Spoiler-free: It’s worth it.
Created as a spiritual sequel to Heavy Metal, the two creators David Fincher and Tim Miller spent eleven years trying to find funding for what would become Love, Death + Robots.
Wanting to do an anthology similar to Heavy Metal which released two movies (1981 and 2000) they hoped to step away from the limiting art styles of the previous films. They could not, however find funding for the project from any major studios until Netflix, ever on the quest for content, gave them money and said “go for it.”
They would find eighteen stories. Sixteen are adaptations of already existing short stories and two are originals written exclusively for Netflix under the thematic idea of love, death and/or robots. Some of their most well known writers included Alastair Reynolds, John Scalzi and Joe R. Lansdale. Outside of their affiliations with love, death or robots, these stories have nothing else in common, meaning the viewer is always surprised to see what comes next.
Here is my breakdown of the episodes in Love, Death + Robots.
Five Star Performances
These stories are exemplars of what I have come to look for in good storytelling, and having read some of the originals in print, fine adaptations as well. A few are a visual feast, distinguishing themselves on the power of their artwork alone.
Zima Blue: An eclectic artist known for his bizarre and unusual visual art, plans to make one final piece of work, guaranteed to make everything else he’s done, pale in comparison. I LOVE this story. I took the time to look up Alastair Reynolds original story and the animated adaptation gets even more props from me since they gave visual representation in a way they didn’t have to. I was moved by this story in ways I may have to write a bit further about on another day. This one is for me, the best of the lot.
When the Yogurt Took Over: This humorous story is a subversive commentary on artificial intelligence. The idea we may one day create something smarter than we are, and yet will lack the capacity to listen to our creation. While you are laughing, you may find yourself crying on the inside when you consider the ramifications of something smarter than humanity could ever be. The funniest of the bunch whose clever animation was spot on perfect for its brand of tongue in cheek storytelling.
Good Hunting: The art for this piece is stunning. Deceptively simple at first, as the story grows more complex, so does the artwork and its hidden messages about colonialism, the loss of natural magic and the transformation of a world through technology. There is a love story in this as well, a smoldering, yet platonic love we rarely get to see in media. This is a story of sinuous, sensual detail, something if it were to be extended or expanded, I would wait every time it came on the air to be enthralled by such efforts. Outstanding.
Sonnie’s Edge: A tribute to the Cyberpunk genre, this work reveals layers, that once peeled back, revealed more intricacy and suffering, common themes among cyberpunk enthusiasts. The animation explodes off the screen in every way, revealing the entirety of the Human experience and what that means when technology expands what it means to be Human. I love this piece because of the monsters, great and small; all of them true to themselves in every way.
Secret War: Features a war unlike any other, yet in its way, as similar to you as any war before it. Russian soldiers hold the line against an invasion likely caused by greed and a quest for power. Like most invasions, it will take the sacrifices of good men to stop it. Watching this hyper-realistic battle of brave men and mysterious things beyond the pale, we come to appreciate these are very good men… A nightmare by any stretch of the imagination. Wonderful.
Lucky 13: Another nearly flawless performance. Set on a planet far away from Earth, with unknown resources being fought over by two forces, we don’t know good from bad, only our side from theirs. On our side, a rookie, Lt. A Colby (codename: Cutter) is assigned one of the unluckiest gunships in the fleet, a ship which has already lost two crews, but managed to be salvaged without a scratch. Patched up, Colby pilots a ship whose history haunts everyone who is forced to depend upon her for delivery or evacuation from a drop zone. Having something to prove, she and Lucky 13 turn around a damned reputation to become something extraordinary.
Four Star Performances
No story here fails to deliver on the promise of awesome. If they fell from the five star ranking it’s only because there may have been a single flaw which prevented them from being perfect in my eyes. They are tales just shy of perfection.
Beyond The Aquila Rift: A far-flung future, filled with hope, where humanity strides across the stars like gods. Moving materials across entire galaxies, if the data displays are to be believed. We see a crew of three with casual banter and good humor, expecting nothing but a return home and a profitable journey. But a transport malfunction reveals there are hells to be found on the edges of this celestial heaven. One of the more troubling tales because you never really understand what’s happened but you don’t feel good about it at all. Damn fine writing by Alastair Reynolds, though.
Ice Age: A twist from the animated format, this is a live-action episode featuring a young couple moving into a new apartment. They find an ancient refrigerator complete with compressor on the top, an artifact from a bygone era. Discovering a freezer completely and horrifically over-iced, a sharp eye, reveals ice cubes from this humble refrigerator are more than they appear. They find a doorway to another impossible world within their abode. A world which is poised on the edge of greatness just before dinner… Not to worry, this episode is still as much fun as anything before it.
Suits: I truly enjoyed this story. A bizarre tale of tough as nail farmers working and herding on an alien planet. Obviously a humanity unable to imagine a world without hamburgers, brings cows into space with them. However, these ain’t no ordinary ranch hands, they also have giant mech-warrior suits behind the barn. Why do they need mech-suits you ask? Let’s just say, I suspect they miss the good old days of coyotes, wolves and the occasional rustler snatching up some of their herd something fierce. I love the expressive artwork in this one. It gave me a bit of nostalgia for some of the earlier Heavy Metal artwork, while still being “state of the art” awesome.
The Dump: An old man who runs a garbage dump refuses to leave his property when a wealthy hotel chain wants it and tries to displace him. His response is calm, measured and without rancor (which was kind of unexpected to be quite frank). Completely the opposite of what you would expect when the corporate world comes a-knocking. Unfortunately, just because you can do a thing, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. A fun short with an art style which is sure to gross you out. It is the perfect art for this bizarre tale of civic resistance.
Three Robots: One of the opening volleys into this series of stories talks of a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is long gone. Pulling a scene right from the Terminator, the opening gives you the impression humanity and robots have had their final disagreement. However, instead we are granted the travelogue of three robots reviewing what they know about Human history. They get nothing right, but their suppositions were HILARIOUS. What really brought about our demise is far worse than you can imagine… “You’ve seen one post-apocalyptic world, you’ve seen them all.”
Three Star Performances
Three Stars meant these stories simply weren’t as good as the two earlier categories. They probably weren’t quite as deep, or their artwork wasn’t as strong. Don’t be fooled. They are still very good work, indeed.
Blind Spot: A train heist in a super-future where industrial espionage is not only expected but prepared for. Cyborgs hired to rob the train think they have everything under control. However, we learn that being prepared doesn’t always mean you get the job done. After all, no plan survives engagement with the enemy… Great visuals and the coloring is magnificent.
Alternative Histories: A new app called Multiversity offers you the opportunity to view alternative time-lines to discover if altering the past really has an opportunity to make a better future. The demonstration software shows five futures where Adolf Hitler is killed before the War and what the results might be instead. A story so silly, it hurts to watch. But I laughed despite myself. Die and die again, mein Fuhrer!
Helping Hand: An oh-so-dark piece of near future space exploration showing the challenges of being in space, and the fact our own space debris already circling the Earth may one day make it impossible to consider a life among the stars if we can’t clean low Earth orbit of its inconspicuous but deadly debris field. Space is dangerous and it has no problem reminding us of that. This young astronaut remembers one of the first rules of being in zero gravity. A rule she will never forget.
Shape-Shifters: This is a story of genetically-engineered supermen engaged in warfare throughout a land resembling parts of the Middle East. These supermen appear Human, but have keener senses and can run alongside moving vehicles without need for shoes or other protective gear. Men, who instead of getting the love I thought they deserved, experienced extreme prejudice and revulsion, even as they save Human lives. In this world of technological sophistication, Humans are still terrible people. “Cry havoc! Let slip the dogs of war.”
The Witness: The weirdest of these stories, a woman sees a murder occurring in a hotel across the street from her own and realizing she’s in danger as the only witness, flees to her workplace and the protection of her coworkers. The end result however is not quite to her liking. Bizarre was the only word I could use to describe this tale.
Sucker of Souls: An archaeologist discovers the final resting place of Vlad the Impaler, known by his more colorful sobriquet, Dracula, King of the Vampires. If you’re like me, you are asking why anyone would want to be involved in such an investigation. If Dracula is real, I don’t really want to know. But this time, the archaeologist comes with a competent mercenary group packing enough heat to even give the Lord of Darkness pause. But what Dracula is really afraid of, destroyed the world in an earlier episode…
Fish Night: Two traveling salesmen trying to cut some time off their trip divert from the main freeway and end up having car trouble on a lonely stretch of the American landscape. Sitting and talking leads to a history lesson which bores everyone to sleep. During the night tall tales are revealed to be more true than either had imagined. This is, however a story whose watchwords should be, when encountering the unusual “remember to stay in your lane…” Beautiful artwork belies unexpected horrors within. Loved it.
Answer-Man Rates Love, Death + Robots (2019): 9 of 10
Even if this is the only season of Love, Death + Robots, it has given us a fantastic collections of short stories which prove the potential of the art form and plays to the short attention span of the modern viewing audience. Yet the anthology still manages to create a work of significant and lasting quality. Any fan of animation should find this a worthy successor to Heavy Metal.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.