Book Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis / @zaraasian

a robot in the garden


Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Deborah Install

Format: Paperback, 288 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81533-0

Pub Date: June 30, 2015


A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install is a sweet, fictional debut novel about a child-like sentient who calls himself Acrid Tang, a decrepit, but high-functioning artificial intelligence who surpasses even the modern android’s level of programming.

He is first discovered by Ben Chambers as he spies him randomly sitting under a tree in his garden and is quickly taken by him, his unexpected appearance and lack of ownership, and his unique body architecture obviously built by a creative and innovative maker.

With no knowledge of where or from whom this robot originates, Ben Chambers, takes it upon himself to journey across the globe to uncover the mystery behind Acrid Tang’s unusual build, worn-down condition,  and exceptional giftedness. In the process he travels from the United States to Tokyo, Japan, then to Koror, Palau, and back again.

In the process, he not only attempts to uncover the mystery of Acrid Tang’s beginnings, but through his challenging  journey, discovers his own potential for acceptance and healing after the hidden grief of mourning the death of his parents, and a new ability to take on more responsibility without fear.

The result is a sincere look at the interrelationship between an orphaned, sentient being and a grown man capable of new ambition and familial love.

The novel is a light read, its narrative grounded in Ben Chambers’ seriousness and Acrid Tang’s childlike naivety. And while the robot evolves, so does his human counterpart. They both learn from each other, the aspects of trust, the discrimination against the old and the broken, and the ability to see one’s own limitations and choose to move beyond them.

I did, however, find the character of Ben Chambers’ easy wealth, far too easy, in order to substantiate his costly journeys around the world in search for Acrid Tang’s mysterious beginnings. If the reader can forgive this character’s and/or novel’s flaw in the plot, the adventures themselves are neither exciting, nor commonplace, but an attempt to generate movement in the plot’s story and increase the characters’ bond of friendship and love.

Overall, Acrid Tang, is the robot-Pinocchio, whose faulty, cracked cylinder, pulsing heart, and peeling gaffer tape which holds him together, house an innovative program of self-awareness and earnestness unparalleled by any other AI in existence within the novel.

It’s that uniqueness that makes this novel a traditionally “coming-of-age” story—for both its Artificial Intelligence community and the humans who choose to live amongst them.

Zara’s Rating

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About the Author

From Photo by Hannah Montague.
From  Penguin  Random House website.  Photo by Hannah Montague.


Deborah Install has been writing fiction since childhood, submitting her first book to a publisher at the age of 8. Her love of writing persisted, leading to a number of jobs, including web journalism and her most recent role as copywriter at a design and marketing agency. She lives in Birmingham, UK, with her husband, toddler and affectionate but imperious cat.

–  Bio from inside jacket of novel.


What is your view of Artificial Intelligence and sentient beings and their place in society today and in the future? Do you agree or disagree with their existence?

If you were an “owner” of a fully functional AI android, what would you like it to do? What would you like its primary function to be?

Do you believe AI androids to be a realistic part of our future? Do you believe AI androids should have full autonomy and be considered persons under the law? Why or why not?

What are the dangers of implementing fully functional AI androids into society as we know it? What do you think would be their limitations?


Zara - blue fur

One thought on “Book Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install”

  1. Your questions are still only theoretical for me in my lifetime, I expect, but they’re harder to answer considering that it might not be that far in the future that artificial and human intelligences will be hard to distinguish from each other!

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