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The Preserve


The Preserve

In Ariel S. Winter’s THE PRESERVE, a police chief is racing to solve a murder that occurs in his town on a “preserve” built for humans that specifically excludes robots from its premises. Jesse Laughton lives there with his wife Betty and daughter Erica.

The setting is fascinating on many levels. The SoCar Preserve has been created at some unspecified time in the future when a pandemic has decimated the human population. Robots, on the other hand, live and prosper, controlling the government and many other aspects of life. Winter doesn’t go into specifics about the plague, and it’s mostly referenced peripherally.

"There are some very thought-provoking passages here.... THE PRESERVE is a quick but thoughtful read. It would make a great first book in a series..."

But we do learn that the preserve was formed to give humans a robot-free place where they could live in closer proximity, thus perhaps allowing their numbers to grow instead of dwindle. Of course, after seeing how wildlife flourishes when humans aren’t around, as we saw during the COVID-19 lockdown, we must wonder if the planet wouldn’t be better if the human race did die out. But people like Betty are determined to repopulate the planet, and she works in a fertility clinic with that goal in mind.

The pressure is on Jesse to solve this murder quickly. Recent crimes off the preserve include robots dying from a SIM card that sets them on fire. The SIM cards for the renegade virus that causes this deadly attack seem to be coming from the preserve, and Jesse soon discovers that the victim was a hacker and thus might have been responsible for the robot deaths. The robot-filled government is determined to solve the hacker problem, and they are threatening to invade the preserve if Jesse doesn’t come up with the answers they need.

While Jesse feverishly works to put together the clues, we meet his former partner from the Baltimore PD, a robot named Kir, who is also his best friend. And that’s what makes the writing fascinating and thoughtful. While one thinks of robots as emotionless and unfeeling, Kir appears to be the opposite. In fact, Jesse and Betty don’t seem very affectionate with their daughter. And while Erica is at the age at which children can be difficult and demanding, why would they have a child if they didn’t want to love and cherish her? And paradoxically, Kir seems to be more patient and kinder to Erica than either parent.

There are some very thought-provoking passages here. At one point, Jesse and Kir briefly share thoughts about whether the robots or the humans are the occupying forces. Have the robots displaced the humans? Well, Jesse feels that is the case, and some wonder if humans were offered the preserve in order to corral them together so they could be easier to eradicate or control. Kir points out that while that might be true, the robots still follow the human rules and system of government. And although the robots have the ability to communicate wordlessly, it is considered rude to do so, apparently as a nod to human sensibilities.

THE PRESERVE is a quick but thoughtful read. It would make a great first book in a series, which would allow Winter to further develop the characters of Jesse and Betty, as well as give more background about the pandemic and the decline of the human population. Readers would enjoy revisiting this world and learning more about how it came to be.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on November 6, 2020

The Preserve
by Ariel S. Winter

  • Publication Date: November 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Noir
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476797889
  • ISBN-13: 9781476797885