Staff Review – In the Lives of Puppets by T.J. Klune

“Under the Whispering Door” was one of my favourite books I read in 2022, hands down. Klune’s ability to take the fantastical and put it so effortlessly into the everyday world, all while pulling at your heartstrings, is unmatched. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his newest adult title. In “In the Lives of Puppets”, we are brought into a world sometime in the future where robots and androids are the new normal, and humans are scarce, if not believed to be extinct. Giovanni Lawson, an android, lives in the forest alone until he is handed a human baby to care for. 20 years later, Victor is all grown up and living with his dad Gio and their robot companions, Rambo and Nurse Ratched. One day, Vic and his robot friends find an android in the Scrap Yards. They do their best to bring him back to life, naming him Hap. Hap and Gio’s past connection changes the course of their lives, and suddenly Gio is gone. Victor and his friends take on a journey to the City of Electric Dreams in order to rescue him, all while keeping Victor’s identity a secret.

This novel is a wonderful mix of science fiction and fantasy. In the novel, there are stories told of the past, how humans created various machines to perform different tasks. As time went on, the machines got smarter and realized that a world without humans would make things much more simple. The machines in the novel still have specific “designations” – Rambo is a vacuum, Nurse Ratched a nurse, etc. In this future, machines are being created for one specific job. Naturally, this is an ominous warning for us today, as AI grows more and more intelligent and we are turning to machines more and more for simple tasks. The nods to the world of science fiction, for example, the City of Electric Dreams reminded me instantly of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, a quintessential science fiction read that inspired the “Blade Runner” films, made for an entertaining read. Both stories touch on the idea of whether machines can take on human characteristics and emotions, such as empathy and love.

Klune himself also describes the novel as “a queer retelling of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio starring an inventor named Victor, a mysterious android called Hap (Hysterically Angry Puppet), an anxiety-riddled Roomba vacuum named Rambo, and a sociopathic nursing machine, the Registered Automaton To Care, Heal, Educate and Drill (Nurse Ratched, for short)”. As this is a TJ Klune novel, I expected there to be LGBTQ+ representation, as Klune, a queer man, has had queer characters in all of his other works I’ve read so far. Klune is big on representation, also featuring characters with a speech impediment and potentially an autistic character as well in the novel. Another thing I expected was some witty banter, and this book delivered on that as well. The dynamic between Rambo and Nurse Ratched was definitely my favourite throughout the story – Rambo, an anxious and scared little vacuum, Nurse Ratched, a sociopathic nurse ready to drill anyone when necessary. Her deadpan comments mixed with his fear made for an entertaining read:

“‘I don’t like it,’ Rambo said. What if it’s a dragon?’

‘Dragons do not exist,’ Nurse Ratched said. ‘That was a story I told you to scare you. They are not real.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘No’, Nurse Ratched said. ‘You should go first and find out.'”

“In the Lives of Puppets” reminds readers to hold on to their humanity, to look cautiously to the future, and to be brave, even when it’s difficult. It’s also an entertaining read with action, adventure, a touch of romance and lots of wit. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you’ll love this one. Be sure to check out TJ Klune’s In the Lives of Puppets today!