About 2011 I read a short story in an anthology. It described an interstellar ship populated by people that were actually sentient robots; they were made of metal, and yet were starving. I think the story was recent. I'd like to reread it, but don't have the book now, and can't recall its title, or the story's title.

  • 2
    Where did you read this? U.S.? U.K.? Elsewhere? Which country published the book?
    – Tim
    Aug 27, 2017 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


The starving robot concept is so unlikely that I'm going out on a limb and say that you are misremembering the year, and it was 2013 and not 2011. This seems Bit Rot by Charles Stross, available online. It made its way into some anthologies, one of them Engineering Infinity (on Amazon).

The robots are on a starship bound to Wolf 1061, and they are hit by a gamma ray burst that contaminates their maintenance feedstock, and bodies, with radioactive isotopes. From then on, the basic survival instincts coded in ther mechanocytes drive them to prey on each other in search of pure, uncontaminated metals and substances with which to repair themselves.

"Because the techné I shoved up her marrow is some of the last uncontaminated material on the ship," Wo pointed out acidly. "There are people on this ship who'll crack her bones to feed on it before long. If she stays here I won't be able to protect her."

"But --"

I looked around. Not all the silent occupants of the surgical frames were unconscious. Eyes, glittering in the darkness, tracked me like gunsights. Empty abdominal sacks, bare rib cages, manipulators curled into claws where Doctor-Engineer Wo had flensed away the radiation-damaged tissue. The blind, insensate hunger of primitive survival reflexes -- feed and repair -- stared at me instead of conscious minds. Suddenly my numb feet, the persistent pins and needles in my left arm, acquired a broader perspective.

"They're hungry," explained Wo. "They'll eat you without a second thought, because they've got nothing with which to think it -- not until they've regrown a neural core around their soul chip." It waved the stump of a tentacle at me. "Jordan and Mirabelle have been rounding up the worst cases, bringing them here to dump on me, but they've been increasingly unforthcoming about events outside of late. I think they may be trying to keep themselves conscious by ..." A tentacle uncurled, pointed at the pathetic husk of my remora. "Take your sister and go, Lilith. Stay out of sight and hope for rescue."

"Rescue --"

"Eventually the most demented will die, go into shutdown. Some will recover. If they find feedstock. Once the situation equilibrates, we can see about assembling a skeleton crew to ensure we arrive. Then there'll be plenty of time to prospect for high-purity rare earth elements and resurrect the undead. If there's anything left to resurrect."

"But can't I help --" I began, then I saw the gleam in Wo's photoreceptor. The curl and pulse of tentacles, the sallow discoloration of it's dermal integument. "You're ill too?"

"Take your sister and go away." Wo hissed and rolled upside down, spreading its tentacles radially around it's surgical mouthparts. "Before I eat you: I'm so hungry..."

  • That's it! I recognise the title "engineering Infinity," though think I never noted the story's title. I recognise Wolf 1061, and the details about the robots' physiology-like workings. There was no way I could have recalled the title or author, thank you for saving me from frustration and maybe madness!
    – user89108
    Aug 28, 2017 at 0:02
  • Great! You can mark the answer as accepted then (BTW, you can read the story online at the link I gave to Stross's site).
    – LSerni
    Aug 28, 2017 at 0:05
  • Ok, done. Thanks for the help; greatly appreciated (sorry for verbosity, my original was rejected as too few characters)
    – user89108
    Aug 28, 2017 at 0:24
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    Note that if you particularly liked this story, it's set in the same universe as a couple of Stross's novels, Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood, that you may also like. See his blog entry giving details of the story here.
    – Jules
    Aug 28, 2017 at 6:48
  • I'll check them out, thanks. Always like to find new good stuff.
    – user89108
    Aug 28, 2017 at 16:56

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