On first glance Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom seems like a fast paced adventure novel, a series of unlikely heroes, who unite against the plans of an efficiency driven civil engineer. However, despite its contagious plot and interwoven parts, there is a deep social commentary beneath the surface that makes this book not only fun to read, but food for thought.
When Nola gets fired from her job as a switchboard operator, she knows something is amiss. Driven by a curious desire to find out why, the recently unemployed operators pool their money together to pay Dash, an adventurer, to figure out why. So begins an investigation that will shake the very foundation of the city and reveal a plan by a civil engineer obsessed with efficiency.
As more and more characters enter our story, the mystery in this futuristic world is built upon. Even though the prospect of yet another character’s name and storyline can seem daunting, Schenck manages it in a brilliant and serendipitous way. Their seemingly different lives are woven together, showing us that even those small moments we pass through are all pieces of an intricate puzzle. Speaking of characters, I love each and every single one of them. From the struggling science fiction writer, to a mute robot, to Nola herself, there is no character too small for Schenck. Each is full of personality, history, and humor.
In addition, the heroes are perfect, because they are not your typical heroes. We have Dash, a self-taught passionate adventurer, Nola, a former switchboard operator with boundless optimism, and more. There’s Rusty the mute robot who is extremely clever and mysterious. Even Albert, the budding engineer who dares to delve deeper. Every single one of our protagonists is unique and colorful in a way that is infectious.
The Social Commentary
What I loved even more than the characters, is the way that Schenck hides social commentary beneath this high intensity plot. Underneath the impetus of Nola’s lay off, is an underlying desire for the mechanization of human (female) work – something our society has already confronted. At the same time, the same struggles the robots have to break free of their indenture, is closely mirrored in our history. The fear of that annihilation agency, the looming danger of slavery, is an essential terror rooted in humanity. We have been undergoing conflicts of free will, and the necessity of choice, for centuries.
(I could go on about the subtle things I loved about this book. For one, Pitt’s relationships with the robots is fantastic. There is a dance that exists between them. There’s a human obsessed with efficiency, and on the other hand we have robots and their own motivations. The dynamic between them is hilarious and indicative of the way that humanity can defeat itself).
I am unsure of which plot tendril I love most, the civil engineer’s descent into efficiency obsession, the formation of robot rights, or the children’s daylong escapade. There are layers upon layers of intrigue, story, and character within this book which make it an absolute pleasure to read. I could list many reasons why you should read this book: the humor, the intricate plot, the moving heroes, or the social commentary. Pick any one of these, but do read it.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
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