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Little Lost Robot by Paul McAuley

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“Little Lost Robot” is a 2008 science fiction short story by Paul McAuley. It is about a huge robotic war machine that cruises the galaxy destroying all intelligent life forms it finds.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Wolf-Rayet starFor millions of years the gigantic moon-sized killer robot has wandered through the galaxy looking for civilizations that emit electomagnetic radiation. It then destroys those civilizations in magnificent ways – for example: by dropping planet busting rocks on them, sending in thousands of killer drones or even causing their suns to go nova! In all that time few civilizations have offered any resistance – except for the half-crazed killer robots that set off anti-matter bombs, but usually it is no contest. Now that the robot has nearly finished its task it detects a far-flung civilization and sets its course accordingly – but along the way it discovers some information about this new enemy that will cause its four sub-selves to argue morals, become terribly frightened and even feel guilty for its destructive deeds!

Back at the beginning, most of the jobs were mostly the same. The big space robot would roll in on some warm yellow star buzzing with the irritating mosquito-whine of civilisation and wake up its four subselves. Izzy whizzy, let’s get busy. Let’s get down and dirty. Librarian and Philosopher would map the system and intercept and analyse every byte of captured information and compare it to previous missions; Navigator and Tactician would use the intel to select targets and drop a bunch of rocks on them and spawn a few thousand killer drones to mop up any residual resistance.

Resistance is always useless.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • A darkly humorous and interesting story-telling style make this story a blast to read! A very well written story indeed.
  • The idea of a big planet busting robot that’s destroying all life is totally scary – it keeps the tension of the story very high. Not to mention that the size, complexity and age of the robot spawn mouth-watering dreams of engineering genius!
  • The civilization that the robot finds towards the end of the story is pretty cool too – something to aspire towards I think.

• The bad:

  • I wish the ending of the story would have been a little more… complete. It seemed to end to quickly, and I really wanted it to keep going!
  • There is some strong language in “Little Lost Robot” – so watch out if that kind of stuff bothers you.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 19
• Word Count: 5,567
“Little Lost Robot” garnered the following awards:

  • It was shortlisted for the 2009 BSFA Award for best short fiction.

Where you can find “Little Lost Robot”:

  • This short story first appeared in Interzone #217 (3 July 2008).
  • You can download a free PDF version of “Little Lost Robot” from Interzone’s web site.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that Paul McAuley has worked as a research biologist for various universities? Yep. You can learn more about this science fiction author at Infinity Plus.
  • Here are a few orders of magnitude for seconds that may help while you read this story:
    • 120 Kiloseconds = 33 hours 20 minutes
    • .6 terraseconds = 19,013 years
    • 1 terrasecond = 31,688 years
    • 81.577 terraseconds = 2,585,012 years
  • Special thanks to Free SF Reader for pointing out this clever and entertaining story!

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Last Command, about an old war machine that is reactivated decades after being buried in a radiation-proof landfill, by Keith Laumer.

2 thoughts to “Little Lost Robot by Paul McAuley”

  1. I have never been a fan of this author’s writing style.

    …most of the jobs were mostly the same…

    The above is a perfect example. It just does not look like it was well proofed. Most English Comp students know not to repeat a word in that way.

  2. Yeah

    You’re right – that sentence does sound terrible. His writing style didn’t bother me too much in this story, but I can see how it might.

    Your comment brings up an interesting idea: at what point does the author’s writing style (or lack thereof) cause you to quit reading the story? This has happened to me several times, and it is quite annoying – especially if the story line is cool. There are times, though, where you just have to say “this writing sucks!” and throw in the towel!

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