There’s a new novelette out at GigaNotoSaurus and it’s a new take on a somewhat “classic” trope. That of robot wives and a community rocked by certain revelations. But it’s also a story that doesn’t fall into the “classic” and misogynist pitfalls that so often accompany those stories, that view with rosy nostalgia a past where nuclear families were just swell. The piece makes room for the hard truths that can go hidden in suburbia, and doesn’t give in to the gravity to crash into violence. Rather, it’s a different kind of revolution being waged, and it makes for a wonderful story. To the review!
“A Wild Patience” by Gwynne Garfinkle (10854 words)
No Spoilers: Gretchen and her sister Jessica have been noticing some changes in her mother, but assume that it’s just menopause or maybe a mid-life crisis. They don’t guess that their mom, and a lot of the mothers in their town, are actually robots built and designed to service their husbands and raise their children. Which comes as a bit of a shock. Taking the idea of the Stepford Wives and twisting things delightfully, the story doesn’t linger in the horror of the situation. At least, not the standard one, where these women turn evil. Rather, they turn feminist, and the piece follows how that works, and how it effects Gretchen and the rest of the children as well, that so much of their lives has been built not just on lies, but abuse and essentially slavery. The piece is relatively quiet for all that, though, refusing to devolve into a story of open warfare. Rather, it’s a quieter story about women helping women, escaping from imprisonment and finding ways to be free. It’s strange but compelling, and I love the character work and the future the piece carves out for them.
Keywords: Robots, AI, Family, CW- Rape/Slavery, Secrets
Review: I really do like how this story twists tropes and expectations. At least for me, the narrative plays with the cliches of suburbia, of the “perfect” wives that are subservient and who love through service (wow is that a sharp line in the story, when it comes, when the Mom lays out what’s been happening to her children). Normally the breaking of that is the opening of horror, as a woman who isn’t a good housewife must be a secret killer, a defective and rebelling monster who would then need to be put down. And of course the horror really isn’t that there would be there “killer robots” but rather that actual women would reject the heteronormative “ideal” that those robots represent, and thus “ruin” the nuclear family. I love too that throughout all of this, the children are just fucking appalled at how awful their fathers are. Seeing that they had created sex slaves that couldn’t speak for themselves until now. It’s an absolutely gutting experience because it sort of reveals just how widespread this incredibly toxic and abusive mentality is, where these men are all rapists pretending to be good fathers, something that the kids don’t want to think about but that they don’t turn away from, either. The piece doesn’t have the kids want to retreat back, want to call their mothers liars, which is basically what the fathers were counting on, after they lost control of their robot slaves. But even with the moms no longer doing all the chores, the cooking, the traditional caring, the kids still loves their moms, and their moms still love them. Which is complicated and messy because of what’s happened but it does allow them to maintain relationships and keep the full weight on the fathers, who are really just fucking awful. Not spectacularly, so, but really that’s part of the power of the piece, the extent to which men being terrible isn’t exceptional, but standard. Especially when it comes to child rearing.
And for me the story succeeds in being compelling without really becoming about this violent struggle of man vs robot. Not that there isn’t a bit of violence, because it’s something that’s basically expected. It’s hard to imagine that the men here are just going to “give in,” but I think the piece does a wonderful job of also showing how shallow the power of the men really is. It’s based on physical strength and a network of people who will protect them, who will cover for them, who will lie for them. But the story, told mostly contemporarily, refuses them that same network. Now the men's power is vulnerable, needs to stay quiet, because if people see it, it’s so obvious that it’s wrong. Further, the men lack the means to coerce the women. They are neither a physical threat not particularly clever. They are just average. Average and find that, once exposed, they are the villains of the story. Not the robots, who just want peace and a place to be. In the judgment of the story, the men are the ones who have trespassed, and it’s up to everyone else to find a way forward, to find ways into their own power and freedom. And in that it’s a lovely and joyous refusal to give into horror and death. Most everyone is safe at the end, happy as they can be even if they’re left wondering how to move forward. The kids can have a family that really cares for them as more than ornamentation, as more a shield for abuse. It’s a complex and rewarding read for me about the fragility of toxic masculinity, and how important it is to be honest with kids about what happens inside of marriage, and having those difficult conversations regardless of the outcome. It’s understated in many ways but I love the feel of it, the voice of the characters, and the ending is just all the yes! Go check this one out immediately!