I was recommended this book by Shira Glassman, who promised cute ace romance with robots. It did not disappoint.
Clara lives a nomadic existence, travelling between cities whenever the itch drives her, picking up work repairing Raises, the non-sentient robots that support society. Her only real friend is Joanie, a Raise that Clara has personalised to have a personality beyond her original parameters. Not true consciousness, though. Building a true AI is illegal.
After spotting her collection of teas, one of Clara’s new colleagues recommends that she visits the Cybernetic Tea Shop – and with a name like that, Clara is intrigued. But when she eventually finds it, what intrigues her most is the proprietor.
Sal is an AI, built before the law came into force, who has outlived her master and is slowly falling apart. Against the local prejudice against her, and her falling customer numbers, Sal is struggling to keep the tea shop alive in loving memory of her master, Karinne. Until Clara walked through the door of the tea shop, Sal had never expected anything more. But suddenly, happiness seems within reach.
This is an incredibly cute, heart-warming short story, and it was everything I needed. Clara’s life is mostly ok. She’s in control of her situation, and even though it’s a lonely existence, she thinks it’s a sacrifice she has to make. But it’s Sal who really breaks my heart. She’s outlived her master and love, Karinne, and she’s outlived the law that made her existence legal. Aside from a cop who’s familiar with her situation and fights her corner when the shop is vandalised or she is attacked, she is alone, and breaking, and without any hope that the situation might improve. This is a love story, yes, but what comes first and foremost here is how valuable their friendship is. They offer each other kindness and companionship, and someone to depend on, and it’s a beautiful thing to see it unfold.
Really, my only problem with this is that it wasn’t longer! I didn’t feel like there was quite enough time for some real heartstrings-tugging slow burn romance, and I would love to see what happens to Clara and Sal – and Joanie – next. I’d really like to return to this world sometime, and see more of it, and how Sal and Clara handle the prejudices and difficulties that they will come up against. But this is a lovely, fluffy, romantic story, and I would absolutely push it into all of my friends.