Roboticist and author Daniel H. Wilson has already had one hit this year with Robopocalypse, currently being made into a film by Steven Spielberg. But earlier this year he released a robot uprising tale for younger readers. A Boy and His Bot is the story of Code Lightfall, a Cherokee boy from Oklahoma who finds that he’s the only human who can possibly stop a power-hungry robot from trying to take over our world. On a field trip to Mek Mound, a mysterious earthen monument sacred to the Mound Builders, an early group of Native Americans, Code tumbles down a hole, Alice in Wonderland-style. And he finds himself in an alternate reality that resembles our own but is very different. In Mekhos, everything is robotic, down to the bugs and the blades of grass. When Code realizes that his grandfather, who disappeared at this very spot a year earlier, is being held prisoner, he embarks on a desperate journey to defeat the evil robot and save both Mekhos and the Earth of living things.
A Boy and His Bot borrows liberally from classic children’s stories while still being fresh and exciting. As in the Alice stories, the strange characters he meets – such as the infinipede, a bit like Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar — sometimes completely miss the fact that Code doesn’t belong in their universe. Code’s companion and guide on his quest is Peep, a tiny flying bot that sparkles to show her feelings, much like Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell. He acquires an Iron Giant-type protector in the form of Gary, an “atomic slaughterbot” of his own design. He even runs into a giant couple right out of another famous story — only these live on top of a “Beamstalk.”
A Boy and His Bot share a lot of elements with Robopocalypse, including Native American characters and an evil robot bent on world domination. What it lacks is the head-smashing violence – which is good, if you don’t want your kids to have nightmares. It also shares one aspect that mark all of Wilson’s robot books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising and How to Build a Robot Army: detailed knowledge about what robotics can do today – or will be able to do, very soon. Mind you, the author slips this information in without banging you over the head about it, which is the best trick of all.
As someone who has been fascinated by robots for years, I’m a longtime Wilson fan. His earlier books inspired me to start teaching robot workshops for young artists. I picked up A Boy and His Bot at the library because I’m working on a nonfiction book about robotics for kids. I’ll definitely be recommending this novel for my readers – and for any kid who likes a good scifi adventure story.