One of my favourite comedy moments in a film occurs in Woody Allen’s sci-fi comedy, Sleeper, when his character Miles Monroe has to disguise himself as a robot butler. The image of a silver Allen shuffling around, C-3PO style, trying to serve people at a busy party makes me grin every time I think of it.
And it was that scene that popped into my head as I began to read Canadian author Benedict J. Martin’s debut novel, Charlie Robot. The general premise is similar, and while the humour isn’t as physical and slapstick as Allen’s futuristic nod to Groucho Marx, it’s still a whole lot of fun.
The story begins in a lab in Vancouver, where Charlie and his colleagues have created the world’s first totally lifelike android. The android, however, goes missing just as they are due to hold a press conference to introduce him to the media. Rather than pulling out of the conference and admitting to their investors that the robot has gone AWOL, Charlie’s boss Doug persuades him to walk out on stage instead – the idea being that Charlie can pretend to be the robot just until they locate the original.
It’s a solid starting point for a comedy sci-fi novel, and it hooked me in right from the start. Martin doesn’t waste any time getting into the story and, with several twists packed into its 200 or so pages, it never seemed to drag. This is helped by Martin’s accessible writing style which suits the light-hearted tone of the book. As sci-fi goes, it’s closer to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf than Blade Runner and Star Trek.
It didn’t take me long to build up a fondness for poor Charlie, partly because many of the people around him seem to be distinctly unlikeable, but also because he never loses his dry sense of humour, no matter how bad his predicament becomes. And humour is the book’s greatest strength – while the plot may be fanciful, the comedy is well observed and down-to-earth, often stemming from Charlie’s amusing descriptions of the characters around him.
Charlie Robot is a great idea that’s expertly executed, and I look forward to reading more from this talented author.
Buy the book here
Length: 197 pages