Book Review: In The Lives Of Puppets
IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS by T.J. Klune (Tor Books, April 25, 2023) Hardcover, 432 pages. ISBN # 9781250217448
In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots–fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.
The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio – a past spent hunting humans.
Much has been made (especially in the advance publicity) of IN THE LIVES OF PUPPET’s connection to Pinocchio. In fact, author T.J. Klune alludes to it and incudes several quotes from the Carlo Collodi 1883 novel THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO in his section introductions. The connection is an easy one to make, and could be seen as a re-telling/spin on the fantasy tale of a man-made puppet (Pinocchio) raised by humans. In Klute’s version this becomes a dystopian fantasy/science-fiction world in which a human (Victor) is raised by androids/robots (the puppets).
While there are other similarities and homages to the Pinocchio novel throughout the story, readers may also find an equal number of connections to THE WIZARD OF OZ, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON and THE MATRIX. More importantly, and a rewarding reason to even read this novel, is the bigger connection between the two. Both THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO and IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS serve as a metaphor of the human condition.
What makes Klune’s novel work is the rich characterization on display, a trademark of his other work – – charming, heartwarming, funny, and often bittersweet. This story of a 21-year old human surrounded by machines considers the question at the heart/premise – – – what does it mean to be human? In the telling, there is much to reveal about human connections, forgiveness, father-son relations and unconventional love.
There’s also a chilling reminder/warning of the limitations/dangers inherent in artificial intelligence. In this future world, the robots/androids have become smarter and somewhat more human-like, have decided that humans are too flawed to continue to exist, and exterminate them. Victor may be the only survivor, which makes his origins and upbringing even more ironic. The new order (The Authority) seems to have adopted the worst of human tendencies, made all the more awful by their lack of heart/empathy/emotion.
Those familiar with Collodi’s novel may have fun spotting the Pinocchio homages: The symbol of the Authority is a fox and cat (important characters in Collodi’s Pinocchio). Their airship is named The Terrible Dogfish (the aquatic creature that swallows Gepetto and Pinocchio). A Fairy plays a major role in Pinocchio’s transformation, and the Blue Fairy makes it possible for Victor to seek the resolution he is after in the final chapters.
Thanks to NetGalley and Tor Books for an digital advance review copy.