A day late and at least a dollar short – I bring to you a Freestyle Friday. Based on a comment last week from Tom of The Trout Underground today’s edition will be Sci-Fi Friday – Special Robot Edition.
Well I’ve loved science fiction for as long as I can remember. I love reading it, watching it, talking about it. And as far as I’m concerned the best science fiction should have two things: Space Ships and Robots. To be sure there are plenty of excellent science fiction stories that have neither of these elements, and I’ve enjoyed many of these. But my very favorite will include Space Ships or Robots or both. In a nutshell, robots are cool. But if I were asked to examine my love of robots more deeply I might be inclined to think that it has to do with the fact that most robot-centric stories are really about what it means to be human – or maybe more specifically what it means to be sentient. These types of stories examine the human condition, and what it means to be human amid the rush and push of dehumanizing technological advancement, or maybe they examine inequality and prejudice, any way you slice it robots are cool.
Some Science Fiction Books With Robots:
Here’s just a few books with robots that I’ve read and enjoyed.
- The Caves of Steel (1954), The Naked Sun (1957): These books are both part of Isaac Asimov’s Robot Novels. Essentially these are detective novels set in the future. The protagonists are detective Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw. Indeed these books are a bit dated and not for everyone; some modern readers might find them too naive and quaint. But I find these old sci-fi stories to be a lot of fun, they are old fashioned for sure, but I feel it only adds to their appeal.
- Rendezvous with Rama (1972): This book is an Arthur C. Clarke classic, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It is the 22nd century and a mysterious and huge (50 km long) cylindrical spaceship shows up in the solar system – first contact. A team is sent to investigate. The interior of the ship is a vast cylindrical plain divided in the middle by a cylindrical sea. Shortly after arrival the team encounters the robots. The robots of Rama are animal like and seemingly biological – they are deemed “biots” by the team. So these robots are not the machine type or the humaniform type but something cool and different. It is a good read, if a little long, and I recommend it. I cannot really recommend the sequels though.
- Perdido Street Station (2003): This book by China Mieville is a force to be reckoned with. It is a science fiction, steampunk, fantasy with dimension hopping spiders, demons, garuda (head and wings of a falcon, body of a man), khepri (body of a woman but with a scarab beetle for a head), cactus people, remade people, and on and on…oh yeah and robots. The setting is a sort of broken down, industrial revolution- era city with steam-punk type technology. So the robots in this story are – you guessed it – steam powered. Pretty cool. The robots play a pretty important part in the story, which I won’t attempt to summarize, it’s just too complicated. Mr. Mieville likes to write – that much is apparent. This is a literary book. I won’t lie – it is a little challenging, but well worth the effort.
Want to Listening to some classic Sci-Fi?
Librivox is a volunteer non-profit organization that narrates books that are in the public domain. As of this writing there are 43 Science Fiction Short Story Collections on the Librivox site. These are stories from the golden age of sci-fi and include stories by authors like Fritz Lieber, Harry Harrison, James Blish, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, Frank Herbert and many more. In addition to the short story collections there are plenty of other classic sci-fi works available (180 according to the search results). A great way to access these audio books (and many other public domain books as well) is through the Audiobooks app for your iPod, iPhone or Android device, just search for it in the market place on the device.
- So for your listening pleasure here’s a robot story from the collection called The Velvet Glove by Harry Harrison
What about robots in the movies?
Well – for the purposes of getting this post done before next Friday I’ll keep it short. If you haven’t seen them already, the first Transformers movie was ok, the second was so horrible I had to scrub my eyes with bleach after watching it, I haven’t subjected myself to the third… On the flip side for anyone that hadn’t seen it yet – you should watch Blade Runner – a classic with bio-engineered robots. Very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I didn’t include this book above because I haven’t read it yet, I’m pacing myself, there’s only so many Philip K. Dick novels out there and I don’t want then to end too soon.
So what about the latest robot movie Real Steel? Well in brief I really enjoyed it. Will It change your life? No. Make you ponder the meaning of the universe? No. Is it like an onion with many layers of meaning to unravel? No. It may not be any of these things but it is a good movie. Sure it is really just a shaggy dog story, sure it is a lot like Rocky, sure it is pretty predictable, and sentimental. But in spite of it all I had a blast. It is really hard to find a sci-fi, or super hero movie that is really appropriate for kids (don’t get me started on Transformers 2). Real Steel keeps the subject material appropriate for the kids. Well, there is the robot violence which could be a bit much for some of the really sensitive tots. If you’re a dad with kids in the 8 to 11 year old range or so, then this is a really fun movie to see with them. Fighting robots – it’s fun.
No Mr. Roboto for me please. Instead I bring you The Body Electric, (from the albumGrace Under Pressure) by my biggest guilty pleasure, Canadian power trio Rush. The opening line is “One humanoid escapee, an android in the run…” Then it has a binary code chorus, what’s not to love?