“You said we need to stay in the suburbs. Away from the city stacks.”
“I did. But that was months ago. It should be empty now.”
“What do you mean?”
“The autovolts are efficient. They went where the people were. They started in the city stacks. Which means people won’t be there now. But that’s not really why we’re going.”
“Why are we going?”
“It’s your birthday tomorrow.”
“You mean...?” Barry smiled, sudden and genuine.”
The suburbs gave way to the city. The city proper sloped toward the stacks. At the top of the city stacks was the Revolving Cosmos Automat. It was a trick to get there using only the escalators and the stairs. It took them into the night of the next day. Kerion was afraid to use the pneumatic lifts. Too easy to be captured. They didn’t meet a single autovolt along the way. They didn’t even see one. They avoided those newer hermetically sealed buildings. Most had been locked tight during Last Christmas and Kerion was afraid of what Barry might see pressed against the break-proof glass.
They reached The Revolving Cosmos Automat just before midnight, but it was still technically Barry’s birthday and the promise was kept. They slept in the booths until sunrise. The Revolving Cosmos Automat was a spinning automat set like a crown on top of the highest stack. The great green grey and blue checkerboard of perfect urban planning stretched in all directions.
“How high up are we?”
“Over two kilometers, I should think.”
Promotional material accompanying the ARC of this title explains: “The Automatic Age is the first in a series of linked illustrated novellas about a father and son navigating an automated apocalypse.”
In The Automatic Age, readers meet a boy, Barry (age unknown), and his father, Kerion aka Unit 8347-34. Kerion was given the numerical designation following his being severely wounded during the seventh war. Kerion’s loss of both of his legs, his kidneys, a lung and his liver resulted in all of these body parts being replaced by prosthetics. Now, Kerion, part human and part machine (hence the Unit #), must spend two hours a day on a trickler in order to stay at full power. However, the part of Kerion that is human still makes him, along with his son, targets of the autovolts, robots with a humanoid appearance, whose mission is to search out and kill all humans.
Throughout the novella, the pair are on the run, and they have several exciting close calls with one or more autovolts, plus a human member of a resistance movement. The ending sees father and son “going North. As far as we can. Maybe to a place where the future never happened.” At one point in this future world, everything was automated, and humans never had to do any work. An auto kitchen, for example, cooked and served family meals and cleaned up afterwards. No one needed personal automobiles as carpods running on highway racks would take people to their requested destinations. Everything anyone wanted was free. According to Kerion, “It was a perfect world but no one was left to live in it.”
Though the action-filled plot with its short chapters will easily hold readers’ attention, it is Chomichuk’s worldbuilding that will really grab readers and leave them with lots of delightfully nagging questions, questions that hopefully will be answered in future novellas. For instance, Chomichuk tells readers that Kerion was a veteran of the seventh war, but readers never learn anything about these wars or who was fighting with whom and why. Readers also learn that there are domed cities on Venus and that “A bronze statue of the Founder of Genetic Standardization stood on a slight dias, hands on hips, his Martian uniform rendered in metal crisp and angular.” So many wonderful questions awaiting answers!
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.