Robot in Roses • 2017 • SF novelette by Bruce Sterling

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: Wolfgang is an art critic from Nuremberg in 2187. He has the honor to shepherd “The Winkler” for several weeks during its slow voyage through the Alpine mountains towards Northern Italy. 

The Winkler started eight years ago in Japan, a kind of wheelchair like no other robot, a “cyborg platform built to embrace a patient crumbling with old age”. It’s been the device of a artistic genius dying in the Winkler’s embrace. 

The Japanese art robot was obsessed with the beauty of flowers. It settled into place with an odd mechanical squat, and ran its puffy, agile fingers over the hairy stems, the pliant leaves, the golden petals.
The Winkler bent down a tall stalk of the golden Alpine saxifrage, and took a long, close, robot-surveillance look with its bright ring of camera eyes.

Like any other sheepherder, Wolfgang hopes to witness the Winkler creating a greater piece of art, more than just one of those beautiful bird nests that its been leaving behind. That would make Wolfgang world-famous. He tries to understand, how and why the Winkler is doing this, and if the robot is something beyond human and machine. 

Reaching Verona, something unexpected happens. The Winkler had never before entered a city. Wolfgang looses the Winkler there but finds it in control of a member of his club’s foes, the scientists. Dr. Jetta Kriehn is a post-human scientific fieldworker for the Cosmic Council and wants to destroy the Winkler.

A long discussion on their further journey about art and science unfolds between the two of them. Will they agree on a compromise? Will the Winkler escape and create a great work of art?

Review: This wonderful, hilarious tale features deep thoughts about philosophical topics. Are the creations of the Winkler really art or just sham? The story’s conclusion is worthy a star of its own. 

While most of the story is centered on dialogues, there are some tiny bits of action, and some wonderful moments of lyrical prose. 

A highlight in the collection!

Meta: I’ve read it it in the collection Robot Artists and Black Swans.

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