Tag Archive: cyborgs


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rival the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel: Altered Carbon is based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name, a story about Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies.  That conceit allows Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors, which could allow the series to run forever much as Doctor Who’s regeneration mechanism allows replacement Doctors.  Originally launched on Netflix in 2018, Altered Carbon has been extended for a second season, with filming underway last year, and viewers should expected a second season trailer and 2020 air date any day.  Which means fans of the Syd Mead, Ridley Scott, and Philip K. Dick brand of futurism, and all things borg, should catch up on the first season now.  What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Altered Carbon tackles the philosophical questions The Matrix film series tried to answer.

Kovacs, played by several actors (more on that below), is a 300-year-old soldier.  As a seasoned fighter 250 years ago he was the last of a mercenary group called the Envoys, leading a rebellion against the new world order.  Kovacs’s stack is shelved for the intervening 250 years until one of the wealthiest men alive, Laurens Bancroft, played by James Purefoy (an actor who has been runner up for the James Bond film roles and appeared in A Knight’s Tale and The Following), buys his stack and puts it in a new body or “sleeve,” giving Kovacs the opportunity to live anew if he agrees to find Bancroft’s killer.  This is a bleak world, filled with virtual reality and virtual sex, body swapping and trafficking, and the kind of tech noir, bleak, dystopian realm seen in Strange Days, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Ready Player One, The Running Man, Brazil, Total Recall, with the violence of A Clockwork Orange, but maybe not so hopeless as in Elysium, Mad Max, Gattaca, Terminator, and Dredd.  

The series, which has a slow start and doesn’t kick into high gear until the second episode, also has the John Carpenter Escape from New York vibe but with Blade Runner visuals and effects, plus the creative elements of Total Recall that made for some unexpected surprises.  Altered Carbon is a close match to RoboCop as future science and technology goes, so it’s easy to see why the casting agents brought along RoboCop remake star Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs’ primary sleeve in the first season.  This sleeve was last owned by a cop killed in duty named Ryker.  Ryker’s partner, Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), takes on the role of the season’s co-lead, struggling as she sees her old partner’s body and acting to protect his sleeve, trying to solve the murder of Bancroft, and uncovering the bad cops in the bureau.  Ortega is a badass character in a small package who gets in and out of several fights that would take down anyone else in any other story, and she is the high point of the series–at one point an incident results in a loss of an arm, soon replaced by a powerful cybernetic arm.  An interesting twist is that her family are Catholics, and in this future Catholics don’t believe in the stacks, which means once they die they are dead forever.  This sets up one of the more interesting plot threads.  If it seems like the series has a lot going on, that’s because it does. But it all comes together in a satisfying way in the final episodes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new cyborg, old heroes, a new fate, and another revised timeline.  It must be a new Terminator movie.  If you’re in the mood for science fiction nostalgia with a new twist this month, Terminator: Dark Fate is still in theaters and it’s one of those films meant for a big screen.  If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s also coming to all home video and streaming formats next month and is now available for pre-order here at Amazon.  Featuring the return of two of science fiction’s greatest movie icons, Arnold Schwarzenegger′s original cyborg Terminator and the woman who would save 3 billion lives, Linda Hamilton′s Sarah Connor, Terminator: Dark Fate is a worthy addition to one of sci-fi’s biggest and best franchises up there with Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and Predator.

It turns out skipping over the third (Terminator: Rise of the Machines), fourth (Terminator: Salvation), and fifth (Terminator: Genisys) movies didn’t really matter all that much.  Skynet kept sending Terminators back in time, and when a new hero sees another new hero in the future, you get the feeling the timeline has been visited and revisited many more times.  In many ways it’s ideal for a series–you’ll never really arrive at an ending.  When the timeline is revised again in a spectacular opening that de-ages Schwarzenegger and Hamilton (the best de-aging CGI on film this year), you just jump on and enjoy the ride.  We meet a new time traveler named Grace, played by Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis, a tough, tall-statured cybernetic human who returns to the present to save a young Mexican woman named Dani (played by Natalia Reyes), who has a potentially important future.  Dani is pursued by yet another updated Terminator, an REV-9 model played by Gabriel Luna (Ghost Rider in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), who can split into two and reabsorb himself Robert Patrick/T2-style to and from a metalized slime state.

What makes a great entry in a Terminator movie, or for that matter, any movie?  That right combination of humor and action.  For me in these films it’s how they use Schwarzenegger′s strengths as an actor.  So the weakest film was where he was absent from acting (governing California)–during Terminator: Salvation–which was also the film with no humor, darker than the others, entirely set in the grim post-apocalypse future.  I prefer Arnold as the Terminator, since no matter who is writing for him he delivers the best lines–writers always seem to know exactly how to get the best from him.  So long as Arnold is around, we’ll have a Terminator franchise, and after that, who cares about the series anymore?  Deadpool director Tim Miller combining with producer James Cameron to bring these actors and characters back together in Terminator: Dark Fate was always going to be a great idea.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s take a trip back 33 years ago to a galaxy not all that far away.  It was my very first issue of the only comic book I ever subscribed to.  It was the end of the school year in 1986 and at last I took the plunge to send in a check to start getting a comic in the mail.  My first issue?  Star Wars #107, which contained a note from Marvel Comics stating that this was to be the final issue and I was going to be sent something instead going forward from a new universe of comics Marvel was starting called… New Universe.  In the days before the Internet or anyone to call to say “what?” I was then sent eleven monthly issues of Star Brand.  Not quite Star Wars, each issue reminded me of what I was not getting.  I was a fan of the Star Wars comic book (issued as Star Wars Weekly in the UK) since receiving my first ever comic as a giveaway when my mom took me to my local library’s Star Wars Day right before Christmas 1977.  The series would introduce me to a roster of creators (many I’d later meet in person) including Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialoha, Rick Hoberg, Archie Goodwin, Donald F. Glut, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, David Michelinie, Klaus Janson, Ann Nocenti, Jan Duursema, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Walt Simonson.  I read every issue up to Issue #107.

The big surprise?  That original Star Wars series became everyone’s first encounter with the word BORG.  It’s probably the first ever use of those four letters to describe a cybernetic organism, and it was spoken by none other than Luke Skywalker in reference to Valance, The Hunter way back in 1978.  We would learn Valance was a borg who killed borgs, and he became an inaugural inductee here at borg in our borg Hall of Fame, and part of my opening dialogue with borg readers eight years ago here.  This year, through the miracle of an idea worthy of a light bulb floating over your head, Marvel Comics introduced for its ongoing 80th anniversary celebration something I’ve never seen done before: a single, new, numbered issue continuing a series canceled as far back as 33 years ago.  The issue is Star Wars, Issue #108–it’s fantastic and available at local comic shops everywhere now.

 

Providing a chapter by chapter sequel not to Issue #107 of the vintage series, but to the Issue #50 story “Crimson Forever,” Matthew Rosenberg is the writer on the new Issue #108 titled “Forever Crimson,” and along with Valance we again meet some of our favorite characters of the entire Star Wars universe who we haven’t seen in decades:  the villainous Domina Tagge (remember Baron Tagge?), the stylin’ Amaiza Foxtrain, the memorable telepathic hoojib and the red Zeltrons, and best of all, Jaxxon the bounty hunter rabbit, who we last saw on a special variant edition copy of Marvel’s reboot Star Wars, Issue #1.  Plus all the stars of the series we all know and love.  As for the artists, Jan Duursema returns to the series for this one-shot issue, along with Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Andrea Broccardo, Kerry Gammill, Ze Carlos, Stefano Landini, Luke Ross, and Leonard Kirk, with colors by Chris Sotomayor, and lettering by Clayton Cowles.  The result is everything you could want in a Star Wars comic.  It’s the kind of purely fun story that would make a great monthly even today.  If only they continued this story in an ongoing series!

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In the battle between kung-fu grip and the bionic eye, will life-like hair or better, stronger, and faster prevail?

We first previewed this crossover series here at borg back in February 2018.  Now the adventure series is available in a trade/graphic novel edition.  It’s a story that has been played out millions of times in the backyards of kids who grew up with both G.I. Joe and The Six Million Dollar Man.  It’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vs. The Six Million Dollar Man, last year’s crossover series from IDW Publishing and Dynamite.  Is this merely a crossover or also a team-up?  You’ll have to read it to find out, and you won’t want to miss it.  The villain is COBRA, and that infamous G.I. Joe threat and organization of evil has hacked Steve Austin’s cyborg circuitry to become a tool against Team Joe.

So it’s Colonel Steve Austin, COBRA Commander, Storm Shadow, Baroness, Zartan, and Major Bludd against Hawk, Scarlett, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Snake Eyes, Lady Jaye, Roadblock, and Ace.  But the good guys have more than one ace up their sleeve, as they introduce one of our favorite borgs, borg Hall of Famer, Mike Power, The Atomic Man.  Finally–a face-off between The Six Million Dollar Man and The Atomic Man!

This is as much about toys as comic book characters.  Pitting the famous 1960s-70s 12-inch tall Hasbro “fighting man” G.I. Joe team (or small-scale figures, or animated series, if you prefer) with Adventure Team member (and second cyborg hero) Mike Power against the first cyborg Steve Austin–who appeared on millions of TV sets and produced one of the best selling 12-inch action figures of all time.  This was a fantasy played out in living rooms and sandboxes all over.  Technically this story isn’t the G.I. Joe of the 1970s, but the reboot universe Joes from the 1980s–the animated series, the mini-figures, and beyond.

As recounted in the recent Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, G.I. Joe began as an action figure line in 1963 to fill an untapped niche for boys alongside Barbie for girls. The Six Million Dollar Man began in 1972 as the hero of Martin Caidin′s novel Cyborg (previously reviewed here at borg), and was adapted two years later into a four-season television series starring Lee Majors.  Cyborg Mike Power, The Atomic Man, was Hasbro’s response to the popularity of the Bionic Man on TV.

For anyone not following G.I. Joes in the 1970s, here is the original comic page meet-up and origin story with Major Mike Power and G.I. Joe:

The original Mike Power had a cybernetic “atomic” right arm and left leg.  The new iteration of the character has prosthetics on both legs.

Here is a preview of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vs. The Six Million Dollar Man:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A behind the scenes book for a 2019 movie, which consists of a third or more of its images from 2005?  As fascinating as the special effects developed for the film, the history of the movie merits its own book, and it gets it in Abbie Bernstein‘s Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie, now out from Titan Books.  It turns out executive producer James Cameron and artists were working on the pre-production of Alita: Battle Angel during the development of his film Avatar.  According to interviews with Cameron and Alita director Robert Rodriguez, in the early 2000s the technology was not yet advanced to deliver what they wanted for their adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga novel.  But now that it’s arrived, fans of the film can trace its development over the past 15 years.

Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie is filled with concept art, split between 2005 digital ideas in advance of knowing what actors might be cast and final characters developed, and a renewed look at the project as it began to get fully underway only a few years ago.  Key interviews with Rodriguez, Cameron, producer Jon Landau, production designers Caylah Eddleblute and Steve Joyner, art director Todd Holland, visual effects supervisors Richard Hollander and Eric Saindon, costume designer Nina Proctor, Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri, and others tell the story–a marriage of practical effects and CGI.  In fact the commenters almost seem to have a battle between those responsible between the practical effects and CGI–all with an eye toward realism.  The most interesting aspects of the discussion are the incorporation of Alita star Rosa Salazar’s motion capture (or per Rodriguez, “performance capture” since motion doesn’t include the “emotion” element required to make a story come together) with Proctor’s real-world costumes, and the CGI layering that ends up as the final image that made it to the screen.

No doubt a highlight of the film and of the book are detailed images of Alita’s cyborg body shell, as created by the character of Dr. Ido in the film.  In real life it looks incredibly porcelain, but the artists discuss how the body and all the components of the film were actually fabricated.  The commenters don’t reference their inspirations for the look of the Iron City in the film or its cyborg inhabitants, but fans of the genre will no doubt see the influences–from the borg designs to story elements–from films including Chappie, Elysium, District 9, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cameron’s The Terminator, and even the light cycles of Tron.  Readers will learn more about the science behind the cyborgs in the film–how Cameron and others estimated weights of body parts, including Alita’s removable metal heart, as an example–all needed for 3D and CGI work and viewer believability.

Take a look inside Alita: Battle Angel–The Art and Making of the Movie courtesy of the publisher:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Alita: Battle Angela could be just another space-age story.  It’s full of cyborgs (we love’ em), but it’s not standard fare for frequent sci-fi movie buffs and sci-fi readers.  Without the “distraction” of Robert Rodriguez’s special effects, you can really get to the heart of the movie’s story by going to the underlying source work it adapts, or in this case, its novelization, Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization, by author Pat Cadigan, who also wrote last year’s Harley Quinn–Mad Love, reviewed here at borg.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of what looks like a teen girl.  The film changes enough from the manga, incorporating several new characters and conflicts, that the novelization and film stand apart from Kishiro’s manga.  So how does the new story fare?

Above all, the biggest surprise is that Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization is in every way a young adult novel, based on its protagonist, story structure, and the author’s writing style.  In fact the film may have missed a niche audience–as the studio targeted adult sci-fi buffs instead of fans of stories like the Divergent series, Twilight, The Maze Runner series, City of Ember, and Ender‘s GameEven more on-point, Alita: Battle Angel follows the same emotional highs and lows of The Hunger Games.  Both The Hunger Games and Alita: Battle Angel are teen heroine updates to both Rollerball (1975) and The Running Man (1987), but like some of the best science fiction they are also remakes of the oldest of them all, Frankenstein, and its descendant PinocchioBlend these four popular stories together and you can understand why James Cameron prepared 600 pages of development material for the Alita project he would ultimately produce into the film.

Pat Cadigan′s storytelling is a mirror of the writing style and pacing of The Hunger Games’ novel writer, Suzanne Collins.  In a significant way, Alita: Battle Angel is a teen romance, a romance between Alita–an amnesiac cyborg who is primarily robotic but has a human brain–and her newfound human boyfriend Hugo.  Hugo is a street kid who helps her learn who she wants to be and how to survive on the streets of a futuristic Earth where everyone who isn’t a cyborg is mugging cyborgs to steal their parts and swap them for cash.  As with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, Alita and Hugo fall in love as they help each other and work together when faced with an onslaught of ever-increasing impediments to their survival.  And yes, this is another superheroine with a problem like the heroine in the new Captain Marvel movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We have a review of the first of three tie-in books to the new Robert Rodriguez film Alita: Battle Angel coming your way.  Alita: Battle Angel should appeal to any fan of cyborgs–the story as envisioned by James Cameron was a pet project of the director for several years, one he’d picked up from Guillermo del Toro.  When Cameron decided to pursue management of his several Avatar sequels directly and finally handed over the project to Rodriguez he did so with more than 600 pages of notes he’d prepared.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of a young girl.  A part-time doctor, part-time bounty hunter, Doctor Ido, played in the film by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, takes center stage in Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal, the new release by writer Nick Aires for Titan Books.

After losing his human daughter’s struggle to live, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired Dr. Ido finds the “core” of a cyborg in a scrapyard with a surviving, living human brain.  He uses the prosthetics and futuristic body parts he’d designed for his daughter to rebuild a new girl, quasi-Pinocchio style, naming her Alita after his daughter.  The sci-fi story follows Alita as she tries to learn about her past and survive in a dystopian world that mixes inspirations from John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Neill Blomkamp, and George Miller.  The visions of each of these directors’ best futuristic films comes through in Doctor Ido’s Journal, an in-universe document which reprints concept art, sketches, and photographs from the film, combining them with a diary entry narrative written by Aires in the place of Dr. Ido.  Doctor Ido’s Journal will be familiar to fans of Aires’ past in-universe books, including Oliver Queen’s Dossier, S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and Arrow: Heroes and Villains and works by others reviewed here, including Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, and the Batman v Superman Tech ManualFans will first find a cleverly designed flex-cover that mimics metal (a great design effect that would make for an attractive blank journal), followed by pages of dense notebook entries that track the action of the film, all from Dr. Ido’s perspective.

The artwork is exceptional, vivid engineering-level drawings like those found in Mark Salisbury’s Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here at borg, and the combination of horror and beauty found in production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton’s elaborate designs in Alien: Covenant: David’s Drawings, reviewed here (it’s worth noting the Weta Digital created much of the designs for both Alita: Battle Angel and Elysium, and the similarly realized scrap-metal worlds of Blomkamp’s District 9 and CHAPPIE).  At times the gear-heavy animatronics inside the cyborgs echo the real-world 19th century automaton past of these creations, making these modern borgs into something that feels almost steampunk.

Here are some preview pages from Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal courtesy of the publisher:

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The fate of mankind is in Jackie Chan’s hands.  Sci-fi style.

Jackie Chan has done it all, with his martial arts prowess and renowned stunt team he’s raced cars (Thunder Bolt, The Cannonball Run), survived fantasy and supernatural perils (The Medallion, Chinese Zodiac), been a gunfighter in the Old West (Shanghai Noon), played twins (Twin Dragons), survived partnering with Chris Tucker three times (Rush Hour 1-3, with another sequel in the works), and he’s portrayed revered mentors of the past (The Karate Kid) and modern cops (The Protector, Police Story, Super Cop).  He’s fought in the streets (Rumble in the Bronx), played a spy (The Tuxedo, The Accidental Spy), and even defeated James Bond (or close enough, in last year’s The Foreigner).  But Jackie Chan as hero in outer space?

Sixty-three-year-old international action star Chan is taking on new territory as a special agent in a futuristic vision with space ships and Frankensteinian sci-fi villains in the summer action flick, Bleeding Steel.  Clearly nothing can stop the actor, considering the harrowing stunts in the new movie trailer.  He’s holding his own (and maybe even better) compared to his action star contemporaries Bruce Willis (also 63), Arnold Schwarzenegger (71), and Sylvester Stallone (72).  The trailer for the movie looks to be equal parts Judge Dredd and revenge tale, with Chan back in the protector role again.  The costumes and mash-up of the current world and future Earth of Bleeding Steel has a 1970s B-movie sci-fi look complete with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who-inspired costumes and cyborgs.

Bleeding Steel is notable as the biggest budget Chinese movie release ever filmed in Australia, premiering in China late last year. The success of this film in China plus three other films since 2016 starring Chan resulted in more than $500 million U.S. dollars for that nation’s box office.

Check out this trailer for Jackie Chan’s first sci-fi movie, Bleeding Steel:

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Reboot.  Recharge.  Rebel.

Next week the Synths return in AMC’s Humans, the series we pegged as last year’s best look at life living with and as a borg.  Humans is back for its third season with its season premiere Tuesday.  When we last left Humans, Lucy Carless’s Mattie Hawkins had uploaded the software to free the Synths–those very human-looking and acting cyborg servants.  Season 3 begins a year later–a year after all the Synths became fully conscious.  Since then life in British society has become strained as the oppressed Synth population fights to survive in a world that hates and fears them.

Similar to iZombie’s shift last season from a normal world to a world living side-by-side with zombies both at peace and at war, the Synths of Season 3 have their own community of outsiders split in two: The original green-eyed Synths are the rogues, not content with their second-tier status, and the new Series 11 “Orange Eyes” are the new, safe, properly configured and upgraded Synths.

The Synth family of Mia (Gemma Chan), Niska (Emily Berrington) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) return, continuing to battle for their right to survival,  The rest of the Hawkins family is back, too, with Mattie’s parents Laura (Katherine Parkinson) and Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) separated because of their divergent views of the Synths, and Mattie’s siblings Toby (Theo Stevenson) and Sophie (Pixie Davies) dealing with the upheavals all around them.

Here is a preview for Season 3 of AMC’s Humans:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Bradley W. Schenck’s sci-fi-meets-retro novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, was our favorite read of 2017.  Schenck created a unique story within a world we’ve never seen before, a world only hinted at in early 20th century pop culture, early pulp novels, and film.  For fans of classic sci-fi and all things retro, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom handled science fiction futurism like rarely seen before.  With the same imagination and fun, Schenck is back again in Retropolis with a new book of short stories, Patently Absurd: The Files of the Retropolis Registry of PatentsAll but one of the stories were originally published in 2016 and 2017 in Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, and the new story ties together the other stories in the volume, which all really read like a single narrative with clever titles to the chapters.  As with last year’s novel, it’s all great fun and smartly written.

Readers again revisit Retropolis’s day-to-day, the mundane, and the ordinary, in an uncertain world of tomorrow where nothing could possibly be mundane or ordinary, but this time Schenck hones in on one segment of the city, the Registry of Patents and new heroes of the office: Ben Bowman, investigator of patents, and secretary to the Registrar, Violet the humanoid robot.  Ben does not have aspirations of greatness, he’s content to do his job, but Violet is a robot who knows she was built to be an investigator.  The problem is that she’s gone through more than 14 bosses now–the Registrars–and still hasn’t been promoted.  Is it because they leave each other notes in the locked safe in the Registrar’s office about Violet?  And is it possible the office keeps losing Registrars because Violet is working her way through them?  Nah.

Big, bright, and detailed, like Tron, Logan’s Run, Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland, a bit Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, a larger dose of Metropolis, and an equal dose of Office Space and The Office–readers won’t find anything like Scheck’s world elsewhere.  The final story in the volume, “The Enigma of the Unseen Doctor,” is as compelling, rich, and poignant as any other master of science fiction’s take on what it’s like to be a robot.  Scheck turns the tables as we meet a robot with compassion for what it’s like to be human.  Patently Absurd provides the next step in science fiction’s investigation of the soul.

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