Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Le Carré, Asimov-style

Cory Doctorow's new short story, "I, Robot" starts off as a single-parent angst-resolution tale, draws in Asimovian pseudo-science and Orwellian social constructs, then ends up deep in John Le Carré territory.

In a lesser writer, this would be merely derivative. In Cory's case, it is inspired. Current social and technophilic fears such as the criminalization of innovation, the decline of pax Americana, and the possibility of Festung Americana, are all explored with verve and insight.

As in Le Carré, the protagonist, Arturo, is a conflicted, disillusioned - although he would not admit it - apparatchik of the State. His conflicts arise, in part from his discomfort with the social system, and fundamentally from his betrayal by his wife, who has 'gone over'. He must come in from the cold, as it were, to recognize his incompleteness and the flawed State he serves. This realization is insufficient, as when it might have worked, he is confronted with his insecurity, and rejection - a robot, a mere robot, seems to have taken his place, and his wife may not be the woman he once loved.
One robot put its arms around Natalie's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. The three of them, robot, wife and daughter, looked like a family for a moment.
Arturo put one foot in front of the other, not sure if the ground was actually spongy or if that was jetlag. Around him, the alien smells of Beijing and the robots that were a million times smarter than he. To his right, his wife, one of 3,422 versions of her.

To his left, his daughter, who would inherit this world.

He reached into his pocket and took out the tin soldiers there. They were old and their glaze was cracked like an oil painting, but they were little people that a real human had made, little people in human image, and they were older than robots. How long had humans been making people, striving to bring them to life? He looked at Ada — a little person he'd brought to life.

He gave her the tin soldiers.

Humans, currently at the top of the heap, have a perennial fear of displacement. This is a tale as old as the hills - from golems to the semi-sentient information sphere permeating our lives. We, the inheritors, may well yield our pre-eminence to, as Ray Bradbury put it, a Robot Pope.

Soundtrack while reading this story:
> Some Kind Of Monster
> Stairway To Heaven
> Motherless Child
> Mr Roboto

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