Science Comics: Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future
The Science Comics series of non-fiction educational graphic novels is usually outstanding, but I found Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future (written by Mairghread Scott (Transformers) and illustrated by Jacob Chabot (SpongeBob Comics)) a rare misfire for the line.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of my relative lack of interest in the topic, but I didn’t find this installment as entertaining, informative, or frankly, good as many of the others. It’s narrated by Pouli, a mechanical bird and “the first machine that ever flew”. But we don’t see how he worked, and his personality is non-existent as he walks through a catalog of things that can be considered robots, including:
- A coffee maker
- A vacuum
- A tea-serving doll in 1960s Japan
- A bomb-disposal robot
- Explorer drones
- The Mars Rover
Early on, the book tackles the idea of what a robot is (and isn’t — for example, a remote-control car, since it can’t respond to its environment). There are brief mentions of historical automatons, but I found these mentions superficial and unconnected to the main content, because they aren’t given sufficient space to be explained or described. Some of the items mentioned I only knew were relevant because of knowledge I already brought to the text (such as what cams are or why punch cards are historically important).
Later topics include how robots and humans can work together, with each having different strengths, and how to build and program a robot. That latter one is a great introduction to logical thinking and breaking down a task, but it seems to have wandered in from another book, particularly once we start delving into robot parts and how resistors work. There’s a lack of topic coherence here; instead, it feels like a grab bag of “concepts related to robots in some way”. I missed the stronger structures or even stories I’ve read in other Science Comics.
Chabot does a terrific job with both the machines and people using them, though. I’m impressed by his animated sense of movement, and I’m fondly reminded, in his character designs, of Kurt Schaffenberger’s work. I also liked the short section on robots in fiction, including Asimov’s Laws, and the resulting ethical questions robot development may raise. But again, there wasn’t enough space given, so the debate is raised and quickly dropped.
There’s a final section, “25 Robots You Should Know!”, that I’d rather have read a lot more about than the one- or two-sentence descriptions given. Perhaps this would have been a better structure for the book overall. There’s good information here, but I felt as though a lot of space was wasted on irrelevant information, leaving me confused as to just what the purpose and message of the book was.
Science Comics: Robots and Drones is due out in bookstores on March 27 and comic shops on March 28. It can be preordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code JAN18 1698 (JAN18 1699 for the hardcover version). (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)