Sci-fi Novel Review: Service Model by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Service Model was released on June 4, 2024.

I’ve been a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky for a few years now, though his tendency to release books faster than I can read them has kept me from dipping too heavily into the backlist. That continues this summer, with two new releases that really caught my eye, starting with the June release of Service Model

Service Model follows a robot valet who spends his time doing everything he can to make his Master’s life comfortable, as well as fulfilling every one of his Master’s commands to the letter—no matter how nonsensical they may be. But when his Master dies, the search for a new place to serve shows him a wider world resembling nothing so much as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, along with a robotic servant class whose compulsion to fulfill their programmed directives prevents them from taking any meaningful steps to make anything better. 

Service Model is pitched as “Murderbot meets Redshirts,” but the comparisons to recent works of print sci-fi belie a story whose robotic main character is much more a throwback to classic sci-fi robots than the humanlike Murderbot. Though I have not read P.G. Wodehouse, several other reviews have assured me that the satire of upper class British culture is heavily Wodehouse-inspired, and the bureaucratic dark comedy reminds me more than anything of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with a robotic lead that’s more Asimov than Wells. As none of these are especially recent, I’m not surprised that they haven’t found their way into the blurbs, but perhaps they do a better job of setting expectations. 

Service Model is a humorous but deeply political book that gets by on social satire more than plot. The lead is compelled by his programming to seek out new humans to serve, sending him on an episodic series of quests that the reader can easily see are doomed from the start. That the lead’s naïveté is more endearing than frustrating helps keep these scenes from feeling too repetitive, but there remain a lot of plotlines that go predictably nowhere. 

But even when the plot isn’t progressing, there’s always a healthy dose of humor—albeit quite a bit darker than in the manor setting of the early stages—and the social satire is impossible to miss. The apocalypse was not an unstoppable natural force, it was people looking out for their own interests and letting everyone else hang. It’s a theme that will be familiar to those who have read Tchaikovsky before, but it still has some power, and the commentary on short-sighted technological development is incisive and pairs with it wonderfully. 

It’s not a book with an enormous amount of character progression—though there is a little—but that’s mostly by design, for the very same reasons that the plot can get a little repetitive. Still, while a book with a naive lead who keeps making the same mistakes over and over may be realistic, it’s not usually what novel readers are looking for in a book. That Service Model reads quickly and sprinkles in plenty of social satire and dark humor keeps it from wearing out its welcome, but the repetitive plot does require the satire and dark comedy to carry the bulk of the story. And while those elements are enough to carry a pretty engaging read, they aren’t quite at “stick in your head for years” level. That’s obviously a very high bar, but it’s one that Tchaikovsky has hit several times in the past. While he doesn’t quite get there with this one, it’s still an excellent book that’s easy to recommend. 

Recommended if you like: social satire, dark comedy, the Kafkaesque.

Can I use it for Bingo? It is Published in 2024, includes a segment Under the Surface, and Features Criminals, in a fashion. 

Overall rating: 16 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 

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