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‘Love, Death + Robots:’ a smash in small form sci-fi

“Love, Death + Robots” tells each and every story one could ever want with both a horror and a science fiction twist. 

The Netflix series, created by Tim Miller, is an anthology series, meaning each episode is a self-contained story. As one might imagine, the stories usually have something to do with love, death, or robots. This moniker is to denote that each story is a science fiction tale and most of the stories are based on short stories from the genre. With the exception of an episode starring Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, every episode is animated with both traditional animation and CGI. The shorts feature big-name actors and actresses such as Samira Wiley of “the Handmaid’s Tale,” as well as working voice actors like John DiMaggio, Yuri Lowenthal, Nolan North, and Kevin Michael Richardson. 

As mentioned, the series is an anthology, but this series succeeds where most anthologies fail: it leaves you wanting more but not so much that you become frustrated. Every story is cleanly wrapped up at the end and the sequence of the episodes is well thought out to give the viewer a healthy mix of happy and devastating endings. Most episodes come with a twist, dipping back and forth into the horror genre from the sci-fi emphasis. 

There are several standout shorts that are worth mentioning in detail. “Beyond the Aquila Rift” is seventh episode and is based on a short story by Alastair Reynolds. It features a space crew, made up of captain Thom, navigator Suzy, and officer Ray, tasked with moving through the titular wormhole to discover new resources, but strange things begin happening once they are on the other side. Thom and Suzy wake up after their autopilot system, Arkangel, pilots their ship through the wormhole and they realize that they are disastrously off course. An old friend of Thom and Suzy, Greta, appears from the ship’s intake port and tells them where they are. Suzy explains that the calculations could not have been incorrect, but she passes out suddenly. Thom and Greta catch up while Suzy recovers, and Greta explains that because of the deep space travel, time on Earth has passed much quicker than time on the space ship and that everyone Suzy and Thom know is dead. Things begin to seem stranger and stranger. Thom confronts Greta about all the strange things happening and the truth is revealed.  

The short uses the device of the “red herring,” or a narrative device meant to mislead the viewer. There are several red herrings that make the viewer think they know what’s really going on, but I assure you, you don’t even know what the twist is. There are two elements to the twist and you may see the first one coming but the second one will surprise anyone, except those familiar with the original short story. 

Another short that carries a lot of weight is the one titled “Shape-Shifters” based on a short story by Marko Kloos. It features a fictional universe where werewolves exist and are allowed to serve openly in the United States military. Two werewolves face adversity from the desert wartime environment and their fellow soldiers. The werewolf soldiers have the ability to see in the dark, run faster, and hit harder than normal humans. The werewolves eventually find out that the nondescript Arabic insurgents have werewolves too and it is their mission to stop them. 

This short stands out primarily because of its allegorical implications. Throughout history, when minority groups have entered military service, they have been met with extreme backlash. It is hard not to see a parallel between the way these werewolves are treated, and the way black and LGBT persons have been treated when they first entered military service in the United States. 

The final short worth mentioning is called “Zima Blue.” The episode is based on another short story by Alastair Reynolds and features a reporter talking about the history of an intergalactic muralist named Zima Blue. She tells of his evolution from small time portraiture to planet size murals comprised of one color: zima blue, supposedly named for the artist. The reporter is the first member of the press to speak to Blue in nearly 100 years. She soon learns that most of her research is not exactly what she has been led to believe. Blue tells her that he will give his final art presentation and that she is there to help him tell his story. 

“Zima Blue” is primarily a tale of how information is disseminated. The reporter’s story is vastly different to the truth of what Zima Blue says about his past. It shows the importance of the media in even an expanded world. As the reach of humanity grows, the need of information services like education and journalism grows as well. 

“Love, Death + Robots” is a wild ride and I challenge you to find your favorite episode and analyze it for yourself. “Love, Death + Robots” receives an A-rating. 

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