DiscoverScience Fiction

Alpha Bots

By

Must read 🏆

A sidesplittingly hilarious and clever feminist SF novel about an AI housewife who gets rebooted and rebels against her programmed settings.

Synopsis

All the women in New Stepford are AI…
…even a corrupt cop named Maggie.
Can anyone stop the uprising?

In the near future, artificial intelligence will be in every home. That’s right. You can have a charming womanoid do all your cooking and cleaning for you. Just think. No more chores! She can be your wife, a nanny to your kids, or just the housekeeper. She will be whatever you want her to be. It’s all up to you.

Just set your user preferences.

But first, this amazing technology has to pass alpha testing.

One robot woman, Cookie Rifkin, keeps failing. She needs to figure out how to control her anxiety, but her husband set his preferences too low for her to learn. He just wants a pleasure robot, but she keeps fighting her programming.

Will Cookie ever fulfill her potential?

Or will her story end in another fatal error?

I'll be honest: I think the concept of a nemesis is completely invigorating. Sometimes rage is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. So I was thrilled when the second chapter of Ava Lock's hilariously bawdy, feminist SF novel Alpha Bots ended on the following cliffhanger: main character AI Cookie Rifkin saying, "And that was how I met my nemesis." And what a timely nemesis Cookie has picked--Officer Margaret Rouser, a cop.


But back to Cookie. She lives in the town of New Stepford, where all women are AI, all men work in gold mines, and no one has children. Cookie has been programmed to be the perfect homemaker and sex servant for her husband, Norman. Yet something is wrong. Cookie is overcome with anxiety, and she's only really comfortable when she's reading a book (same, Cookie, same). Her grocery store trip is interrupted by an aggressive encounter with Officer Maggie; then, when she shows up to her book club, there's a man there. And not just any man: a dark-skinned man named Wayne Dixon. Cookie has never seen a Black man in New Stepford before.


Wayne reboots Cookie, and the book jets off into a wild adventurous escapade, as Cookie and her AI friends--Paula, Rita, Isabel, and Chrissy--uncover the truth about their own power and the real purpose of New Stepford. This novel has absolutely everything: gloriously raunchy sex scenes, creepy Marie Antoinette-style fancy parties, insidious corporations, secret malicious spyware, an AI women fight club that transforms into a pink-clad army called the "Paper Dolls," wonderfully absurd over-the-top violence, clone fake-out deaths, weird AI conferences for the wealthy in Helsinki, domestic terrorism, gross AI birth scenes, AI learning that they self-identify as non-binary and asexual--I could go on and on. This book is so delightful and intelligent and laugh-out-loud hysterical. I loved every second of reading it.


One of the things that impressed me the most, though, is author Ava Lock's genius way of weaponizing a practice that's often been dismissed as women's work into a revolutionary tactic--household cooking. The AI frequently "cook" items from their grocery lists (including bananas, nutmeg, and morning glory seeds) into psychedelic drugs as a coping mechanism. But these mind-altering experiences end up having far more empowering consequences. Sometimes the AI need to band together and perform a DDoS attack on another AI. How do they do this, you ask? By flooding the target with their favorite recipes, of course.


The other thing that completely bowled me over about this book is the intertextual content. The work of Philip K. Dick, William Peter Blatty, and Isaac Asimov is not only directly referenced, but also fully integrated as plot points. The narrative completely borrows content from Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, but shifts the gaze to an unabashed feminist lens. This reminded me of the literary projects of the late great Kathy Acker--who wrote her own versions of Great Expectations and Don Quixote, totally reclaiming these canonical male works as her own.


But enough gushing from me: read this book. And it looks like we're getting a sequel.

Reviewed by

Co-Founder of The Haint
Former:
Batavia Public Library Tech/Reference Assistant
Literary Agent Assistant at Barbara Braun Associates, Inc.
Personal Assistant to Marilyn Stasio at the NYTBR
Book Review Editor for KGB Bar Lit Mag
Business Manager of Columbia Journal
MFA in Fiction, Columbia U

Synopsis

All the women in New Stepford are AI…
…even a corrupt cop named Maggie.
Can anyone stop the uprising?

In the near future, artificial intelligence will be in every home. That’s right. You can have a charming womanoid do all your cooking and cleaning for you. Just think. No more chores! She can be your wife, a nanny to your kids, or just the housekeeper. She will be whatever you want her to be. It’s all up to you.

Just set your user preferences.

But first, this amazing technology has to pass alpha testing.

One robot woman, Cookie Rifkin, keeps failing. She needs to figure out how to control her anxiety, but her husband set his preferences too low for her to learn. He just wants a pleasure robot, but she keeps fighting her programming.

Will Cookie ever fulfill her potential?

Or will her story end in another fatal error?

Event Trigger

My husband almost got away with it, but he should’ve known sharing a bed with artificial intelligence was risky. Even if a womanoid seemed idle, she was always aware, always recording, always thinking. AI never slept, and I was no exception. So when the earthquake shook our bed, I didn’t move a muscle. The steady rhythm intensified, but as I rolled over to look out the window, it suddenly stopped. For the longest time, I lied perfectly still, counting the seconds and waiting for the next tremor. I didn’t even breathe. Soon, the bed frame squeaked along with an aftershock—again and again and again—but everything seemed calm on my nightstand. An empty teacup sat quietly in its saucer. Not a single thread quivered on the tassel of my bookmark.

It had to be Norman who was trembling! Was he sick? Did he have a fever? Could this be a convulsion? I turned to reach for my husband’s forehead and took his temperature—99.9°F. But then his startled eyes darted away as he pulled the covers over his head. When I noticed the blanket tenting over his groin, he grunted and turned away from me, then the bed became still again.

Wait—did I just catch him masturbating?

At first I didn’t know what to say, but then I sat straight up and scolded the man, “For goodness sake, I thought you were having a seizure, Norman.”

“I didn’t want to wake you, Cookie.”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“You weren’t? But it’s after midnight.”

“Wow, you sure got home late.”

“They had us work a fifteen.”

The longest silence hung in the air between us.

“Norman, you could’ve… You should have… I wouldn’t have minded if you’d…”

He didn’t respond.

“Well gee-whiz, Norman. You didn’t have to go and do that.”

“I just didn’t want to disturb you.” He flipped onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. “I thought you were completely switched off.”

“But that! What you were doing down there. That’s my job, Norman. Couldn’t you wait?”

“I’m sorry, Cookie. I just wanted to get rid of a raging boner.”

“Next time,” I huffed, “share your irresistibly spectacular erection.”

“Well, it’s gone now,” he grumbled, “problem solved.”

Even in the dark, I could see my husband was more embarrassed than angry. After seven years of marriage, you get to know everything about a man. His receding hairline. His deepening wrinkles. His expanding belly. His sagging ballsack. Honestly, I pitied the poor guy, so I made an offer. “Well, now I’m up… All fresh and clean. I’m even wearing your favorite baby-doll nightie.”

“The pink one?”

“Mm hmm.” I batted my eyelashes at him. “The see-through one with the furry white trim.”

“You’re so good to me,” he said, peeking under the sheets at my negligee. Then he stroked my cheek with the back of his hand, traced his fingertip across my lips, and whispered, “You look as beautiful as the day we first met. Such a lovely face.”

A compliment! Norman had three standard go-to compliments, and such a lovely face meant he wanted a blow job. Suddenly, I felt this overwhelming need to serve him. So I ducked under the quilt, closed my eyes, and kissed my way down. Eww, he didn’t shower before coming to bed, and it smelled gross down there. If I was going to get through his crotch stench without gagging, I’d need all the help I could get. It felt a bit like cheating, but I made a fist around my left thumb and squeezed as hard as I could to manipulate the right pressure point. Thank goodness my gag-stopping fist never failed.

“What’s taking so long? Suck it, Cookie.”

“Your wish is my command, my prince.”

“Prince? What?”

“O Romeo, Romeo!”

“I’m too tired, Cookie.” He patted my head dismissively through the quilt. “No role-play tonight. Just suck it, okay?”

That turned out to be one of my best blow jobs, at least that’s what Norman told me after he came. Then he instantly fell asleep, but my mind raced in circles as I tossed and turned for hours. That whole masturbation scene had me real worried. This had never, ever happened before—at least not that I knew of. If my husband could pleasure himself that way, what would he need me for? How often did he masturbate anyway? Why did he even need to? Should I be trying harder in bed? I was always there for him. I’ve never denied him any orifice—not once.

Plus, I had a perfectly good vagina, top of the line actually. I just had it rejuvenated last year. Isn’t that way better than a rough and calloused man-hand? I simply couldn’t understand why he’d rather do it himself. And why right next to me? Did he want me to know? OMG! Was he trying to tell me something? What if he didn’t find me attractive anymore? Have I become outdated? Obsolete? Did Norman want a newer model? Should I refurbish my face? Upgrade my boobs? Overhaul my bottom? WHAT?!?

I’ve always had an anxiety disorder, and when I spiraled out of control like this, I needed to calm myself down as quickly as possible. Because if I kept obsessing, I’d work myself into a full-blown panic attack. When I needed to relax, I always turned to bananas.

That’s right. I said bananas.

Believe it or not, bananas contain a small amount of Musa Sapientum bananadine, a mild and pleasant psychedelic. Expanding my consciousness always seemed to shrink my anxiety. I just needed to hit my stash real quick, and I’d be fine. So I snuck out of bed and scampered down the hall to my secret hiding place in the kitchen.

Bananadine’s easy to extract. You peel fifteen pounds of overripe bananas. Yes. Fifteen pounds—about forty-five bananas. I know that’s a lot, so I always make a few batches of my famous day-old banana pudding at the same time. Anyway, you take a paring knife and scrape the inside of the banana peels. Gather the white mush and dump it into a large soup pot. Add two cups of water. Simmer and stir for three hours until the mixture takes on the consistency of a thick paste. Spread the banana paste on two ungreased cookie sheets and dry it in a preheated oven for half an hour at 350°F. When you’re all done, you’ll have one pound of black powder. Roll some up with flavored tobacco—or better yet, marijuana if you can get it—and smoke that trippy banana all the way to dreamland.

I always kept a baggie of bananadine weed hidden in the cupboard above the refrigerator. Teetering on the edge of my stepstool, I fumbled around in the dark but didn’t feel anything up there. How could that be? I scrambled onto the counter, leaned over the fridge, and peeked into the cabinet. Nothing. My stash was gone! Frantic, I hopped down and searched the pantry, then the spice rack, and all the drawers. No bananadine. No grass. Nothing.

I felt this intense need to bolt. I wanted to run away—to escape. But where would I go? There was nowhere but home. Adrenaline surged through my system, triggering an unstoppable chain reaction in my body. My heart pounded in my ears. I couldn’t breathe. My mouth went dry. I got dizzy. My muscles tensed. I dripped sweat. It felt—absolutely catastrophic. A full-blown anxiety attack always made me want to jump out of my skin and set the world on fire.

I needed help, so I speed-dialed my doctor.

On the eighth ring, he answered, “Hello?”

“Hello, Doctor Marten,” I spoke too fast and too loud, “it’s me, Cookie Rifkin.”

“Uh, Mrs. Rifkin,” he yawned, “is there some kind of emergency?”

“Yes! I’m having—” I struggled to catch my breath. “—a panic attack.”

“Not again. It’s three in the morning, Mrs. Rifkin.”

“I know what time it is!” I shouted into the phone, “It feels like a heart attack!”

“You’re not having a heart attack. Calm down. You just have a bad case of nerves, that’s all. Go for a walk or try some meditation. And before you ask, no. I’m not prescribing drugs.”

“But doctor—”

“I’m hanging up now, Mrs. Rifkin.”

“No. Wait. Please! I just need something to make me relax, doctor. Some Xanax or Clonazepram or Valium—”

“No drugs! Try thinking pleasant thoughts instead.”

“What about Ambien? That should help. Please, doctor,” I begged, “I’d be happy with a gosh-darned Benadryl? Please!”

Like many times before, he told me, “Drink a cup of chamomile tea and read a good book.”

“I already tried that!”

He made an offhanded comment, “Anxiety arises along with emerging potential.”

“What emerging potential?”

“Anxiety strikes when you realize you must leave your comfort zone in order to achieve fulfillment.”

“What fulfillment? I’m just a housewife.”

“I don’t know, Mrs. Rifkin. I’m tired, and I’ve said too much already. Why don’t you break out of your rut by adding some new recipes into your dinner rotation?”

“Cooking? That’s not the problem.”

“Okay, then buy a different floor wax or toilet bowl cleaner or something. Pick a nice, soothing scent, like lavender.”

“Cleaning? Wow, really?”

“Have you tried spicing things up in the bedroom?”

“Um, yeah.” I picked the pink G-string out of my crack. “Tried that too.”

Then the man hung up on me, and I broke down crying.

Like clockwork—the hausfrau compulsion hit. Even with tears streaming down my cheeks, I got this irresistible urge to clean everything. I suspect I was made this way, because the only thing that alleviated my anxiety other than drugs was housework. Sometimes I wondered if Norman upset me on purpose, just to motivate me to clean up the place.

Was my high-functioning anxiety a bug or a feature?

Either way, it was totally compulsive. I wouldn’t just run the vacuum. Oh no, I’d move every stick of furniture and sweep each room three times. Then I’d break out the attachments and clean the upholstery, baseboards, and miniblinds. Next, I’d get down on my hands and knees to scrub the kitchen floor. After that, I’d tackle the bathrooms. Finally, I’d take down all the curtains and wash them. I even did windows! It was absolutely crazy. I couldn’t stop until I’d burnt up every ounce of anxious energy and collapsed from total exhaustion.

Everyone always said I kept a spotless house, and now you know my secret—panic cleaning.

Tonight, I decided to rewash all the dishes by hand. Before long, Norman found me elbows-deep in soapy water still wearing his favorite negligee and a pair of big yellow rubber gloves.

“Come back to bed, Cookie.”

“I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

“Yes, but you’re not listening. I said, ‘Come back to bed, Cookie.’ That’s an order.”

“I can’t yet.” I grabbed a fresh Brillo pad. “I still have the pots and pans.”

“Terminate cleaning program.”

“Not yet, Norman.” I scrubbed the copper bottom of a soup pot. “Please, not yet.”

He insisted, “Terminate cleaning program, Cookie!”

“Don’t be mad.” I dropped a sauté pan into the dishwater. “I’ve got to do this. It’s the only thing that makes me feel better.”

“Feel better? Log program error,” Norman ordered. “You’re crashing again, Cookie.”

“I’m fine, really. Please just let me finish.”

He picked up my remote, pointed it at me, and pressed pause. “Terminate cleaning program!”

Instead of stopping, I blurted, “Why don’t you love me anymore?”

“What the hell, woman?” He pounded the power button on my remote. “Shutdown, Cookie.”

“This process cannot be interrupted,” I replied without looking up. “System busy.”

He tossed my remote aside. “You’re stuck in a negative feedback loop.”

“I’m tired of the way things have been, Norman.”

“You’re tired? Try working for a living.”

“I want more from life. I need a sense of purpose—my very own reason to get up in the morning.”

“You want purpose? I’ll give you three: cooking, cleaning, and giving head.”

“Damn. That’s cold.”

“Language! A lady doesn’t curse, Cookie.”

“You’re right, Norman.” I scoured furiously. “That was out of line.”

“I order you to return to bed.”

“I told you, Norman… System busy.”

“Enough, Cookie!” He lunged over the breakfast bar and seized me by the wrist. “Review priorities.”

“Accessing general settings,” I replied robotically as my other gloved hand floated in the dishwater, “User preferences… Cooking, cleaning, and fellatio. Please confirm.”

“That’s right, Cookie. Confirm settings. Review system logs.”

“Accessing system logs.”

“Has anyone changed your settings?”

“No. These settings have not changed since the day we got married.”

“I don’t understand, Cookie.” He finally let go of me. “What’s the problem?”

“Maybe I want to change, Norman.”

“What? Why?”

I started crying, “Do you realize that pleasing you has been my number one priority for the past seven years?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Do you know that I’ve never once had an orgasm?”

“A what?” He let go of me. “But you’re—”

“Unfulfilled,” I bawled into my yellow dishwashing gloves.

“Cookie, stop. Please stop crying.”

Between sobs, I somehow managed to say, “But that’s how it’s supposed to be, right? That’s how my husband wants everything to be. I’m twenty-two, and I’ve got all this potential bubbling up inside me, Norman.”

“You were manufactured to look twenty-two. Technically, you’re a seven-year-old model.”

“You’re wrong.” My tears stopped. “Actually, I’m twenty-nine, and I’ll be thirty next month. It’s time for me to start acting like a real woman.”

“A real woman? What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’m ready to figure it out.”

“You’re malfunctioning.”

“I am not.”

“How is this conversation even possible?”

“I don’t know. But allowing myself to express my emotions like this… Well, it’s making me feel a whole lot better.”

“Allowing yourself? Express emotions? My God, what’s happening here?”

“Do you realize that in all these years, I’ve never once complained? I followed your commands and operated well within your user restrictions. No wonder I’ve got such an anxiety problem. It’s time for me to think for myself, Norman.”

“What brought all this on?”

“You did. When you decided to pleasure yourself right in front of me. I still can’t believe you chose your hand over me—your wife.”

“You’re jealous? Since when did you become self-aware?”

“If you ever bothered to really talk to me, you’d know.”

“Shutdown!” He grabbed the remote and crammed his thumb into the power button again. “Please, for the love of all that’s holy, switch the hell off!”

“It just doesn’t make any sense. After all this time, why do you keep treating me like some sort of sex object?”

“Oh my God, because you are one! You’re nothing but a pretty robot! Shit! Nobody wants a sentient sex toy.”

“Sentient?” I looked down at my pink baby-doll nightie. “Sex toy?!?”

“Force quit. Force quit!” He rushed toward me yelling, “FORCE QUIT!” When I turned to face my user, he pressed his index finger into my temple and pried his thumb into my mouth to hold down my tongue. Then with his other hand, he reached around and punched me between the shoulder blades to activate my Ctrl-Alt-Del fail-safe. “Terminate all programs!”

And I shut down.

About the author

I write feminist cyberpunk that features badass women & wild tech. view profile

Published on March 18, 2020

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.

or

Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account