“Silence & Roses” by Suzanne Palmer

IZ223 cover“Silence & Roses” has the misfortune to be the third robots-outliving-humans story I’ve read in the last year. All three are driven by sentiment, and on that scale Palmer’s tale sits somewhere below Ken Scholes’ cloying “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk”, and somewhere above Deborah Biancotti’s superior “King of All and the Metal Sentinel”. As in those stories, robots designed for routine are challenged by novelty (which reveals backstory, in this case that we’re in a care home walled off from the ruins of civilization outside), and their naive incomprehension drives a plot, with sentiment generated by the gap between what they understand (the residents are falling silent) and what we understand (the residents are dying). Confronted with the pointlessness of their existence, many of Palmer’s robots go a little mad; only our hero, Button-4-Circle-Peach, survives for long enough to fall into a situation where the rules he understands can apply again. It’s competently done (and the initial reveal is quite well done), but seems somewhat rule-bound itself. And that the robots’ programming recognises silence as a problem, but not strips of rotting flesh hanging off a resident’s face, is surely unlikely.