‘Rusties’ by Nnedi Okorafor and Wanuri Kahiu

I’ve often heard that when doomsday comes we’ll all be rushing to riff on it. Put our glib little depression humour spin on it. i’m about to get crushed by a comet, classic pisces behavior tbhlmao. That kind of thing. 

I’ve occasionally seen this flavor of voice depicted in prose, and ‘Rusties’ brings something related to it, but far more artful. It’s a gorgeously thrilling sci-fi story with action and twists, but also a groundedness in a fully-formed vision and thought-patterns, even while its hero is ushered into a robot apocalypse. Dotted with likes and what the heck?s, relationship politics, and the annoying ubiquity of social media bleeps, it feels distinctly modern and also true to the heart of classic sci-fi. 

Rusties are traffic robots installed in cities like Kinshasa, Lagos, Nairobi, and Cairo who strengthen local economies by troubleshooting urban roads. When they start to simultaneously undergo upgrades, and be harvested for interior parts, a cascade of social and technological tumult unfurls. It reads, somehow, like your favourite action film and your favourite shoegaze novella: 

Rusty Ndege and I had a bond. Ever since that day when I was five. It would sometimes play my favorite songs and even update itself about new interesting tid-bits of news and gossip so it could chat with me. We’d had whole conversations. Sure, people noticed. That’s why Kevo called it ‘The Tin Man’ and joked that I was the heart it had been looking for.   

First published in Clarkesworld, Issue 121, available to read here and listen here