When American billionaire Henry Hockenheimer discovers that conquering the corporate world is no longer enough for him on the eve of his 40th birthday, he decides to leave his mark on the world by creating the first Superman, a robot as intellectually brilliant as it is physically capable. But his ideas are thwarted on every side by the most brilliant minds of the academic world, from the artificial intelligence researcher Dr. Vishnu Sharma to the wheelchair-bound head of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of Her Majesty’s Government’s Bio-Engineering Research Fund, Nkwandi Obolajuwan, and, of course, Dr. Sydney Prout, formerly of the United Nations, now Special Adviser on Human Rights to the European Union.
And when Hockenheimer succeeds, despite all of the incredible obstacles placed in his way, he discovers that success can be the cruelest failure of all.
THE PROMETHEAN is an amazingly funny novel exposing the utter insanity of modern academia and the world of technology. An extraordinary tale of ambition, social justice, and human folly, it combines the mordant wit of W. Somerset Maugham with a sense of humor reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse.
Harry had been away for several days in London and was looking forward to getting back to his apartment at Tussock’s Bottom. His computer-controlled gadget system, Home Sweet Home, had been working brilliantly, and his voice commands and his smartphone allowed him to control his domestic environment in fanatical detail from every aspect of his personal comfort to the functioning of the apartment. He looked forward to eventually having a cranial implant through which his whims could be instantly gratified by thought control.
His automatic servants woke him gently with soft light and crooning music, boiled him a preliminary cup of coffee correctly ground, filtered, and brewed, with just the right amount of soya milk, ran his bath with the water at 102°F, cooked his breakfast to a planned menu that selected from 53 different items, prepared his other meals as he needed them, turned down his bed in the evening, drew the blinds, automatically hoovered his carpets with the robot vacuum cleaner, selected his drinks from a vast liquor cabinet and poured whatever mixture he required as he lay back in his high-tech ergonomic executive chair, selected his programmes on TV or a book from the bookcase, ordered his groceries from the fridge, collected and compacted the garbage, washed the windows, monitored the central heating, air conditioning, humidity, and airborne particulates, and maintained the formidable security system.
It was techno-paradise.
As he flew back to Tussock’s Bottom in the helicopter with Jerry, Harry used his smartphone to instruct the Internet of Things in his apartment to receive him in especially lavish style that evening to celebrate his highly successful meeting with Dr. Sharma. He spent some time on the details of the lighting effects, the exact temperature and humidity, the vintage of the champagne, the provenance of the caviare, and, of course, the various courses of the dinner itself. They landed on the roof of the apartment and went down the steps from the helipad to the front door. This normally opened as soon as the camera above it had computed Harry’s biometrics when he was a few feet away, but on this occasion it remained obstinately shut. His radio fob was equally useless, and it was only when Jerry had spent several minutes fumbling in his briefcase for the key that they were finally able to enter the apartment.
Inside it was pitch dark, and they were met by a blast of superheated stinking air and ominous sounds of crunching. As they squelched their way slowly across the sodden carpet, they were jolted by a piercing shriek from the burglar alarm and a second later were knocked off their feet by Autovac, the robot vacuum cleaner which shot out of the darkness like a vast hockey puck. Picking themselves up, dripping and cursing, they tried to find a light switch, but Harry had forgotten where these primitive contrivances might be found since the lights were normally controlled by his voice commands, or by the computer. After a few minutes, he and Jerry gave up in helpless disgust and retreated outside again, where from the balcony, after a few minutes, they saw the approach of flashing blue lights.
These turned out to belong to the local fire brigade, alerted by the alarm, which for some reason had neglected to tell the police or the ambulance service. Two firemen were first up the steps, and the larger of the two was a huge man with an axe, inevitably known as Tiny by his mates, who had a rather simple sense of humour. He looked most disappointed to find that the front door was already open. It was made of solid oak, unlike most of the rubbish doors that he usually had to smash down, and he really would have enjoyed the challenge of reducing this one to matchwood. Trying not to let his disappointment show, Tiny began asking Harry and Jerry what the problem was. But before the firemen could go in and start sorting it out, their boss, the Incident Commander, arrived to stop them.
He explained to Harry and Jerry that he had not received sufficient information from the initial alarm call to be able to plan his response properly, and since the place was in darkness, Health and Safety regulations required him to do a risk assessment with the remote-controlled robot before any entry could be made. He called up the Emergency Operations Centre on his radio to make a preliminary report and asked for permission to use the robot, which four more firemen then had to heave up the steps from the fire truck.
It was a multi-purpose robot mounted on tracks, designed to deal with terrorists and bombs as well as surveying dangerous environments with its various detectors and audio-visual equipment. After the Commander and his team spent several minutes checking the battery and setting the controls, it trundled off through the front entrance, when almost immediately there followed a thunderous bang as it was violently attacked by the vacuum cleaner, which it promptly destroyed with blasts from both barrels of its on-board shotgun. The video camera displayed the mangled remains of the vacuum cleaner splattered over the walls and then beamed back dimly lit pictures showing the kitchen area in complete disarray, with food all over the floor, followed by a view of the lavatory overflowing, but no one in the apartment.
“Okay, so now can we get inside?” said Harry, about to burst a blood vessel from frustration and rage. “There’s clearly no one in there, except for your homicidal robot.”
“Not yet, I’m afraid,” said the Incident Commander. “We can’t rush these things. There may be other hazards besides intruders. First, I have to access the Mobile Data Terminal, which is on the truck, to identify the risks on our Fire Brigade database that may be associated with this location, and only then can I develop my action plan to address the situation. I’ll be needing your cooperation to answer a number of questions.”
What the Incident Commander was really looking forward to was sending the message “INITIATE MAJOR INCIDENT PROCEDURE,” which would allow him to do all sorts of exciting things like evacuating the neighbourhood, putting up barricades and cordons, and setting up a command post to coordinate the other emergency services, but after being assured by Jerry that there was no danger from natural gas, methane, high-voltage power lines, microwave transmissions, explosives, radioactive substances, or industrial quantities of concentrated acids, he reluctantly concluded that initiating a major incident procedure would not be a career-enhancing move, and therefore the apartment could be entered safely by his men, though not yet by civilians.
Tiny and his mate Ginger walked into the apartment and turned on the lights at the switch by the front door. “It don’t half pong in ’ere,” said Ginger, “like a million elephants farted. And what’s that weird noise?”
For another selection from THE PROMETHEAN, follow this link.