I have really enjoyed reading Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s previous books so was excited to dive into his latest read. Runaway Robot is a highly amusing tale of a boy and a robot that addresses issues of artificial intelligence and how the world of the future might be.
Alfie can’t face going to school today so heads for his favourite place, the airport. Everyone in airport arrivals is waiting for someone, except Alfie. When he attracts unwanted attention and he loses his prosthetic hand he finds himself at Lost Property and this is where he meets Eric. Eric is an extremely polite, rather large and very literal robot that Alfie quickly forms an attachment to and before long the pair find themselves in the outside world. But the outside sees Eric as a threat and Alfie needs to be kept him out of sight.
Keeping Eric secret is no easy task and with Eric’s penchant for causing chaos and destruction wherever he goes it is only a matter of time before the authorities will capture him and he is sent to R-U-Recycling where he will be crushed into a small metal cube. Can Alfie keep Eric safe and solve the mystery of who Eric is and where he came from…
Frank Cottrell-Boyce does what he does best in this heart-warming and funny read which reminded me of the Iron Giant in parts. Set in a futuristic world that doesn’t feel that dissimilar to the one we live in now, the read is packed with tech stuff of the present and the future. There are cool artificial limbs that can be created using 3D printers and operated via mind control, Bluetooth technology for tracking lost limbs, robots that deliver pizzas and do the cleaning, talking appliances, self-driving buses and delivery drones.
Cottrell-Boyce knows his target audience and I loved the references to FaceTime, selfies, YouTube, Iron Man, Marvel, LEGO and Harry Potter. Expect humour, mystery, mayhem and fun in this fast-paced adventure. There is plenty going on within the narrative - the mystery of Eric, Alfie trying to master the use of his prosthetic hand and a surprise twist that occurs later on in story (no spoiler here, you’ll have to read for yourself).
The cast of characters is a refreshing change. Alfie is a BAME amputee - a much under-represented people in children’s literature and the supporting characters are also child amputees who are the victims of war (this ties in nicely as these children have all been fitted with next-gen prosthetic limbs from the Limb Lab).
The read provide lots of scope for discussion around issues of robots, robots with human emotions, and whether robots and humans can live alongside one another. There are lots of pros and cons to artificial intelligence and this book is a great lead into such a topic for young readers.
Recommended for 8+.