In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots–fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.
The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio-a past spent hunting humans.
When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.
Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?
Author TJ Klune invites you deep into the heart of a peculiar forest and on the extraordinary journey of a family assembled from spare parts.
“Because all beings deserve a chance to find out what life could be when they don’t have to serve others.”
Now when someone will ask for my favorite retelling, I will day In the Lives of Puppets!
And I honestly never thought I’d love a Pinocchio retelling because Disney’s Pinocchio frightened me as a child!
Yet TJ Klune took all the elements of the classic Pinocchio with Giovanni (instead of Gepetto) the creator/father, the Blue Fairy but Pinocchio is not only Victor, the human. It’s only Hap the android.
And I don’t know if Jiminy Cricket, the conscience is Nurse Ratched or Rambo to be honest!
We even have the Terrible Dogfish!
In the Lives of Puppets, like Pinocchio, we have the question of humanity at the center.
What makes someone human?
Is it dreams? The ability to hope and feel? Is it free will and the ability to create? Something else?
TJ Klune is also tackling a very delicate and hype subject: the machine overruling humans. With the rise of AI and all we hear and see this doesn’t seem as far fetched as it could have been decades ago.
Also at the heart of the story is a found family. TJ Klune writes the best found families because that was a ragtag group of friends!
First came Gio, the android and creator of machines. He built his house into the branches of trees, far from civilization.
He was so lonely after some years, even if machines shouldn’t be able to feel loneliness so when a couple of humans on the run confided a baby to him, Gio found a new purpose in life.
He raised the boy like he was his own son.
And years later Victor, the boy, found a little vacuum decommissioned in the scrapyard. He restored the vacuum, gave it a new life and he got Rambo!
Rambo reminded me of Chauncey from The House in the Cerulean Sea because he was so afraid and sweet. Very talkative too!
Then Victor salvaged a nurse robot, also decommissioned and she became the surely Nurse Ratched. Always threatening to electrocute people if she was annoyed.
Many years after, our bunch of friends discovered an android in the same scrapyard. With no functioning battery, Victor created a heart of wood and Hap was reborn! Stuttering, scowling Hap.
And giving a heart has unexpected consequences, especially a heart fed with blood.
“Be warned, a heart is not like the battery you used to have. It’s stong, but fragile.
It will lift you up. It will ache without reason. You’ll find yourself feeling things you never thought possible. A heart changes everything.”
He had forgotten everything but Gio told him he had a choice to make: he could choose to become who he wanted to be, not something he’s bee programmed for. That was pretty revolutionary for a machine!
But when a big flying whale came with faceless androids to capture Gio, Victor and his friends will go on a journey to find his father, back in the City of Electric Dreams (the city of sins… hint hint Las Vegas).
The journey will be hectic and filled with chance encounters.
They will all have to be brave, to trust that they can do it.
“What are the rules?
Run if we have to.
And above all else, be brave!”
Vic will learn some unsavory truths about Gio and Hap along the way and he’ll have a choice to make too: forgive or live angry forever, love or go alone.
I really adored listening to that fabulous story. The adventure was great, the topics very contemporary but above all else, it was the characters in all their flaws and quirks who made this so enjoyable!
Rambo, the little vacuum. Always excited, always chatty. Afraid all the time but trying to be brave like Vic asked. He was a big romantic and loved romance movies and music!
Nurse Ratched, engaging and then disengaging empathy protocol. Always threatening of bodily harm but never thinking it. Commenting on Vic having bowels to empty, asking if he was aroused as he was “asexual” and embarrassing Vic to no end. I snickered so often!
“I’m also good” Rambo said.
“You seem to be suffering from an intesne anxiety disorder. But that is fine. We are all unique. Victor is asexual. Giovanni is old. And I have sociophatic tendecies that manifest themselves in dangerous situations.”
“Hooray!” Rambo squaled.”
Hap with a permanent scowl, good looks despite having a wooden leg. He was the grump to Rambo’s sunshine. But a real marshmallow inside saving butterflies because they were pretty. And never leaving Vic’s side.
“What you are feeling now might be considered happiness.”
“It’s terrible,” Hap said. “I want to p-punch something.”
Giovanni with his long beard, soft voice and huge intellect. Always patient with Vic, always encouraging and so wise.
“We’re not the same. I was alone and sad before you came into my world. You gave me hope, Victor.
I don’t need you to be like me. I need you to be YOU.”
And Victor, the only human, who learned to talk late, who has a big heart too wanting to save every machine. Vic, blushing easily. Breakable yet strong.
“You were made to bring happiness. You are alive in ways we are not. You are soft and fragile. But you are complex and disturbing and sometimes foolishly brilliant.”
I fell hard for these heroes and was sucked right away in their lives, following their tribulations and hoping that all would end well.
Congratulations Mr Klune, you succeeded in making me feel everything once again, leaving me with a heart bursting with emotions and positive feelings.
A last comment about the narrator: Daniel Henning. He did an excellent job recreating the characters and all their voices! I couldn’t help but think that it was a very good performance as he stuttered when Hap talked, talked haltingly like a robot for nurse Rachet, was very excited talking a mile a minute in a juvenile voice for Rambo etc. Honestly, an outstanding job!
Thanks for reading.