Robot Relations: Simeon Mills' The Obsoletes is a sci-fi coming-of-age tale

Simeon Mills pulls off a difficult trick with his debut novel. In The Obsoletes, the Spokane author (and husband of author Sharma Shields) manages to deliver a story that could be marketed to different genre audiences with equal effectiveness.

Given that his two primary characters are both robots, you can probably guess that "sci-fi" is one of those genres. More interesting, though, is how The Obsoletes can just as easily be read as a YA coming-of-age tale. It holds all the tortured anguish and emotional highs and lows one would expect, even if its teenage protagonists weren't constructed in a factory.

Darryl and Kanga are the two main characters, robot "brothers" essentially raising themselves in small-town Michigan in the early '90s after their robot parents were recalled for being, you guessed it, obsolete. Robots are not exactly beloved in Mills' book; indeed, if Darryl and Kanga's true identities are sussed out, they just might find themselves physically torn apart by frightened human townspeople — something they saw happen to a classmate during their "childhood." The problem, though, is that as the two brothers move through high school, their efforts to appear human start to crumble. Kanga's basketball prowess makes him an ever-more-popular man on campus, while Darryl's unrequited crush — and his crush's eyes for Kanga — make him jealous enough to start acting in dangerously human, vindictive ways.

Ultimately in The Obsoletes, the brothers find out just how important family is, human or not, and help a town full of fearful humans learn a bit about accepting outsiders. Mills' writing is breezy and fun, always engaging even for we readers who are neither young adults nor into sci-fi.

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...