BOOKS: ‘Winter of Robots’ plot works well on number of levels
By Jean Patrick
Republic Book Columnist
When seventh-grader Jim Knox picks Rocky (Rochelle) to be his partner for the middle-school science fair, he “borrows” one of his dad’s security cameras and heads to an old junkyard along the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis.
They plan to observe the otters. But that’s not what happens.
“The Winter of the Robots,” by Kurtis Scaletta, is full of unexpected twists. When the security camera is stolen, a classmate disappears and Jim nearly gets zapped with a Taser, it’s obvious that something else is going on.
The location of the junkyard provides the first clue. The fenced-off junkyard is on the same property as Nomicon, a former military engineering plant. Odder yet are the random sightings of dinosaur-like robots that patrol the area.
Of course, Jim and his friends don’t stay away, even when a man from the neighborhood is killed. In fact, they decide to build and program their own robot to battle the dinobots and their dangerous golem.
“The Winter of the Robots” works well on many levels. If you’re interested in robotics, author Kurtis Scaletta includes plenty of details about sensors, controllers, actuators and coding. But on another level, he shows the ever-changing landscape of middle-school friendships and family problems.
Scaletta also treats his audience as mature readers. As you’re reading, you may find that he leaves several questions unanswered. But stick with him. At the end, he pulls the story together in unexpected ways.
In the meantime, you’ll notice that Scaletta refers to several Minneapolis landmarks, including the University of Minnesota, the mega-mall (Obviously the Mall of America) and its aquarium. He even refers to the tornado that ripped through north Minneapolis in 2011.
Scarletta is also the author of “Mudville,” “Mamba Point” and “The Tanglewood Terror.” He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and son.
“The Winter of the Robots.” By Kurtis Scaletta. Knopf, 2013.