Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 1811
Would a Robot Show Fear?
Overall rating
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Sophie's mother Raina works long hours in a lab that is designing and programming Mars rovers. There are two in production, Resilience and Journey. When Resilience comes online, we see how he "learns" things about the world around him, but also witness his emotions about the people and experiences that make up his world. Sophie is very interested in the rover, and when she is sad or anxious, writes letters to him. In parallel, we see Raina's notes to the rover, which talk about her progress through school, her mother's illness, and her good wishes for Res' success. Other characters include Xander, the other scientist who is involved in the design, Fly, a drone that goes to Mars with Res, and Journey, the other Rover whose eventual fate is not as happy as Res'. We follow Res for many years and see the development of the systems, the launch to and landing on Mars, the mission on that planet, and the attempts to bring the unit home when the mission is done. The Rover's progress mirrors Nasa's Opportunity, which "died" on Mars and has not been retrieved, and it's interesting to follow Sophie from elementary school into her thirties.
Good Points
There are lots of good details about what goes into designing, building, and programming a robotic piece of equipment to send into space. Most of the chapters are from Res' perspective, but the humans provide a good scaffolding to show the passage of time and the challenges that frail human bodies present. Warga must have done an enormous amount of research to get so many details about what it was like for Res and Fly to have missions on Mars. Sophie and Res certainly have very different voices, and the writing is very smooth, so that the story moves quickly.

This is a sentimental tale that evolved from one of Warga's children asking if a robot would be scared when it went into space. I'm not at all sentimental, and also don't assign emotions to inanimate objects, so I personally couldn't get emotionally invested in this. I'm in the minority; apparently a LOT of people were upset when the Opportunity powered down. For me, that's akin to mourning the microwave that quit working, but I can see a lot of people really enjoying this. I gave my third grade neighbor the E ARC, and he thought it was fascinating.

Science teachers are always looking for fiction to pair with their curriculum, and this would be a great book, especially since Ohio's 7th grade science curriculum covers Earth and Space. This book would make a great choice for comparing and contrasting against Pixar's WALL-E or Johnson's The Wild Robot.

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