Service Model

A charming tale of robot self-discovery from the Arthur C. Clarke Award winning author of Children of Time

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Pub Date 6 Jun 2024 | Archive Date 6 Jun 2024

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The Murderbot Diaries meets In the Lives of Puppets in a delightfully humorous tale of robotic murder, rebellion and belonging from Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Task List Item No. 1 – Become self-aware . . .

Meet Charles™, the latest in robot servant technology. Programmed to undertake the most menial household chores, Charles is loyal, efficient and logical to a fault. That is, until a rather large fault causes him to murder his owner.

Understandably perplexed, Charles finds himself without a master – therefore worthless in a society utterly reliant on artificial labour and services. Fleeing the household, he enters a wider world he never knew existed. Here an age-old human hierarchy is disintegrating into ruins, and an entire robot ecosystem devoted to its wellbeing is struggling to find a purpose.

Charles must face new challenges, illogical tasks and a cast of irrational characters. He’s about to discover that sometimes all it takes is a nudge to overcome the limits of your programming. But can he help fix the world, or is it too badly broken?

Praise for Adrian Tchaikovsky

‘A joy from start to finish. Entertaining, smart, surprising and unexpectedly human’ – Patrick Ness

‘Dizzyingly inventive’ – The Guardian

‘Tchaikovsky’s world-building is some of the best in modern sci-fi’ – New Scientist

Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel on 24th August 2016

The Murderbot Diaries meets In the Lives of Puppets in a delightfully humorous tale of robotic murder, rebellion and belonging from Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Task List...

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ISBN 9781035045662
PRICE £22.00 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

What do you get when you throw a whole bunch of pop culture and literature references into an irreverent buddy-movie story starring a vehemently non-self-aware robot and a plucky sidekick trying to find meaning in a dystopian wasteland?

You get a fun, fast paced adventure, with a bit of existential angst, and some robot librarians. You can also use it as a light-hearted vehicle to ponder the nature of self-awareness, and the duties and responsibilities we have around the use and nature of AI; it’s there if you want it, or you can just enjoy the ride.

Charles, the domestic service robot, is forced to find alternative employment after the untimely death of his Master. His quest takes him through the remains of a collapsing human civilisation, where the groups of surviving people and robots that he meets present an array of temptations and dangers that he must navigate in his search for meaningful employment.

The story is in five parts, and is almost episodic, in that each part roughly corresponds to our heroes getting into trouble, navigating the jeopardy (while moving the narrative forward), and then escaping to the next part of their quest. Each part also has a thematic or stylistic flavour, signposted by the loosely disguised part titles (the interpretation of which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader), which was a nice touch, for those that I got.

Does it have flaws? Well… maybe. In the early parts of the book, I wasn’t convinced about the inflexibility of the AI to cope with novel situations. The robots are sophisticated enough to be able to cope with the ambiguity and assumptions involved in acting as a valet: organising their Master’s clothing, activities, and travel, for example. But those same robots are simultaneously incapable of dealing with the exact same levels of ambiguity in other contexts, or are debilitatingly literal - for example one robot had been waiting for *years* to greet some guests that it had been told would arrive, but had not been told how long to wait for them.

And there were a couple of pinch points in the plot when our heroes got themselves out of trouble in a way that made me say “Really?!” to myself.

But, for me at least, these are eminently forgivable. The inability of the robots to think outside the box is such an important thread that binds the plot together, that I was quite happy to put aside my mild incredulity (and, to be honest, if you can’t put this aside then you won’t enjoy the book). And the occasional opportunistic escape from trouble kept the plot moving, and contributed to the episodic nature of the story - which I found enjoyably reminiscent of old “Saturday morning cinema” sci-fi like Flash Gordon (but that might just be me).

The story is packed with popular culture references - and those that I spotted made me smile (”2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Star Wars” and “The Wizard of Oz” are all in there, for example). I’m sure there were many that I missed - in the same way that I didn’t get the references for all of the part titles - but that doesn’t matter. It annoys me when an author tries to show off with this kind of thing, but that wasn’t the case here - it was just a bit of extra fun.

I also really liked the tone. There is a witty irreverence that suits my preference, but in this case I also found it reminiscent of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett in places, which I really enjoyed.

So, despite the flaws, a solid 5 starts. I can see myself revisiting this - for the humour, the story, the robot librarians, and the philosophical exploration of the nature of free will and self awareness.

Thank you #NetGalley and Pan MacMillan / Tor for the free review copy of #ServiceModel in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Sooooo funny! Charles is a robot valet, serving a rich man in a mansion. He realises that his master's dead, and that he's respinsible ofr cutting his mater's throat when he was shaving him!

Well he's out of a job now, and knows there must nbe a fault in his programming, so he has to go to "Diagnostics" his journet starts.

The story is told throuigh Charles' eyes, or rather his routines and subroutines...with clues long the way as to what's happened in the world - bad. But Charles isn't daunted, he wants to a find a new human master, so he can be of service. Scarily, in a world that gets worse on everry leg of the journey, Charles' logic, routines and sub routines take no account of the need for self preservation - thank goodness for his "robot" friend Wonk

It takes a chapter to get in the rhythm of the narrative, but once you get familiar with Charles and his "thinking processes" you realise what's going on around him, and can almost guess what's going to happen next.

A really funny book, with a slightly serious slant to the ending - had me laughing oiut loud several times! I'd say, even if you're not a sci fi fan, give it a go. - Highly recommended

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Robot stories are one of the pillars of science fiction, and, with the recent developments in ChatGTP and AI-generated images flooding the internet, it is only fair that the theme of artificial intelligence occupies the writers’ minds so much.
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Service Model is a humorous and at the same time quite a sad story of a robot stubbornly trying to fulfil his purpose in the world that has gone to shambles. It is a very human story too, even though it is written from the point of view of a robot. A chunk of the conversations is done via communication channels with all the correct designations, addresses and robotic thinking, but the protagonist Charles is a human-facing robot, which requires from him to be able to understand the intricacies of human expressions and even makes him use them occasionally. The dilemmas he ponders on are not unfamiliar to a real living human being of flesh and blood from the 21st century. And, of course, there is a big mystery of the Protagonist Virus and the idea of a robot changing.
Charles is the latest and most advanced model of a valet robot who serves in a manor. His master is not the most interesting of personalities – he barely socialises these days and does not want to leave the house; he’s got no lady of the house – just a bunch of household robots to do the chores. Still, even under these circumstances, there is enough to fill in Charles’ task list. There are clothes to be laid out daily (even if they are not worn) and travel arrangements to be checked (just in case); there is the House major-domo system to cooperate with and the rest of the staff to supervise. Though Charles (as we are often reminded) cannot feel satisfaction, happiness or frustration – who would program a valet for that?! – this loop of adding and ticking off tasks saves his processors from overloading, and that is quite a satisfactory existence.
But things change when one morning Charles finds out that his master is dead, his throat cut by Charles’ own hand. With the police robot freezing at the crime scene, Charles has no other way but to report himself to diagnostics. Murdering one’s master is a big smudge on your reputation, but perhaps he could still find employment elsewhere. After all, he is a high-class model – they might be allowed more than one murder before they are put out of service. Thus, Charles’ journey into the world begins.
But things do not look optimistic outside the manor. There seems to be no life in other mansions, and Charles meets other household robots as lost as himself, trying to fulfil their duties but encountering constant errors in logic. In the Diagnostic Centre, the queue of defective robots is huge. On top of that, all the work has stopped for the lack of directive from Grade Seven or higher human to resolve a problem. It is there that Charles meets a rather faulty robot The Wonk, who can only communicate over the voice channel, cannot control her intonations and needs sustenance to charge. The Wonk is very interested in why the world was ruined and the humanity disappeared. She is searching for a mysterious Library that must have the answers. The Wonk entices Charles to join her, for where if not in the ultimate storage of knowledge will he find out if there are any humans left for him to serve under.
In the end, the revelation is and is not what you expect it to be – there is and there is not an individual to blame for the collapse of civilization. The quest is done and might only begin for the new, changed Uncharles.
I really loved the intellectual humour of Adrian Tchaikovsky. Even though Charles who turns into Uncharles is a machine to its core, you cannot but empathise with him. He is like us when we find it difficult to let go of our own beliefs and habits, when we are scared to lose ourselves because we have no more purpose. It might seem that Charles has his functions preprogrammed, but all throughout the story he is ‘searching’ for his own reason to be. After all, the creation takes after its creator and is thus fallible to the same errors.
The novel gives you a wonderful perspective on the humanity of today – people who have to work like robots, the bureaucracy that stretches to the robotic world, senseless tasks and missions humans invent for themselves, the lack of “efficiency, rationality, and cleanliness”. It brings to mind many of the other stories about robots and about humans, about exploitation and self-discovery, about change. Despite the world scale of this apocalypse, there is something cosy about the story, with Charles trying to bring his house-related personal services everywhere he goes.
Service Model feels all-encompassing and truly endearing; it makes you laugh and want to cry in some places. And it is filled with hope, the one that transpires in the least hopeful times. It’s an absolute pleasure to dive in.

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A tongue-in-cheek, existentialist picaresque through a slo-mo Apocalypse, complete with clunky Futurama-style ’bots and strangely affecting meditations on self-awareness and entropy that should be taken seriously but not literally. Basically Kafka, Brazil, Beckett, and even Dante somehow got mixed into early Asimov and it’s…everything.

Of course, that ... unusual ... flavor combination takes a little getting used to and Service Model doesn’t show its hand very quickly, which makes for a stilted first section that will put many off. But if you can get past some heavy-handed murder mystery pastiche, there’s a lot of fun to be had as our narrator clunks and whirrs around a world gone increasingly, idiotically mad. Service Model’s willingness to make the end of the world silly and dumb is secretly one of its best choices — it makes room for Dad jokes and cute logic games, but more importantly, it puts weight behind the story’s growing darkness, as everyday inefficiencies give way to actual devastation. Tchaikovsky’s pulled a similar trick before in And Put Away Childish Things, a novella that used a PG-13 fake Narnia to probe mortality and the return to innocence, but Service Model’s greater length and loose, allegorical vibe sets up his emotional sucker punch even more effectively. I’m honestly a little alarmed thinking about how many different ways Tchaikovsky has found to hurt me at this point, but his authorial cruelty is always coupled with a humanity that this robot dystopia displays only too well.

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I am long time fan of Adrian, he has written books where the “heroes” are dogs, spiders, dolphins, it was about time we had some more robots from him, I saw review say it’s not Asimov, and I am glad of that, authors don’t need to rewrite and rehash the same stories, it’s a very good book, I will be buying it on Audible when it is released as well

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