January 10, 2014
Book Review: Sad Robot Stories

behnamriahi:

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Sad Robot Stories, written by Mason Johnson and published by The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP), is a science-fiction novella told from the third-person point-of-view of Robot, an urban manufacturing robot from the not-too-distant future. Robot isn’t like other robots—sometimes, he seems a little too in touch with humanity. All for the worse when the apocalypse happens and everything dies. Everything but robots, that is. When Robot has nowhere to turn, nowhere to go, he recaptures his humanity through story, in recalling the same stories his human best friend, Mike, told him. However, not all stories have happy endings. 

Mason and I have known each other for ages, probably. Back in our college days, it felt as if everyone weighed their hopes on either one of two writers in in our class. Mason and myself. Of those two writers, only one of us has successfully published something at least novella length. Yay, congratulations, Mason. When I modestly asked Mason for his autograph, he signed my book, “To my favorite anime character.” Finally, someone gets me. However, despite my affection for Mason, I’m also rife with jealousy, so expect a fair and honest review.

I actually enjoy CCLaP’s novellas. This is not the first one I purchased—although this one does have a few typos that were over-looked. Not an abundance—certainly not as many as, say, Shogun, but enough that I noticed them and have chosen to introduce them as my first lash against Sad Robot Stories. I understand that Columbia College’s fiction department didn’t put a huge emphasis on spelling and grammar, but c’mon, Mason. You edit stuff for work.

That aside, I have very few other complaints about this book. The descriptions, though brief, acknowledge the most honest details about each character in order to portray accurate, extraordinary pictures of the lives they live. And though most of the characters in this book meet their end as a result of the apocalypse, from Robot’s non-sentimental point-of-view, those characters contrive a sentiment unique in its own way as they muse about their lives, their pasts, their “futures.” In a strange way, despite how short-lived some characters were, I grew very attached to them and spent each page waiting for them to come back again. I won’t give anything away, but Johnson is very imaginative when it comes to surprising his audience.

Though Robot lacks sentiment, the narration, despite being from Robot’s point-of-view, is purposefully unreliable. What that means for this book is that, despite all hope and pain the audience feels, it comes a lot sharper because of the narrator, who chooses to include herself in spite of playing little role in Robot’s story. This sharpness is perpetuated by the narrator’s own distance from the characters and their fates, allowing us to perceive struggle in a way that’s almost objective, even in all of its subjectivity. Johnson doesn’t pound an idea into us to make us give a shit—he merely tells it straight through a point-of-view with fictitious admissions, leaving us to wonder whether that very straightness is as accurate as the story that Mason himself conceived or if it became mired heavily by the perceptions of his characters as they filled the shoes of other characters. It’s like if Catcher in the Rye were told from the point of view of Holden’s little sister, Pheobe. Except, in this case, Holden is a non-emoting robot. Or Salinger. No, Holden.

I think the most marvelous part of all is the titular moments of the story. These instances, in their own way, are the story. Sad Robot Stories is the story of a sad robot telling sad stories, sad robot stories. I thought, at first, Mason was just fucking with me when I heard the title of this book, but no moment, not even the book’s title, is wasted. Each word is carefully chosen in order to move the story quickly, at the pace of a novella, while telling the story as fully and meaningfully as possible. Whenever each line is cast out into the literary sea, they all seem to be hooked in the same fish’s mouth as the book builds to its paramount ending, one so profound with emotion that I almost shed a tear, despite imagining Mason’s handsome face smugly grinning at me after I remembered the author.

I suppose you can overlook typos. I know that when the quality of the work shines through in spite of them, I can. Though the editorial system may not have been quite so robotic, the story wasn’t either. It’s carefully littered with meaning, emotion, and character, pureed into one beautiful, imaginative, powerful, sad, robot story. I have no other alternative but to give Mason the rating he deserves.

The Riahi Rating:
★★★★★
5/5 stars

About the publisher:
CCLaP, or the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, is a small-press publisher that’s been hitting hard on getting emerging writers out there, to share their voices with the world in a very underrated medium, the novella. Their first work I read was by Lauryn Allison Lewis, called Solo/Down, which I very much enjoyed too, so the quality certainly shows. I recently had the opportunity to chat with their editor-in-chief on facebook, and while I don’t have a transcript on hand, I can say that there’s big things coming for this company. If you’ve got the work and you think it’s worth a shot, pay them a visit, read their pieces, and send them some of your own. It may take you further than you ever anticipated.

This is a great review!

The only thing I disagree with: no one has ever weighed their hopes on me.

I appreciate Behn’s appreciate for the little moments and the narration.

January 8, 2014

Originally written for a Secret Santa in 2012 and eventually posted in Red Lightbulbs (with other material from said Secret Santa), I always really liked this piece.

It came out unexpectedly unexpected.

I read it for the first time last night at Two Cookie Minimum.

I enjoyed reading it.

Anyway, you should let me know what you think.

You should also reblog it, because I can’t think of any other sad stories about Andrew Dice Clay on the internet.

August 12, 2013
SAD ROBOT STORIES IS OUT
My novella, ‘Sad Robot Stories,’ which has been released by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, has finally been released.
Having worked on this novella the past year, and having made a concentrated effort to make something — for lack of a better phrase — “worth a damn,” I’m really goddamn happy that this is finally in existence.
You can get it here. You’ll have a few options:
Free download. Choose between PDFs or ebook formats (there’s also a donation link, in case you feel it’s monetarily “worth” something)
Buy the physical version. CCLaP makes very beautiful, handmade versions of each of their books. The cheapest shipping option will run you about $22 bucks. If you like the feel of a physical book in your hands, this is very worth it.
Amazon. Currently $4.99. Honestly, the free download is more ideal, not only because it’s free, but because Amazon can’t take a cut if you happen to donate.

SAD ROBOT STORIES IS OUT

My novella, ‘Sad Robot Stories,’ which has been released by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, has finally been released.

Having worked on this novella the past year, and having made a concentrated effort to make something — for lack of a better phrase — “worth a damn,” I’m really goddamn happy that this is finally in existence.

You can get it here. You’ll have a few options:

Free download. Choose between PDFs or ebook formats (there’s also a donation link, in case you feel it’s monetarily “worth” something)

Buy the physical version. CCLaP makes very beautiful, handmade versions of each of their books. The cheapest shipping option will run you about $22 bucks. If you like the feel of a physical book in your hands, this is very worth it.

Amazon. Currently $4.99. Honestly, the free download is more ideal, not only because it’s free, but because Amazon can’t take a cut if you happen to donate.

July 24, 2013
"... Sad Robot Stories, a book that, despite its premise, reads more like fable and allegory than campy science fiction. It may playfully explore a host of complex, timely issues, such as the mechanization of the workforce, gender nonconformity, and the looming threat of extinction. It may give us a fun, fresh, and surprisingly moving view of human nature and the human condition. But at its core it's about the magic of storytelling, a celebration of how the best stories, the 'honest' stories, can make us feel whole, sustain us, connect us, and give us hope--even in our darkest hour."

Alba Machado did an awesome review of my upcoming novella on Gapers Block.

Thank you, Alba!

May 14, 2012
Follow me on Twitter

So I can have more followers than Ben Lyon.

April 30, 2012
My stories…

Updated list of stories I’ve written that you can read (or not)…

Sad Robot Stories - self published

Friends for Sale - written in 2010 and just recently published in Hair Trigger 34

The Bump - published by the2ndhand

Dame, Extra Spicy - published at Untoward

Getting a Job - poems published by Red Lightbulbs

Cat, A Review - published by Knee-Jerk

Appendicitis - poem published by Defenestration

The Homeless - published in Columbia’s Story Week Reader 2009

I write/have written regularly for Another Chicago Magazine’s blog, Artifice’s blog, CBSChicago.com, and Literary Chicago. Info about my reading series is at pissfanatics.net.

That is me.

April 30, 2012
Conversations: The Old Chicago Author

Interview I did with Robbie Q. Telfer, who is an awesome Chicago poet involved with The Encyclopedia Show, Louder Than a Bomb, and Young Chicago Authors.

See him cohost The Encyclopedia Show this Wednesday. Seriously, it’s one of the best readings in the city.

April 30, 2012
Mom drinking out of the “peterbd’d” cup.

Mom drinking out of the “peterbd’d” cup.