Genre: Sci-Fi, Fairy Tale, Romance
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
About The Book
om is an aging house-android, toiling away for the cruel and ungrateful owners of an inn. He secretly dreams of freedom, friendship, and love. When an inn guest offers him the chance to attend a grand masquerade ball, Dom jumps at the opportunity. For a few precious hours he enjoys a level of independence he had never imagined—and the company of a handsome and kind prince of industry.
Until the clock strikes midnight.
I love fairy tale retellings, especially when they recast the original story in a bold and unexpected way.
Full Disclosure: I was asked by Kim Fielding to create the cover for this book, and to get a better sense of what was required, she offered to let me read it before publication. I also helped with the title (and yes, Cyberella was under consideration at one point LOL).
Poor Dom is a domus – a robotic AI housekeeper for a middle-income family that aspires to be upper class. He lives a life of drudgery, seeing to their every need without even a hint of thanks. They treat poor Dom as an object, and he’s (mostly) content with that, as he was programmed to be. But sometimes he longs to leave the house to see what’s out there in the larger world.
Dom is in a state of poor repair, with a bum knee and slowly deteriorating functions, but his latest owner doesn’t seem to care.
When a new arrival – an offworlder named Per Afrane (Per is a non-gendered signifier of respect, like Mx.), she brings a breath of fresh air into the house, and treats Dom like a feeling, thinking sentient being.
Per Afrane has come to town for the Betucom Ball, an annual dance that is the social event of the season. Betucom is the company that manufactures the domuses, and at one point Fielding gives a great explanation of how society got from smart toasters to simulated human beings.
When Per Afrane offers Dom a way to leave the house to attend the ball in disguise, it opens up a whole new world for him, and a chance at romance with the handsome “prince” of the tale, a man named Noll who is one of the heirs of the Betucom fortune. Of course, complications ensue…
The “Cinderella” DNA is evident here, from the lost shoe to the “must leave by midnight” deadline that gives the story some of its dramatic tension.
But this is a fun, fresh reinvention of the story that also plays with themes of what it means to be human – a very timely question as we enter a new Age of Artificial Intelligence. In Fielding’s telling, AI will end up dealing with the same emotions and insecurities that make us human… and what, then, is the real dividing line?
Dom is a wonderful character, wounded but determined to be civil and serve those around him flawlessly, no matter how undeserving they are. He’s the classic underdog, and the hope of seeing his lot in life improve has us rooting for him throughout the book.
Per Afrane is also a great reimagining of the fairy godmother character, and Fielding through in a curveball with “Prince” Noll that makes the tale feel especially of this moment.
An enjoyable, heartwarming tale that spruces up an old plot with some new thinking, Once Upon a Dance is a great way to spend a couple hours immersed in a sci-fi fairy tale, and one I would happily read again.
Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.