Written by: Matthew Smith
Published by: Abaddon Books
Synopsis: Mega-City One, 2082. Droids! They’re everywhere; they clean for you, cook for you, grow your food. But don’t they deserve rights like everyone else? Following up on rumours of an unlicensed robo-surgeon, Judge Joseph Dredd uncovers a growing robot revolution… and the mek-hating humans who want to stop them at all costs.
The eighth novella in the Judge Dredd: Early Years series, “Machineries of Hate” focuses on one of the core elements of Mega-City One’s futuristic metropolis that hasn’t been explored fully in these stories: the droids. Set during Dredd’s third year on the streets (2082 AD), the story showcases the growing tension between humans and droids as the latter gain increasing levels of intelligence and sentience. Not only does Matthew Smith’s story act as foreshadowing to the classic “Robot Wars” storyline from Progs 9 -17 that saw Call-Me Kenneth launching war against “the fleshy ones”, but it also ties into the current Judge Dredd events with the Mechanismo project reinstated and robot Judges are now working alongside human ones. As a result, there is a tragic undertone to the story as the fears of the antagonists ultimately prove to be right, and the very actions they conspired to prevent (a robot war and robot Judges) ended up occurring anyway.
As with his earlier novella “City Fathers”, Matthew Smith focuses on the detective element of Dredd’s role as he attempts to uncover the truth behind a mass-murder. The novel format suits this type of story and it’s nice to see Dredd’s intelligence on display here as he is much more than the jackbooted thug he is often portrayed as. He often approaches crime scenes with an analytical eye, able to make use of his brains and cunning instead of relying on just brute force. Smith partners Dredd with a female Robo-Hunter called Radley, playing off the ambiguous continuity between the classic Sam Slade: Robo Hunter series set in Brit-Cit and Judge Dredd’s own universe. Radley is a great foil to Dredd, managing to impress and frustrate the young Judge in equal measure. It is interesting to see Dredd growing as a Judge, recognising the need to use the expertise and information of outside sources. Looking at his relationship with Radley in this novel, it is easier to see how Dredd would eventually build a similar bond with Max Normal, the pinstripe freak.
Following on directly from “Fallen Angel”, I was surprised at some of the similarities between the two books – particularly the conspiracies and corruption from within the Justice Department. That particular concept has been done plenty of times in the comics, and it feels slightly overused by now. However, I was impressed with the character of Med-Judge Falkirk and how Smith developed the character beyond a predictable stereotype. Smith routinely subverts reader expectations in this novel and I really enjoyed how morally grey the central concept is. If we really lived in a world where robot’s rights were encroaching upon our own, how would people react and protest against that. What rights do we owe an intelligence, albeit artificial, that we have created? It would be perfectly natural for people to fear robots especially if, as Smith notes, they are able to communicate with each other wirelessly. It’s a complex issue and it mirrors our own human insecurities around xenophobia, immigration and losing jobs to a ‘different’ labour force. Yet again, Judge Dredd proves itself to be razor-sharp sci-fi satire, tackling real world issues through a futuristic lens.
“Machineries of Hate” is a superb read and sets up the tension between humans and robots that will continue to permeate through the Judge Dredd universe for decades to come. There’s some nice foreshadowing of the classic “Robot Wars” storyline, which serves to both enhance and contexualise the original story-arc with brand-new information. There’s a refreshing efficiency about Matthew Smith’s writing that manages to make this short novella feel like a sprawling epic. No words are wasted and the plot clips along at a lovely pace, much like 2000AD itself. An exceedingly tense detective thriller with hints of real-world discord bubbling underneath, “Machineries of Hate” is another example of the top-notch storytelling that can only be found from 2000AD and Rebellion Publishing.
Score – ★★★★
Judge Dredd: Year Three – “Machineries of Hate” is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in paperback format alongside two other adventures as the Judge Dredd: Year Three Omnibus, also available on Amazon.