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Love, Death and Robots

Entry updated 24 May 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated online tv series (2019-current). Blur Studio for Netflix. Created by Tim Miller. Executive Producers Joshua Donen, David Fincher, Jennifer Miller and Tim Miller. Directors include Léon Bérelle, Dominique Boidin, Rémi Kozyra, Maxime Luère, Victor Maldonado, Tim Miller, Gabriele Pennacchioli, Alfredo Torres and Robert Valley. Main adapter Philip Gelatt. Voice cast includes Elly Condron, Peter Franzen, Zita Hanrot, Michael B Jordan, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, Steven Pacey, Kevin Michael Richardson, Emma Thornett and Scott Whyte. 26 6- to 18-minute episodes. Colour.

Recalling such Television Anthology Series as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, Love, Death and Robots – whose origins lie in a planned revival of the Heavy Metal film franchise – mainly features adaptions of short stories. Episodes are made by studios from around the world, using different types of animation, though hyper-realistic CGI and 2D dominate.

Season One included three stories by John Scalzi, two by Alastair Reynolds and others by Claudine Griggs, Peter F Hamilton, Joe R Lansdale, Ken Liu, Alberto Mielgo and Michael Swanwick. The genre is largely sf, but some episodes centre on Supernatural Creatures, with many including strong Horror elements (see Horror in SF).

This is an often impressive and memorable series, employing an interesting variety of art styles. The standouts are Reynolds's art-focused "Zima Blue" (Summer 2005 Postscripts) by Passion Animation Studios, and Scalzi's humorous "Three Robots" (as "Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time" in Robots vs. Fairies, anth 2018, ed Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe) by Blow Studio. Also noteworthy are Hamilton's urban-gladiatorial "Sonnie's Edge" (September 1991 New Moon) by Blur Studio; Mielgo's strange and cyclic "The Witness" (original to this series) by Pinkman TV; Swanwick's microcosmic "Ice Age" (January 1984 Amazing) by Digic Pictures/Blur Studio/Atomic Fiction; Griggs's spacewalking crisis "Helping Hand" (June 2015 Lightspeed) by Axis Studios; Reynolds's lost Starship tale "Beyond the Aquila Rift" (in Constellations: The Best of New British SF, anth 2005, ed Peter Crowther) by Unit Image; and Liu's Steampunk "Good Hunting" (2012 Strange Horizons Fund Drive Bonus Issue) by Red Dog Culture House. Most of the remaining stories range from fairly good to adequate, about half being Military SF.

There are flaws: though promoted as an adult series, the viewer might sometimes feel they are experiencing a fourteen-year-old's notion of adult perks, with gore, titillation and swearing aplenty; meaning that – fine and dandy as the aforementioned are – opportunities to explore ideas in Art, science and society with any depth are not often embraced (exceptions here being "Zima Blue" and, with caveats, "Good Hunting"). In "Beyond the Aquila Rift" the inserted soft porn scene might be seen as merely a gratuitous interruption; but with "Good Hunting" the repeated objectification of Yan (as fox-girl, woman and Cyborg), apart from being uncomfortable in itself, undermines the story's themes of colonialism, abuse and culture. Additionally, some stories' use of aggressive banter as a substitute for characterization can be wearying.

This was a landmark series for sf animation, though the percentage of stories written by women was worryingly low at 11%.

Season Two comprises eight episodes released in 2021 with a further eight planned for 2022. The former are based on John Scalzi's "Automated Customer Service" (in Ytterbium 2019 Read Me, anth 2019, ed Ytterbium Committee), where a Robot carer tries to kill an old woman and her dog, with customer service proving unhelpful; Rich Larson's "Ice" (October 2015 Clarkesworld), set on a run-down colony planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds) where a group of youngsters – all but one biologically augmented – entertain themselves by racing across the ice as the frostwhales breach; Paolo Bacigalupi's "Pop Squad" (October/November 2006 F&SF), where Immortality means that reproduction is illegal, so a policeman's job includes shooting children; Neal Asher's "Snow in the Desert" (in May 2008 Spectrum SF, ed Paul Fraser) where bounty hunters seek Snow (Franzen), whose regenerative abilities make him immortal – he is helped by and finds solace with Hirald (Hanrot), a Cyborg sent from Earth; Joe R Lansdale's "Tall Grass" (in Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, anth 2012, ed Eric J Guignard); a passenger – who fittingly resembles H P Lovecraft – steps off a steam train that has stalled in the middle of nowhere and unwisely wanders into the tall grass; Joachim Heijndermans's "All Through the House" (Winter 2017 Curiosities); two children sneak downstairs to catch a glimpse of Santa ... who somewhat resembles the Alien from Alien (1979) – fortunately they have been good; Harlan Ellison's "Life Hutch" (April 1956 If), where a crashed space pilot (Jordan) makes it to a safety pod unluckily controlled by a malfunctioning robot; and J G Ballard's "The Drowned Giant" (in The Terminal Beach, coll 1964), where a naked giant washes up upon a beach and a Scientist (Pacey) observes its fate over the following weeks.

The season two standouts are the artistically thrilling "Ice" and the downbeat "The Drowned Giant", though the violent "Snow in the Desert" and amusing "All Through the House" are good too. The rest are moderately enjoyable, though "Pop Squad", not one of Bacigalupi's best and clearly chosen for shock value, suffers from the implausibility of the premise whereby almost everyone accepts that murdering children is the best means of preventing Overpopulation. Happily the second series drops the Fan Service of the first; presumably, given that 2021's episode sources were all by male authors, 2022's will be an all-female list. [SP]

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