REVIEW: Feral Machines by Ginn Hale
When the interstellar wildlife sanctuary Casaverde is quarantined due to an mysterious outbreak of malaria, Andrew Salazar must turn to military surplus synthetic life-forms to help him in his work as warden.
But Andrew soon discovers that the synthetics are far more complex creatures than he first imagined and that something more deadly than an old-world disease is stalking Casaverde.
Dear Ginn Hale,
Recently I attempted to read an m/m romance in which a man falls in love with robot. I disliked it very much, and then I remembered that once upon a time you wrote a novella which was part a “Tangle” anthology done by Blind Eye Books (several years later the novella was published separately as an ebook). Janine reviewed the complete anthology here at DA in 2008, and I also liked most of the stories, but I really only want to talk about your story because it is an example of how a man and robot (way too simple of a description for who Thomas is, but I cannot go into more details without revealing significant spoilers) falling in love can be done really well.
Andrew has been living on Casaverde as one of the two remaining volunteers for several years. Casaverde is a unique planet because it was set up as a wild life sanctuary, where wild life forms which had been extinct on Earth and other planets actually manage to thrive. It is a fragile and beautiful place, but also a very dangerous one. Unfortunately, the good intentions of the people in charge do not last long after they learn how many useful minerals Casaverde has. They introduce malaria bacteria to the planet, which cause most of the volunteers to get sick (not die but as we know malaria is no joke and people need to be treated) and require evacuation. Andrew is sick too, but he refuses to call for help, because in order for Casaverde to become a self-governed colony (as the story begins he has less than two years before it will happen), it has to be continuously inhabited by no less than two people.
The second human “volunteer” is Rannon, who in my opinion needs help even more than Andrew because he suffered a psychotic breakdown years ago (psychotic breakdown are the words from the book) and he is not in good shape. But Andrew refuses to call for help for Rannon because then he would be ordered to evacuate from Casaverde, the Department of Development would start to develop Casaverde as it sees fit, and of course the wildlife habitat wouldn’t survive.
I have to admit that as much as I liked the developing romance between Andrew and Thomas (one of the “synthetics” Andrew buys and whose life story I want to conceal in case you decide to read the book), I found the ethical dilemma that Andrew faces in his dealings with Rannon the most memorable conflict of the story. In fact, this is what I remembered about this book for years after I read it.
Do the ends justify the means? Does your desire to save the wildlife on a planet justifies keeping a mentally ill person a prisoner on that planet, one he came to hate and which stripped almost all humanity away from him? I thought it was a clever set up that Casaverde had no other people left except Andrew and Rannon, so the stakes are wildlife vs. one person, not the lives of many vs. the life of one. I will be honest, I really hated Andrew when I read the story as part of the anthology and then reread it in 2011 when it was published separately as an ebook, because I could not relate to his choices at all. For me, his fanatical insistence on saving animals and plants vs. letting Rannon get into such an awful condition was very unsettling. And I am often very unhappy with how we treat Earth, so it is not like I do not get where Andrew is coming from.
I did like the book overall, though, and it stood up to a reread well. I am thinking that making the reader ponder over ethical dilemmas may have been author’s purpose. I also have to admit that during this reread I liked Andrew a little more – I still cannot fully relate to his choices about Rannon, but seeing how desperate he was and how hard he tried, I decided to cut him some slack.
Andrew’s relationship with Thomas and with two other synthetics was fun to watch. I liked that the author seemed to put a lot of thought as to who synthetics were and how they were created. I liked that the romance with Thomas felt very slow burn, and despite this novella not being too long, it did not feel like an Insta!Love of any kind. I actually thought that they may have had a future together.