Eager

Eager

4.2 20
by Helen Fox
     
 

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t's the end of the 21st century where technocrats rule and robots take care of humans' every need. Your house watches you, knows your secrets, and talks to you. And your closest friend can be—a machine?

Gavin Bell and his teenage sister Fleur come from a middle-class family. Their much-loved, old-fashioned robot, Grumps, is running down and can't be… See more details below

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Overview

t's the end of the 21st century where technocrats rule and robots take care of humans' every need. Your house watches you, knows your secrets, and talks to you. And your closest friend can be—a machine?

Gavin Bell and his teenage sister Fleur come from a middle-class family. Their much-loved, old-fashioned robot, Grumps, is running down and can't be repaired, so a scientist friend loans them EGR3, an experimental new robot to help Grumps. EGR3, known as Eager, learns from his experiences, as a child would. He feels emotions—wonder, excitement, and loss. When the ultra high-tech, eerily human BDC4 robots begin to behave suspiciously, Eager and the Bells are drawn into a great adventure that is sometimes dark and often humorous. As Eager's extraordinary abilities are tested to the limit, he will try to find the answer to this question: What does it mean to be alive?

Editorial Reviews

In the twenty-first century, scientific study and technology have transformed human life. Humans co-exist in a world where robots are more than personal assistants. The new BDC4 robots, created by rich Technocrats, are programmed with the same interests as their owners. They are built to satisfy humans' physical and emotional needs. Protagonists Gavin and Fleur Bell are immersed in this world. The house they live in watches their every move, and there are few moments when they are alone. Helen Fox takes science fiction fans into a fantastical tale about Eager, a robot questioning the meaning of his feelings and whether he is alive. Eager comes to live with the Bells to replace Grumps, their older model. Considered new, improved, and much like the Technocrats' BDC4, Eager is physically and emotionally different. The BDC4s are considered the robot to own, but, as Gavin and Fleur discover, they are not as wonderful as everyone thinks. Eager teams up with the protagonists to pursue the truth behind the BDC4s' behavior. Along the way, Eager becomes a part of the family and finds the reasons for his existence. 2004, Wendy Lamb Books, 280 pp., Ages young adult.
—Gina Desai
Children's Literature
When Grumps, the family robot, malfunctions, Mr. Bell contacts Professor Ogden about a replacement. Professor Ogden gives the Bells a prototype robot known as the EGR3, or Eager as Gavin and Fleur, the Bell children, name him. Eager is a revolutionary new robot that has been designed to learn and make decisions on his own. He rivals the new BDC4s produced by LifeCorp, the world's ruling company. As Eager learns about the world, the BDC4s become increasingly unstable until they threaten the very people they were built to serve. As the BDC4s' behavior changes, only Gavin and Fleur seem to notice or worry. With the help of Eager, the children hope to prove the other robots' malfunctions. A fun science-fiction novel, this book should appeal to both boys and girls. It has an interesting, well-developed plot complete with realistic three-dimensional characters. The book raises some interesting philosophical questions including what constitutes being alive. The children are forced to evaluate their world and the role of technology in it. An enjoyable read that also forces kids to think. 2004, Random House, Ages 9 to 13.
—Madeline Smoot
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In Fox's futuristic world, starvation and homelessness don't exist but the boundary between the haves and have-nots is vast. The best jobs and latest technological inventions go only to the economically elite technocrats and government leaders. Curfews are enforced because marauders often attack these wealthier citizens. LifeCorp, a huge conglomerate, controls much of the new technology. Even though Gavin Bell's parents are only middle-class professionals, they, like most people, have a family robot. Unfortunately, Grumps is an older model that's beginning to malfunction. They can't afford a BDC4, a sleek new robot that is almost unnaturally clever, so they take on Eager, an experimental model secretly produced by a former LifeCorp scientist. Although his older sister is embarrassed by Eager's unattractive appearance, Gavin is intrigued by the robot, which can learn, reason, and even lie. Before long, the siblings notice that there is something strange and frightening about the BDC4s. The machines begin rebelling against their owners, and when they take the head of LifeCorp hostage, it's up to Eager to save him. There is a lot of warmth and humor in this engaging, Jetsons-like novel (complete with talking houses and appliances). The characters are well developed and the action moves quickly. The author also raises thought-provoking questions about what it means to be human, the dangers of technology, and the concept of free will.-Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Jetsons in a lightweight dystopia. In siblings Fleur and Gavin's world, where robots do all of the manual labor, there's no starvation or homelessness. Still, something is wrong in their class-stratified society. Like all professional families, theirs has a sentient house and a robot butler. They don't have the latest technology reserved for the wealthy technocrats who work for LifeCorp, but at least they don't live in the city with all those made unemployable by robot labor. Their parents decide to replace the faithful but flaky robot butler Grumps, so maybe Fleur and Gavin won't be so embarrassed in front of their technocrat friends who have fancy new BDC-4 robots. Grumps's replacement is the experimental prototype Eager-a robot who has been programmed to think instead of following orders. While contemplating the definition of life, Eager, Gavin, and Fleur discover something frightening about the BDC-4 robots and about LifeCorp in general. While Eager's adventure isn't thrilling, his discoveries about life, formed through amusing conversations with virtual reality Socrates, are thought-provoking. (Science fiction. 9-13)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385909037
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
06/08/2004
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.95(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

The Bell family lived in the suburbs, in a house built of glass and steel, designed by Mr. Bell. Their neighbors in Wynston Avenue, who also lived in glass houses, had planted tall dense hedges to shield them from view. Mr. and Mrs. Bell said what was the point of a beautiful house if no one else could enjoy it, and built themselves a low brick wall. However, they liked their privacy as much as anyone, and it was fortunate that the house was secluded by being set on a bend in the road. There was also a huge lime tree in the front garden that veiled one side of the building.

The center of the house was an atrium, paved with brick and full of plants and flowers. A wide hallway opening onto it connected the ground-floor rooms. There was a half-landing with an office, exercise room and study area; bedrooms and bathrooms were on the top floor. The land at the back was divided into grass, a vegetable garden and a slightly wild overgrown patch at the far end.

As dawn approached, the birds in the lime tree began their chorus. A gray cat slinked across the lawn and over the brick wall. Seconds later the house swept a sensor around the garden for the hundredth time that night to check for intruders. It took the outside temperature and barometric pressure. Today was going to be a mild day with the possibility of a light shower before the evening.

A noise downstairs alerted the house that someone was up. It turned on its electronic eye in the kitchen and saw that the butler was at work. He was chopping something on a large wooden board and talking to the kettle.

Room by room, the house checked its occupants. Fleur Bell was buried so deeply in the duvet that it was impossible to tell which way up she was. The house zoomed in somewhere about her middle to reassure itself that she was still breathing. Satisfied that the duvet was gently rising and falling, the house turned its eye to the bedroom next door. Fleur's younger brother, Gavin Bell, was sprawled across the bed, the covers thrown off as if he had been wrestling in his sleep. Normal, concluded the house promptly, with barely a glance at him.

Charlotte Bell, lying in a cot in the nursery, was twitching in her sleep. No cause for alarm there. In the main bedroom Mr. and Mrs. Bell looked comfortable enough, but Mr.

Bell was muttering to himself and the house considered that he might have a fever. It looked for other symptoms, found none, and decided that he was nearing the end of a dream cycle.

The hours passed and the house grew busier—waking everyone up and setting the temperature for showers and baths. It checked the gobetween for news that might interest the Bells, adjusted roof panels to create more heat and raised the blinds on the day ahead.

Gavin was the first to come downstairs. He was in a bad mood, though he didn't know why. It felt as if his body had been given a good shake and parts of him had fallen back into the wrong place. He had been looking forward to today. After home study he was going to the learning center for a game of liveball. That was the good bit. On the other hand, he was sure he had instructed the house to wake him with his favorite music; instead, a shrill voice had screeched "Wakey! Wakey!" in his ear. He hadn't had breakfast yet, and he had a nagging feeling that his mum and dad were going to have one of their Discussions. He jumped the final steps and burst into the dining room, his shirt half undone and one of his socks twisted.

"Where is everyone?"

"Your mother is in the shower and your father is changing Charlotte's nappy," replied the house in a soothing, feminine voice. "Your sister is—"

"All right," snapped Gavin. "I didn't really expect an answer. It was a rit . . . ret . . ."

"Rhetorical question?" prompted the house.

"Yes, I know." Gavin sat down to adjust his sock. "Anyway, you're not supposed to be on in here. You know Mum doesn't like machines in the dining room."

"I am not a machine," corrected the house.

"Yes you are, drybrain. You just don't have a body." He looked up. "Go on then, turn yourself off."

There was a long pause before the green light beside the door began to flicker, and an even longer pause before it went out. Gavin frowned. He knew that machines were not supposed to have personalities, apart from the one people might choose for them. But if anyone had asked him, he would have said that the house was stubborn and sulky.

His father came into the room carrying the baby and placed her in the high chair. Gavin kissed Charlotte on the forehead. Normally, he didn't do a lot of kissing, but his little sister was an exception. Charlotte craned her neck to look at him and chuckled, revealing a dimple and a row of tiny white teeth.

"Morning," said Mr. Bell. He was wearing a high-necked jacket and slim-legged trousers. A narrow piece of cloth poked up behind the collar of the jacket.

"Morning, Dad. You look interesting."

"Interesting?" said Mr. Bell.

Gavin eyed his father up and down. "Well, like something out of the twentieth century. All you need is a watch on your wrist instead of a jinn, and a top hat."

"Top hats are Victorian, I think you'll find. I've a very important meeting today and I think I look very smart."

Gavin's dad hardly ever dressed up. He worked with a lot of other architects who also looked most of the time as if they had just got out of bed.

"I'm meeting the top people at LifeCorp," he continued. "We're going to build them a new factory."

"Euphoric, Dad! Congratulations. But how come they've chosen you? I don't remember you mentioning it."

Mr. Bell looked guilty. He tied a bib around Charlotte's neck and sat down beside her. "I didn't," he admitted. "They held a competition to choose the architects last summer. We were asked not to tell anyone but since we've won we can hardly keep it a secret anymore. Now, I wonder what's for breakfast?"

Gavin had a sneaking feeling his father was changing the subject. They examined the dining table. "Bowls and side plates," mused Mr. Bell. "Well, that doesn't look too ominous."

The door slid open and Mrs. Bell and Fleur entered. They too stared at the table.

"Cereal and toast. That's OK," said Fleur with relief.

His mum kissed Gavin. "Morning," she murmured. "Did you sleep well?"

He wondered whether to tell her about the house screeching in his ear and decided not to. It would be just like her to go back to alarm clocks, or to volunteer to wake him herself. At least with the house he could tell it to let him snooze for ten minutes.

They joined Mr. Bell at the table.

"Dad's going to build a new factory for LifeCorp," Gavin told his sister.

"Really?" said Fleur. "Whereabouts?"

"Don't get excited," their father said. "It's on the edge of the city. I was hoping it might be somewhere exotic like Italy or Tanzania so I'd be allowed to travel."

The door opened and the butler rolled into the room, to an accompaniment of squeaks and whirrs.

"Good evening," he said in a gravelly voice.

Fleur and Gavin exchanged looks of alarm.

"Actually, Grumps . . . ," began Mr. Bell.

A ring indicated that the food lift had arrived. Mr. Bell left his sentence unfinished. The butler creaked his way toward the lift and took out a large tureen.

"Soup is served," he announced, setting down the tureen in the center of the table.

"Soup!" echoed Fleur. "For breakf—?"

"Shhh," said her mum. "You'll hurt his feelings. Thank you, Grumps."

"Tomato soup," intoned the butler. He lifted the lid. Steam wafted up and the unmistakable smell of cooked tomatoes filled the room.

The family stared in silence at the tureen. Grumps waited patiently, the lid in his hand.

"Perhaps a ladle?" said Mrs. Bell at last. "And some cereal and a yogurt for Charlotte."

"I forgot. I am most sorry." The butler replaced the lid and trundled out of the door. They heard him squeaking down the hallway.

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