Bonus: On Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal

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*Spoiler Free(Visit Spoiler Ratings and Guidelines for ThinkyRead’s spoiler policy).

Before reading this post, I suggest you read Evil Robot Monkey on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. It’s only about 5 minutes long!

I’ve decided to add in a bonus short story discussion at the end of every month. Why? Because short stories are often neglected in the literary world, making way for Best Selling Novels. Short stories are great! Quick and smart, they’re the perfect way to fit reading into an uber busy lifestyle. But enough about short stories, let’s talk about Evil Robot Monkey!

I’ve not yet read a short story that I’ve engaged with as much as I have with Mary Robinette Kowal’s Evil Robot Monkey. Of course, I should know better than to doubt a Hugo-award winning author when she says “I will write a story called Evil Robot Monkey and it will make you weep.”

Though written half on a dare to write another Harry Potter story (Harry Potter and the Evil Robot Monkey- get it? Harry potter? Oh, how clever), this 950 word story contains one of the most fully developed characters I’ve ever encountered. Especially in short fiction.

The first thing we learn about Sly is his emotional state, how he is not able to connect with other people or living things, but with the inanimate clay sliding through his hands. We learn how much the act of creating matters to him, especially when a group of school kids interrupt this sacred time.

Sly’s seamless transition from human to chimp really attests to Kowal’s skill as a writer and introduces so beautifully the main conflict: Poor Sly doesn’t belong in a cage, but he won’t be accepted amongst society. No wonder the thing he connects with most is a lump of clay. Clay that can be shaped and molded into whatever he wants it to be, which in a sense, reflects how he secretly wishes he could shape his own self and fit into whatever shape he wanted.

In addition to this enlightening commentary on Sly’s self-conflict, this story presents questions about the outside world. I get the impression that Sly is a part of some long-term experiment. The researchers obviously don’t see him as a human- why then would he be put on display? Sly has no community except for  Vern, who seems to understand that he’s more than just a chimp. He’s a chimp with feelings who can communicate effectively, think reasonably, and create beautiful art… just like humans.

I want to know who made Sly this way, ripping him away from apedom and plopping him into humandom. Did they know what they were doing? Was it meant in kindness or thoughtless cruelty? Did they have a reason, or did they just want to test the limits of their own abilities? Or his? As I continue to ponder this monstrous act, Sly seems more human than his captors.

Just by being, Sly challenges the very definition of humanity. Is humanity limited to those with human bodies? Is it a cognitive mind? A soul?

This is a bittersweet story. There really is nothing for Sly. No interaction, no place, no purpose. The only thing left for him is his pottery, his only escape from this hellish limbo someone else decided it was okay to force upon him. Even that is slowly being taken away.

Head out to Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog to read the full story for free. If you like it, consider supporting both her and the podcast by using this link to pick up one of her books from Amazon. :)

4 Responses to Bonus: On Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal

  1. Jazz says:

    Yesh! Short stories! Thank The Lord!

    • Abigail Endsley says:

      I know! They’re so underrated! Short stories are like… like the Doctor Who episode called Blink. Self-contained. You need no introduction and there is nothing coming directly after it. But they make you hungry for MORE!

      We should read and write more of them.

      • Bryan Kelly says:

        I watched Blink at the request of a friend… then my completionist self had me starting at the first episode of the reboot series and the plastic mannequins of death… kinda lost me. I should probably try again. ;)

        • Abigail Endsley says:

          Oh Bryan. That’s the best possible outcome! No one said a self-contained story can’t be the hook that drags you into the all-consuming series. ;)

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