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The Stories Behind Netflix's Love, Death and Robots


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Love, Death, and Robots Warning: This article contains spoilers for the most recent season of Love, Death and Robots. Read at your own risk.

As a writer of short fiction, I've been an avid follower of Netflix's Love, Death and Robots. There aren't many avenues for short works to be adapted, especially as faithfully as the aforementioned anthology series. I wanted to take a look at the stories that inspired the latest season of the show.

Unlike previous seasons, which featured only episodes based on short stories, season 3 mixed it up by including original short films as well. "Jibaro" and "Night of the Mini Dead" were both completely original, and "Three Robots: Exit Strategies" featured an original screenplay by John Scalzi, the author of  Season 1's "Three Robots." Those three aside, I was able to track down all the source stories for the remaining episodes. 

 

"Bad Travelling" by Neal Asher (Originally Published in Full Throttle Space Tales Vol #1)
David Fincher's adaptation of "Bad Travelling," which features a pirate who makes a deal with a giant crab-like monster to save himself at the expense of his crew, was my favorite episode of the season. It's not surprising that the short story written by series veteran Neal Asher holds up. One interesting difference between the story and the episode is the morality of the protagonist. In the animated adaptation, the protagonist, Torrin, feeds the crew to the monster because they voted to take it to the inhabited Phaiden Island, as opposed to attempting to trick it by dropping it off on a deserted island. In the story, Torrin's choice lacks that moral context, making him more of an anti-hero. 

Which was better? It's a close call, but I personally liked the Fincher adaptation since the crew's death is a result of their own immoral decision.

Want more? If you liked "Bad Travelling," Neal Asher has written another story set in the same world called "Jable Sharks" that is  worth checking out.

"The Very Pulse of the Machine" by Micheal Swanwick (Originally Published in Clarkesworld)
While the imagery of astronaut Martha Kivelson dragging her deceased companion across the surface of the Jovian moon, Io, was stunning, the plot coherency left a little to be desired. I was hoping the short story would give more context to the odd reveal at the end of the episode that Io is in fact a chemical machine left in our solar system by an unknown alien race. Unfortunately, I felt like the reveal was as much of an odd turn on the page as it was on the screen. Despite that, I really enjoyed Kivelson's internal monologue in the story, as it filled in more details of her relationship with Burton, the woman whose body she was towing across the lunar landscape.

Which was better? Objectively, it's probably a toss up between the stunning visuals of the animated short film and the strong internal monologue of the story, but for me personally the story felt more coherent and provided a more satisfying character arc.

Want more? "The Very Pulse of the Machine" is a stand alone short story, but it was clearly inspired by this poem from William Wordsworth.

"Kill Team Kill" by Justin Coates (Originally Published in SNAFU)
The story of a team of green berets who searched for a squad that was lost in the forest was almost a scene for scene adaptation from the story. That being said, it was surprising how much better the comedy of the story came across when voiced by actors and how much more exciting the action of the green berets fighting the half-bear, half-robot who killed the missing squad was on the screen versus the page.

Which was better? In this case, the animated short wins, no question.

Want more? "Kill Team Kill" is a stand alone short story, but you can see more of Justin Coates military sci-fi in his short story "The Deicide Machine," also published in SNAFU.

"Swarm" by Bruce Sterling (Originally Published in The Magazine of F&SF)
This was another very faithful adaptation. The short followed the story of Dr. Afriel as he immerses himself into the insect-like space faring race, the swarm, almost scene for scene. In fact, they included some scenes like a conversation with the investor who gives Afriel a ride to the colony that would be better left on the cutting room floor. The biggest difference between the two is one of context. In the story it is mentioned, as part of Dr. Afriel's backstory, that he is part of a posthuman genetically altered community called the Shapers, who are at war with the cybernetic Mechanists. In the television episode, this contextual information was left out. While this detail does not directly affect the action of the story, it helps make sense of the otherwise confusing final twist.

Which was better? The story just barely edges out its adaptation.

Want more? Sterling has published several additional works in the Shaper / Mechanist universe: the novel Schismatrix and the short stories "Spider Rose," "Cicada Queen," "Sunken Gardens", and "Twenty Evocations."

"Mason's Rats" by Neal Asher (Originally Published in Mason's Rats)
This story, was also written by Neal Asher who penned the aforementioned story "Bad Travelling." The two tales couldn't be more different. While they both pit a man against an unwanted pest, "Mason's Rats", which features a man who sends a pest-destroying cyborg after the rats in his barn who have evolved the intelligence to use basic weapons, tackles the subject with absurdity and humor as opposed to the stark terror of "Bad Travelling." The story version of "Mason's Rats" is much shorter than the animated film. While the film goes through several cycles of Mason trying to get rid of the rats only to have them get smarter each time, the story pretty much focuses on the one occurrence. We also don't see too much of the rats in the story itself, versus the adaptation which features them not only building weapons and tools, but also outsmarting the increasingly ridiculous contraptions. 

Which was better? The additional visuals in the animated short add emotional depth and humor to the already charming short story.

Want more? The collected anthology has two additional stories dealing with Mason and his titular rats.

"In Vaulted Halls Entombed" by Alan Baxter (Originally Published in SNAFU)
Of the two military action focused entries this season, this story of soldiers in Afghanistan who find Lovecraftian horrors in subterranean caves underneath Kandahar is definitely the weaker. The animated short looks like a cheaply made video game and has the story to match. There's little to no character development; the four soldiers just go into a cave, discover some monsters, and that's it. I was hoping reading the story would add additional context, either about the soldiers or the horrors they encounter, but sadly I was out of luck.

Which was better? Neither. Both the story and its adaptation are lacking the necessary depth to make this a worthy entry in the series.

Want more? Served Cold is an anthology collecting sixteen of Alan Baxter's most lauded works.


 

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