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The Alchemy of Stone (Ekaterina Sedia, 2008)

An emancipated female steampunk-ish android seeks to use alchemy to free the gargoyles guarding a city. Sounds like a dreadful schoolgirl fantasy mashup, doesn’t it? But it is a tale with surprising, poignant twists and an unexpected ending that is well worth reading. The book starts off slowly but rewards a patient reader without a subtle exploration of themes of power and servitude, who is listened to and who is ignored, who is normal and who is foreign, and who we love and who we see on the down low. Human treatment of automata is a mirror of the ruling class' and technocrats’ views, and also real-life. There may be nothing to learn about how robots really work, but The Alchemy of Stone should make any designer think twice about the world they are designing their robot to work in.

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