Prerequisites: The World Doesn’t Require You, by Rion Amilcar Scott
By Adam Sell
The Bot Book Review is an occasional series of short reviews of robot-themed books as written by White Ops team members.
I feel as though I have to open this review with a pretty significant disclaimer: I do not feel in any way qualified to review this book properly. My previous reviews (Machines Like Me, Retrograde, and Sea of Rust) have centered on works of fiction for which the race of the author, characters, and readers played no significant role. I was free to imagine the characters however I wished, for the most part.
That is not the case with The World Doesn’t Require You, a collection of short stories with a common setting by Rion Amilcar Scott. The stories are set in the fictional city of Cross River, Maryland, the site of the only successful slave rebellion in American history. The characters are almost exclusively Black, and many of the stories center on a uniquely Black experience.
Google my name. There aren’t that many people that share it, so the odds are pretty good you’ll find me on the first, maybe the second page if it slips. I’m very, very white. And while that doesn’t disqualify me from reading and appreciating the book by any means—indeed, I picked it up in no small part because I believe it’s important to consume cultural items that don’t reflect your own background—I do believe it means I’m not the right person to offer an informed review of the work.
What I offer instead is a short description of what I found compelling about the work and why I picked it up.
I found the collection of stories to be an alternately fascinating and confusing exploration of this world Scott has built. The two stories I was most interested in center on a robot whose very existence serves as an allegory for a modern slavery. An inventor developed artificial intelligence, deployed it throughout a population of robots, and watched as those robots proliferated throughout the community.
And then, in a move that could be described only as either trolling or altruistic, the inventor uploaded information about the concept of slavery and about the successful rebellion that led to Cross River’s creation to the robot network. The result was fairly predictable: robot rebellion.
Only, he didn’t upload that information to all of the robots. He installed some sort of a failsafe within his own robot servant, which prevented his property from becoming sufficiently self-aware to join the masses of robots fighting back. He got to keep his servant while the world fell apart around him.
Scott is far from the first writer to explore, through allegory, the nature of free will and servitude as they pertain to artificial intelligence. Machines Like Me asked many of the same questions. But what Scott’s stories did that McEwan didn’t was parse it in the terms of race and overt slavery. Scott was able to ask the question, “is it slavery to require servitude of a sentient—albeit artificial—being?”
Scott doesn’t answer these questions in so many words, nor does he set out to be so cut-and-dry with any of the stories in this collection, some of which ask about the value of academic versus practical research, violence, distrust in small communities, and religion.
I would encourage you to pick up this collection, not just for the robot stories, though those present a compelling metaphor, but because it will challenge you.
The World Doesn’t Require You
By Rion Amilcar Scott
Bot Book Review Rating: undefined