Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell
Published by Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
If you’ve ever believed technology, and specifically, robots, will become advanced enough to pass as something sentient, then this is the story for you.
Expiration Day is set in 2049 and humans and robots coexist in a civil, albeit strained manner. Humans are becoming extinct so a company named Oxted has created extremely believable robots that can be adopted as children by couples who are unable to conceive. By the robot’s 18th birthday, the adoption contract is finished, and the robot has to be returned to Oxted.
Campbell’s novel is about Tania, who learns she is a precious and rare human child in a world of robot children. The story is told through her diary entries and spans her teenage years. As she makes friends and grows closer to other human and robot children, she begins to wonder what happens to robots after they turn 18 and how much information the government is hiding from its citizens. She also raises questions about the rights of robots and whether they deserve to be treated as humans if they think and act like one. Tania begins the dangerous task of digging for the truth, in order to find out what Oxted is hiding from everyone.
I was skeptical of the diary format, but the author does a great job of presenting the entries as detailed scenes with dialogue. This allows the story to progress at a good pace and allows for the reader to see how Tania’s character grows and develops.
The only criticism is that the story is broken up with “intervals” — interjections from an alien archeologist who has discovered Tania’s diary and responds to various points. These intervals don’t add anything relevant to the story, and I found myself skimming through them so that I could get back to the story sooner.
Overall, I would recommend this novel to high school students who enjoy science fiction. With news of how countries like Japan are focusing on creating human-like androids for companionship and assistance, Expiration Day is a timely story, and one that would definitely generate plenty of discussion among students.