Image by Lisa Larson Walker.
Why You Might Like This Story
When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis is my favourite story of the teens! It takes a seeming dystopia and finds positivity and hope in a humorous and unusual but believable way. (1) What’s not to like?
While I am not Indigenous, I have spent time with people who are. If you haven’t had the opportunity, you are missing out on some of the funniest people on the planet! Think Taika Waititi, and you start to get the idea. The humour in this story is right in the fond insult space that few non-Indigenous people can carry off without coming across as just mean (I’m looking at you, curmudgeon John Cleese!). Newitz’s crow culture is uncompromisingly funny, and you can’t help but love the optimism of the young heroine, Jalebi.
The Hook: The story starts with a description of Robot, his appearance and his purpose. It doesn’t matter how much we read about robots or see them in real life, there is a fascination there that never seems to get old. Robot’s description hooks readers well.
Tone: The optimistic tone of this story comes across via the deceptively child-like outlook of Robot and its interactions with Crow and Jalebi. There is tension as they work to avert a health crisis, but Newitz hasn’t chosen to include a Marvel-type dramatic crisis. There was no need. Instead, the three’s dogged efforts get us to the point where modern health tech can save the day.
The title of the story is in the style of an Indigenous fable, and the story does an excellent job of melding science fiction tropes into the fable form. Newitz has done their homework. The story is highly respectful of Indigenous people and culture.
On Appropriation: I might be wrong, but I do not think Newitz is Indigenous theirself (is that a word?). I have not been able to figure out how Newitz dealt with the appropriation issue. All I can say is that if I were writing a story like Robot and Crow, I would find Indigenous readers and editors, and I would ask an elder or knowledge keeper to sign off. I would also make sure these people were paid for their services.
Annalee Newitz on Twitter – https://twitter.com/annaleen/status/1079822666326978560?lang=en
Bibliographic Info on Utopian Literature in English – https://openpublishing.psu.edu/utopia/content/%E2%80%9Cwhen-robot-and-crow-saved-east-st-louis%E2%80%9D
(1) An AI expert has weighed in (see Newitz’s Twitter link above), explaining how AI does not work in the way depicted in this story. No matter! Maybe the AI’s programming was distracting for this expert as she read, but she still liked the story. The rest of us are not likely to notice.