare at all (go ahead, get your shock and disgust out of the way), and this is a retelling of a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; on top of that, it followed that beautiful Alyssa Wong story, so it didn’t stand a snowball’s chance.
→ To a Cloven Pine by Max Gladstone – ★☆☆☆☆ ←
I honestly spend the bulk of this story confused and bored, which just brought annoyance along with it, and that’s not a great trio of feelings. It starts off with a group of people running from a Witch, when one of the characters disappears and things get pretty sketchy. I understood the big reveal at the end, I just didn’t think it was a very goodtwist.
→ A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M. Valente – ★★★★☆ ←
The idea behind this story is absolutely precious: to round out the end of the collection, Catherynne decided to take the title, Robots vs. Fairies, literally, and gave us a fight night reminiscent of WWF/WWE (“Are you ready to rrruuummmmblleeeee?!”). The writing voices change as it shifts between a robot commentator and a fairy, and while it’s fun and a little camp-y, I did think it was overdone (hence knocking a star off of my rating). That said, the twist ending is so fun and brilliant, and I loved every moment of the finale.
→ FINAL THOUGHTS ←
All in all, this anthology was very hit-and-miss to me. As you can see, there were very few “amazing” stories, with quite a lot of “meh” and even “bad” ones for me. The fact that the really great ones were so few and far between made it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to keep going in this anthology, but(!) the 5-star reads were honestly worth purchasing the entire collection just for those. So, do I recommend every story in this book? No. Do I recommend getting your hands on the Seanan McGuire and Alyssa Wong stories at all costs ? You betcha.
Averaged out, I gave this collection 3 stars.
Thank you to Saga Press for granting me this ARC in exchange for an honest review!