Uh. What just happened? WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
I imagine that somewhere in the world, right now, S.R. Johannes is cackling evilly to herself for sending yet another reader into a post-cliffhanger frenzy. (No really, I’ve met Johannes, and she’s actually very nice.) But still, that was an evil, evil ending…
… and I loved it!
We pick up with Eria just after she’s left the Biome and discovered that she’s actually an artificial life-form, a Humanot. She’s not long on her journey to nowhere, when she finds a pre-recorded message from her dad further splintering her already fragmented reality. But as shocking as the revelations are, her dad does give her something to hold onto – a mission and a direction – a purpose, however nebulous and vague though it may be. He also gives her more of an idea of what she’s capable of as a Humanot, and her skill set is vastly impressive and useful in the wasteland beyond the Biome. However, to Eria, it’s also a constant reminder of what she’s lost and what’s she’s not.
And this was my favorite part of this novelette, Eria’s struggle with her humanity. Is she human? She sure felt human before discovering her “artificiality.” Is any part of her human? Are all of her responses programmed? Who is she really? Can she ever really know? Is she capable of true emotion or free-will? What is her purpose? Why was she created? Eria’s internal conflict regarding her existence is simply fascinating.
But never fear, the novelette isn’t just one big existential debate. Eria’s journey across the wasteland is fraught with danger, adventure, monsters and a cute human resistance fighter, Dirk, who may pose the greatest danger of all.
Dirk has grown up hating BOTS, a group of rogue artificial lifeforms bent on wiping out the humans and their way of life, and he’s very vocal in his hatred of them. Despite herself and what she is, Eria likes Dirk – he’s her only ally and she needs his help and his community’s help if she’s to complete the assignment given to her by her dad. But all secrets have a way of getting out, and Eria dreads the consequences of discovery.
For all his prejudices, I did like Dirk. I mean if I grew up fighting against super creepy robots bent on killing me and everyone I love, I’d probably have rather strong feelings on the subject too. But regardless, capable, charismatic, compassionate, and a bit of a rebel even among rebels, he is an extremely likable and an understandable character. Dirk and Eria establish a tentative friendship in Choke, and I’m curious to see if that friendship will be able to supersede a lifetime of hatred or if the party line that all robots are evil will hold firm.
Storywise, I was impressed with how much happened in this novelette. And it was a page-turner as Eria jumps from one danger and adventure right into the next. And it is exciting and fast-paced right up until that doozy of an ending. (Sooooo evil.)
Overall, Choke builds on the great foundation laid in the first novelette, altering preconceptions, introducing a new perspective, revealing more of this ever-intriguing world, all while dealing with the complex issues of humanity, reality and prejudice.