John Joseph Adams, $6.99
Before I begin, I should point out that I contributed to the crowdfunding of this anthology a while back. I did this because I read about the project in its Kickstarter page and thought it was pretty unique and worth tossing $10 to. In return, I received a digital copy of this anthology as well as three issues of John Joseph Adams’s magazines and a copy of the anthology Seeds of Change. Oh, and I’m listed along with other contributors in the acknowledgment pages in this book. I have no idea whom Mr Adams is before I stumble upon the Kickstarter page, but now I’m intrigued by any project he may come out in the future.
Help Fund My Robot Army!!! is a science-fiction and fantasy anthology with a twist: crowdfunding is featured prominently in each story. I’m sure we all know what crowdfunding is: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the rest. These places are supposed to be a way for artists, visionaries, and activists to request donations for their worthy ventures, but of course, they have since evolved to become sources for authors to get their books self-published without paying out of their pockets for cover art or editing, social justice warriors on Tumblr to request for money to buy stuff on their Amazon wishlists, and companies to ask their target demographics to fund their ventures, so that they can sell the resulting products to the same target demographic for a profit. Not that there is anything wrong with this, as nobody is forcing anyone to pay for anything, but this is an… interesting evolution that is highlighted and even lampooned in some of the stories here.
A bulk of the stories here are patterned after actual crowdfunding pages, so they are best enjoyed if you are familiar with the format. If not, you can always poke around at one first just for kicks. The fun comes in seeing the rewards offered, the comments, and more.
The story that inspired Mr Adams to create this anthology – and crowdfund its development because it’s just so appropriate to do so – begins this anthology. Keffy RM Kehrli’s story, also called Help Fund My Robot Army!!! has Doctor Crushamous asking 40 million dollars to create a robot army to rule the world after eliminating all humans that didn’t donate to the cause and replace them with more robots. This one is quaint and cute, and I’m almost disappointed that the crowdfunding fails in the end.
Memory Palace Renovators, Inc is a 21st century company wishing to raise money for a device that eliminates all spoilers for anything (movies, books, et cetera) that one may encounters. For Entertainment Purposes Only by Jeremiah Tolbert starts out pretty much like an amusing dream of some earnest fans of popular media. What’s the catch here? It turns out that things are not what they seem. This is a fun story, mostly because it captures the tone of internet trolls and earnest mad scientists quite well.
Mary Robinette Kowal presents Zero G R&J, a hilarious poke at rabid fans of Dr Who and Joss Whedon, among other things. NASA and Other Hand Productions are planning a puppet production of Romeo and Juliet in a zero gravity environment. The Jim Henson Foundation would fund the puppets, NASA would accommodate the logistics of the performance in outer space, but someone has to cover the costs of transportation of props and such as well as other things. And why should any respectable company pay for these things when it can always ask people to chip in, right? The first round on Kickstarter is successful, since David Tennant, arguably the hottest Dr Who if we believe his more rabid fans, is signed on to star. Unfortunately, he has to drop out because he’s too tall for the space capsule, and things just go downhill from there. This story is too funny for words, especially when the person updating the crowdfunding page starts out so earnest and polite only to slowly losing his or her cool (while still remaining professional) in response to all the mounting flames from trolls and angry fans!
Jake Kerr’s A Memorial to the Patriots is an ingeniously framed tale of dystopian terrorism. In the future, the USA is ravaged by acts of terrorism that resulted in countless deaths. Well, a couple of people have come together to raise funds for a monument to commemorate war heroes. I can’t explain why without going into spoilers, so use your discretion. Major spoilers ahead! This story highlights most folks’ tendency to blindly believe that everything associated with patriotism is good, to the point that this attitude blinds them to common sense and makes them turn hostile to people who dare to voice some kind of disagreement. The twist is pretty obvious after a while, and if there is any flaw here, it’s the author playing his hand one time too many. However, a bunch of terrorists deceiving the government and the people with their gesture of patriotism, getting security measures to be temporarily lowered so that they can transport materials and such for the construction of the monument, when these terrorists are actually transporting bombs and such into the city – that’s a pretty interesting premise.
Chuck Wendig has a woman raising funds to pay for a magical ritual that would turn her into a lion in the appropriately titled I Want to be a Lioness. She has been cheated on and dumped, her son is being bullied at school, and her boss treats her like dirt. The poor dear wants a way to fight back. At first, her crowdfunding page was flooded with jeers and insults, but when her daughter is raped and the school authorities cover up the case to protect one of the students involved (who is related to the principal), and the video of the incident gets passed around, her son links the page to all kinds of social media. Funds pour in… but getting back at the evil establishment comes with a price.This is a story that starts out like a tragic dark comedy of a poor woman who has no way to fight back against her lot, but it soon morphs into something darker. There is some vicarious satisfaction to be found here when the bad guys get really screwed badly, but, as I’ve said, things don’t always go as smoothly as planned. And, of course, to save their mother from the folks who want to put her down now that she is a lion and is on a murderous rampage, killing all the ones who wronged her family, the kids put up a crowdfunding page, hah! This is a great story, with the added bonus of capturing how quick and easy the denizens of the Web can go from mockery of a subject into outrage on behalf of the subject, the outrage resulting in actions that aren’t always good for the person whom they believe they are helping.
Liberty: Seeking Support for a Writ of Habeas Corpus for a Non-Human Being by Samuel Peralta has an android seeking funds to set in motions legal action that can help free him from what he believes to be a wrongful detainment. This one only has the introduction and the reward tiers. No comments, nothing to show whether the crowdfunding succeed in the end. I guess the author wants me to think deep thoughts about the fate of androids and the possibility that they may think, feel like us and therefore deserve the same rights as us too. This is a shame, really, because the author has an interesting gimmick to work on, and he serves up some tired-ass “I think I’m Isaac Asimov!” stuff that has been done many times before.
Oh, I like Harry Connolly’s Help Summon the Most Holy Folded One!, in which some dude needs money to contact the avatar of the Taco God to learn “the secrets of taco creation”. Beats a potato salad, I guess. Everything about this thing is just right – the tongue is exactly against the cheek, and it’s hilarious.
Matt Forbeck’s Fulfill My Destiny – and Save the World! is about a guy who claims that he’s from the future, having conquered the world, and now he needs money to ensure that he can go to the future and ensure that he can conquer the world. This one has no follow-up, no comments, nothing, just the premise and reward tier. Maybe there is something profound here that I am not getting at all, but what’s the point of this whole thing again?
In Larping the Apocalypse 2: The Nano-Plague by Tim Pratt, a couple of basement-dwelling losers want to create an actual apocalypse so that they can play their dystopian Borderlands-style game in a real setting. Hot girls can apply to keep the guys entertained and happy between games, while homely girls can do the housework. Everyone else is on their own. This one has its moments, but I don’t know why the author is doing this. Making fun of gamer boys is like shooting fish in a barrel at this point. Something else for a change would be nice.
There is a full scale science-fiction epic taking place within the crowdfunding format of Fund Taphognosis Industries by Tobias S Buckell. Taphognosis Industries want to develop the technology to scan our mind and move it into an artificial medium, basically creating a copy of ourselves in the process. It sounds like a new way to become immortal, providing one doesn’t mind existing forever as software data. Funding is wildly successful, and chaos erupts soon after. This story isn’t anything new, as it has been done many times from the old days of pulp fantasy magazines, but the format makes this familiar tale an interesting spin on the same old song and dance.
Veronica Belmont’s Catassassins! has some idiots wanting money to train and develop cats into intelligent killers. Gee, I wonder whether this one will end well… Predictable, but a decent filler of a tale.
Monte Cook’s Finder of Lost Things is all about developing a device that will help anyone locate a missing item (there are limits to what it can locate, of course), which reveals more about the developer’s mid-twenties angst than the device itself. I like what the author is trying to do here, but I have a hard time trying to figure out why I should care about the story.
Prima Nocta Detective Agency Needs You by Genevieve Valentine blends urban fantasy tropes with crowdfunding, with some pretty decent success. Our heroine needs money to pay rent and such while she does her Licensed Paranormal Investigator thing in Shadow City. This one is amusing because it injects almost every trope out there, and it’s actually a shame that it ends so soon, therefore cutting short the party when the fun is only beginning.
Matt Williamson’s So Juicy Transforming Strips is pretty gross in a good way. It is modeled after a typical crowdfunding plea for the production of various remedies, but the proposed remedy here is for … well, read and find out. This one sticks to the mind, I’d give the author that, and that’s a job well done where I’m concerned.
Andrew Penn Romine has a bunch of folks raising funds to go to the mysterious face on Mars for a pilgrimage in The Spirit Of Mars: Fund a Sacred Journey to the Red Planet. These folks also want to establish a new temple devoted to the “sacred spirit of Mars”. Gee, what can go wrong? This one is readable, but it’s also too predictable for its own good.
In Bradley Beaulieu’s Flashed Forward, an elderly scientist, at odds with the rest of his colleagues, want to raise funds to go to the future. The technology has been developed, and now it is ready for testing on human subjects. The scientist volunteers to be part of the team, but he is rejected due to the fact that he’s not as important as those who were selected. They would let him tag along if he could pay for a spot, hence the crowdsourcing. I have to say this: this story takes a turn that is… well, in hindsight it’s probably not that unexpected, but it makes me choke up a bit inside. Not bad at all.
Carmen Maria Machado’s Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead has an interesting dark story in its core. I really like this story, and the ending can really cut the heart bad, but I also feel that the story would have worked better in a different format.
Michael J Sullivan presents a self-proclaimed wizard who can make wishes come true in Be Careful What You Wish For. He wants to distribute monkeys’ paws to finance a wedding with his sweetheart. Oh, he’s read that story, and he knows his own story would have a happy ending. Oh, he wishes. This is a filler story. It lacks an interesting twist to an already familiar premise, and there are more interesting stories in this anthology.
Next is A Practical Mechanism for Overcoming the Directionality of Temporal Flow by David D Levine. By this point, I’m getting a bit tired of all that “let’s do time travel!” thing that pops up quite a number of times in this anthology. There is an interesting twist to the end, but not interesting enough to stand out.
David Malki ! introduces a guy who wants to make a life-sized Tetris game in Life-Sized ARENA TETRIS! He even has plans for tournaments and such, but he is greeted with much skepticism in the comment section. There is a happy ending here, so I guess… yay?
Derek Van Gorder introduces Zippers, which is the name of a new product that allows every Web surfing adventure to be full of excitement and joy, perfect for people who have been online for so long that nothing seems to be interesting anymore. I hate to say this, but as a story focusing on humor, it is outclassed by several stories that came before it in this anthology.
I Used to Love H.E.R. (a/k/a Help Engineer and Rebuild My Robot Girlfriend Roommate) by Maurice Broaddus has a self-proclaimed “machinist of the first order” wanting money to develop a method to transplant her roommate’s brain into a robot shell. This is a story of an angry lesbian wanting what she believes to be justice to be served on a privileged white male oppressor, and, really now, if I want to read such stuff, I’d go to Tumblr. This lesbian mad scientist version of Dr Victor Frankenstein is a caricature of itself.
Kat Howard’s Locally Grown, Organic showcases the efforts of Restaurant Natal to produce and serve newborns as an organic delicacy. Clearly, the author wants to pay homage to Jonathan Swift, only, this one has a pro-choice message woven into the crowdsourcing narrative. This one is a little too obvious from the start, but after the last few uninspired stories, this one is a welcome read.
Heather Lindsley’s Let Keep Burt Grimsby’s Head Frozen! is exactly what it says in the title. This is a pretty obvious take on Walt Disney allegedly being frozen in a cryogenic chamber, but after all the build up, the entire thing deflates like a balloon.
In Jason Gurley’s Jerome 3.0, a widow attempts to play on the public’s sympathy on her late husband’s death to fund her repeated efforts to create his clone. The demand gets bigger each time, as does her sense of entitlement. This is a pretty sad story, but what’s more disheartening is that it’s very easy to find people like this widow in crowdfunding websites. You know, the ones who feel that they have been wronged by life or by fate, so the world now owes them a big favor.
Help Me Destroy Cannes! by Jonathan L Howard is exactly what the title suggests. Simple, succinct, and straight to the point, right at the jugular. I approve.
Speaking of jugulars, Mur Lafferty is next with Save the Photophonic Hemoglobivores With the Sanguine Reserve! where some people want to raise money to set up a vampire refuge. Night time visits to meet and greet these vampires are offered as high tier awards. As a story about how there are at least fifty suckers willing to donate to anything in a crowdfunding website, this is way too obvious. Keep some cards to play at the end of the game next time, please.
Scott Sigler comes up next with Nosferatu, Brutus? where an angry elder vampire wants funding to eliminate the current generation of emo sparkling vampire pansies that give his species a bad name. Oh, I love this one, it’s a genuinely entertaining story after a stretch of stories that just try but fail. Too bad about the funding not succeeding in the end. I’d have contributed if it was real!
Vylar Kaftan and Shannon Prickett presents a troll crowdfunding campaign in Updates. I’m surprised it takes two people to come up with a one-note gimmick of a short story like this one.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s You Only Live Once is a cute tale of a mining corporation asking people to donate money – and nominate other people – to become unpaid slaves at a mining colony on some planet. Some contributors clearly want to be rid of some people by contributing, but more are suckers who are too stupid to be allowed online. As a “the world is full of suckers, how funny” story, this is a far better effort compared to Mur Lafferty’s.
Brooke Bolander’s Mechanical Animals features a crowdfunding effort to allow transferring of one’s mind into the body of an animal to enable better research and understanding of the behavior of that particular animal. Like Flash Forward earlier, this one is all about an unexpected twist where we can’t help being human and succumbing to our emotions and instincts no matter how much we are into science and what not. This is a pretty nice story.
Daniel H Wilson is next with Kismet™, in which people are invited to contribute to a project to create a “mobile platform” that allows people to make decisions that will always make them feel really good about themselves. The whole thing seems like a parody of an insurance pitch or a Nigerian spam, but either way, this one feels more pretentious than anything else.
Finally, Seanan McGuire’s Bring About the Halloween Eternal! sees a young lady wanting money to finance a ritual that would make every day Halloween and let a demon in to kill everybody who hasn’t contributed enough. Nice, but this kind of story has been done before in this anthology, and this one feels like an angry young girl remix of the same song.
This anthology is best read in small bits and pieces, because reader’s fatigue may set in after so many stories with yet another “transfer mind into this thing” or “let’s travel in time” theme, when the novelty of the theme gives way to tedium. Taken in small doses, however, Help Fund My Robot Army!!! is a cute and playful satire of the crowdfunding culture, and there are enough entertaining stories to make this anthology one that I wouldn’t forget easily. If you want something different but fun, try this one for size.