To start with, when I saw the title, the first thing I thought of was the drink that was popular in the 1990s. Perhaps "Zima Blue" would be about some young adult woman drinking a Zima with a blue Jolly Rancher in the bottle, giving it a blue hue. Alas, that is not what this episode is about. It's about something far more exciting and meaningful.
In our quest for finding meaning in our lives, humanity reaches outward to search and hopefully discover our purpose. We want to know why we are here, so we take ever-expanding steps into the universe to find the answers to the questions we ask. But what if the answers are out there but rather they are within? That is what the artist Zima discovered and shared with us in "Zima Blue."
Love Death + Robots: Season 1, Episode 14
Available on Netflix
The episode begins when a reporter named Claire is on her way for an exclusive interview with the reclusive Zima, the most renowned artist of the time. As she travels to Zima's residence, Claire tells the story of how Zima's art has captivated humanity over the years. The additions of a blue square in the center of each of his new pieces are the most exciting and mysterious. As a new piece is unveiled, the blue squares become a more significant part of the art. It goes until his latest piece is nothing but a blue square. Seeking to understand the meaning of these blue squares, known as Zima Blue, Claire managed to secure her interview.
After arriving at Zima's home, she is greeted by Zima himself. As they ascend the stairs towards his home, Zima tells Claire about who he is. It turns out that Zima isn't a human as they all thought he was. Instead, Claire learns that Zima started as a pool sweep! He was created by a woman who was a robotics engineer. The blue square was a pool tile colored "zima blue." This blue tile was the first thing the little machine saw. At that point, his sole purpose was to clean the pool, something the machine did well.
When his owner died, he was transferred from new owner to new owner, who continued making modifications and upgrades over the years. The changes led Zima to evolve into the machine he is eventually. As he evolved, he explored the universe for meaning and purpose. Zima underwent procedures to explore extreme environments. His eyes could see in any known spectrum, he no longer breathed oxygen, and his skin was replaced with a pressurized polymer. Zima searched for his true purpose and pushed the boundaries of science and art to do so. He eventually learned that the universe was already speaking the truth of its purpose. This revelation allowed Zima to reflect inward. In exploring his origins, he found the swimming pool first cleaned. As he was having it rebuilt at his home on a different planet, Zima finally understood the thing he sought through his art. He realizes he is a simple little machine with barely enough intelligence to steer itself. But it was his world; cleaning was all he knew, all he needed to know.
At the end of the episode, before a packed crowd, Zima shuts down all his higher robotic functions and returns to the little robot he was, stunning all in the crowd, except for Claire. She walks away, satisfied with Zima's revelation.
We humans seek purpose for our existence. in that quest for our truth, we conquer everything we search for. We later learn that we look for the wrong things, like wealth, power, and fame.
Instead, if we search inward, we’d realize that happiness is extracted from the simple things in our lives. Most of us would be happier embracing our true selves instead of projecting fakeness to impress. Zima's purpose, much like our own, is to be harmonious with our surroundings and to be a small but essential part of the universe. Our quests for outward satisfaction cannot compete with our true happiness.
For Zima, the blue in his murals was his true calling. For myself, creating content to the best of my ability. I ask now, what is yours?
Warp 8 on the SciFi drive!
The Story Behind "Zima Blue"
Zima Blue and Other Stories by Alastair Reynolds