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June 17, 2015

Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Angels... but what about Robots?


Vampires and werewolves are all over YA, but what about robots? Suzanne van Rooyen --- whose new book I HEART ROBOT features a human teen and a robot who meet as members of the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra --- analyzes why robots have yet to become a YA trend, but why they absolutely should. Read more below, and be sure to check out I HEART ROBOT, in stores now!

Largely thanks to TWILIGHT, the past few years have seen a deluge of paranormal creatures inhabiting YA books. Some of the smash-hit novels in recent YA history have featured such mythical beings, books like Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, Becca Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH and Jennifer L. Armentrout's Lux series. Being a huge fan of vampires and were-beasties myself, I totally understand the allure of these creatures, especially when they're in the guise of a gorgeous teenage boy, all mystery and rebel sex appeal. Sadly, robots haven't enjoyed the same level of interest yet and I think I know why.

Paranormal creatures like vampires and angels, by their very definition, exist outside the rules, beyond the control of human beings. These fang-bearing or winged heroes of YA are the ultimate bad boys, not only shrugging off typical authority that comes from parents and school, but defying even greater laws like the laws of physics and biology. Their 'otherness' is the key to their mysterious appeal, representing the ultimate fantasy for readers of YA.

Robots, and by extension androids or cyborgs, don't present quite the same mystery. Robots are man-made. They are created using technology based on science, science that follows rigid rules even if authors sometimes bend those rules to accommodate their creations. Being man-made demystifies the robot while also binding it to its human creators. Unlike demons or werewolves who might be beholden to natural or preternatural laws, the rules that govern robots aren't terribly interesting because they're rooted in the mundane world, no matter how futuristic and sci-fi that world might be. And, more often than not, robots are portrayed as the enemy in science fiction --- like Terminator --- and definitely not the swoon-worthy love interest. Nonetheless, I have a soft spot for robots for these exact reasons.

When I sat down to write I HEART ROBOT, I was very aware of the legacy left by authors like Asimov and the 'norms,' even rules, he created for robots in fiction. While many subsequent works have built on this foundation, I deliberately wanted to give my robots a little more autonomy, or at very least, the desire for it. I also didn't want to limit my robots by programming them not to hurt humans. Human beings have to grow up developing a sense of morality, and I wanted that to be the same for my androids, made more difficult perhaps by the constraints of artificial intelligence.

As a teen, I felt a lot like my android protagonist Quinn, not quite in control of my own life. Of course, Quinn is struggling against his programming while I resented following the rules various authority figures imposed upon me. But, like Quinn, I was struggling to develop a sense of self and identity, to define myself on my own terms, and to discover my true passion. In this way, I hope my androids became a little more human and a lot more relatable.

While robots have yet to become a trend in YA, there are quite a few excellent reads starring robots as both heroes/heroines and villains. If you'd like to read more books about robots, androids and cyborgs, here are a few titles to get you started:

The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
Mila 2.0 series by Debra Driza
GIRL PARTS by John M. Cusick
Revolution 19 series by Gregg Rosenblum

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and entertains her shiba inu, Lego. Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.