Alex + Ada (Volumes 1 & 2)
Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
Special Prometheus Award (Libertarian Society)
Alex is a dull boy. He’s all work and no play. He’s got some kind of ubiquitous corporate job–in a future which is very much like the past, say, the 1960s, but with cars that drive themselves and a mental link type thing to take calls, turn on and off lights with, etc. Alex’s shiny, empty workplace is full of white dudebros who invite him to after-work-drinks to celebrate landing non-specified “contracts,” which Alex naturally declines in favor of moping at home over his four-month-old breakup with Claire.
Alex himself is bland. He goes through life, not unlike the robots that populate his world. He’s there, but not terribly present. His life is a series a wash, rinse, repeat.
That all changes on his birthday.
Alex’s grandma is apparently uber-rich and worried about her only grandson’s dull, dull life. She figures what Alex needs is a sex bot. Grandma’s got one of her own, see, and he’s super capable and compliant, wink-wink-nudge-nudge. Alex thinks this is an incredibly creepy idea (and is clearly very “Ugh, older people having sex is so gross!”), but grandma is low on the concept of consent (see robot lover above) and so she just ships him one for his birthday
(Look at Alex’s boring apartment. It was decorated by an IKEA zombie with a fondness for beige and there aren’t any books on his bookshelf.)
Inside this coffin-esque crate is a female android. Once Alex has decided to keep his robot, he names her Ada–possibly after Ada Lovelace, but it’s never explicit. Alex activates her by squeezing her earlobe and holding it for ten seconds–which is admittedly kind of amusing in a “press and hold” kind of way.
But, that’s kind of the end of the cleverness.
Because everything that follows next is entirely predictable.
Alex + Ada tries to wrestle with the big questions, but never really goes deep. The problem is that everything is too simple.
When Alex wants to upgrade Ada illegally so that she might have something akin to a real personality, he discovers an online forum full of people who are ready to help him. He literally walks in and gets what he wants. In fact, he discovers that Ada was built with the ability to be an artificial intelligence from the start and that all that needs to happen is for her to be “woken up.” There’s some hand-waving about how this is dangerous, but that, too, goes pretty easily. Ale is not left with a smoldering husk or a broken personality. He gets a fully-functional Ada who wants to go home with him and experience all that life has to offer.
And… that’s boring.
I feel like this is the sort of thing we’ve seen a dozen times in robot stories. In some ways, because Ada is so obviously human once the switch is flipped, at lot of the usual “big questions” become pointless. She has feelings and that means she’s a human and should have human rights, end of story.
This sort of turns into a ‘we shouldn’t be afraid of them because they’re different’ story, but Ada really isn’t very different, so the challenge is easily surmounted. I mean, as readers, we get no sense of the ways in which Ada is truly different, alien, NOT human. Moreover, the only threat we see is what humans might do to robots – yes, sure, there’s some background noise about some robot uprising or something in the recent past, but mostly we see how dickish people can be to androids, including tearing one apart for the “crime” of attending a rock concert without an owner.
At this point Alex + Ada become just another story about how bigotry is evil, and, well, of course it is.
Sure, we always need more stories about that, but, for myself, I wanted something more alien and weird. I wanted a robot that I might actually be a little afraid of or might find odd, in some quirky, not-right, yeah-okay-that-legitimately-creeped-me-out kind of way.
The story for me is too simple, too clean, too easy. Apparently there are two more volumes, but I’m not sure I’m going to bother hunting them down. If I want fun, weird, robot romance, I’ll totally re-read the shojo manga Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase.