Little Eyes

Samanta Schweblin

Book cover

I didn’t feel super interested in this book after the first chapter, but I’m glad I persevered. The book is a sort of anthology of stories taking place in a basically modern world that also contains gadgets called kentukis, which are basically little webcams with wheels that look like cute animals. Each kentuki has a “keeper,” or person who hosts the physical kentuki in their home, and a “dweller,” or person who sees through the kentuki’s eyes over the internet and controls its movement–who are randomly matched up when the kentuki is activated.

Schweblin gets a lot of mileage out of this simple concept, which was especially striking to me given that it seems 100% feasible to implement given current technology. (Really, how long until someone creates kentukis in our own world??) The concept risks focusing on relatively uncreative depictions of depravity, which is what I thought the first story more or less was (interestingly, the first story is maybe the only one that is not revisited later in the book?). But as the book progresses, Schweblin shows a more nuanced and humanistic touch, depicting a wide variety of people around the world and how the kentukis fill some real needs for each of them. While reading the book, I often had the feeling that there was some allegory going on, but for the most part I think Schweblin resists the temptation to create simple analogies.

Mild spoilers–ultimately, I didn’t like that all of the stories ended up with relatively negative outcomes. It never becomes grimdark (or at least only rarely!), but I liked the sense that Schweblin was interested in both the positives and negatives of the kentukis, and felt that it was a bit lost by the end.

Reminded me quite a bit of Ted Chiang’s novella “The Lifecycle of Software Objects.” Both pieces play on the weird mix of emotions that results from blurring the lines between human, animal, and gadget.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars