Sal is a fully autonomous robot whose owner, Karinne, purchased her to help run her tea shop. Having outlived Karinne by more than a century, Sal continues to run the shop, trying to reach the three hundred year mark Karinne once mentioned she wanted the shop to last for. There are humans in the city who hate robots and keep threatening to destroy the shop and maybe even Sal herself. More than a machine but not legally a person, Sal can't leave, but remains tied to the shop, slowly breaking down as the outside world changes around her.
Clara is a technician who specialises in repairing "raises", or robotic assistants, like her own robotic hummingbird, Joannie. Raises have a personality and some degree of autonomy but don't learn or change over time as humans and true robots like Sal do. Clara's skills make it easy for her to find work anywhere, so she drifts from place to place never staying anywhere for long. Clara is delighted to meet a real robot for a change, and together she and Sal help each other grapple with the question of when to keep holding on and when to let go.
As a serious tea enthusiast and cyberpunk fan I could hardly go past this title and I wasn't disappointed. The story works on multiple levels, as a metaphor for moving on after a breakup and the fears of starting something new, and literally as a sweet romance between a human and a robot. I tagged it as lesbian because it's between a woman and a robot who identifies as female, but it's a meeting of minds rather than one of bodies.
This book gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, a little like that of a nice cup of tea, and I wouldn't mind trying some of the blends Sal describes. The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a novella, clocking in at 22,000 words, making it a quick read. It contains no explicit language or sexual content. If you enjoy it you might want to check out the other books in the Solitary Travelers series published by Lt3 Press which also feature asexual and aromantic main characters.
Published: March 16
Rated: ★★ ★ ★ ☆
Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book from Less Than Three Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.