Short Reviews, Love Among the Robots, by Emmett McDowell

Friday , 26, January 2018 7 Comments

Love Among the Robots, by Emmett McDowell appeared in the Winter 1946 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

I can’t help but feel that Love Among the Robots is a send-up of Asimov’s (and Asimovian) robot stories. Asimovian Robot stories tend to revolve around solving some procedural engineering mystery as to why a robot is behaving in a certain way—robots have programming which defines and limits their behavior, therefore abnormal seeming behavior is merely the unexpected result of a conflict between programming, input, and environment. There’s usually a lot of talking until a very smart man comes up with an answer.

Sofi Jokai is a sexy, determined, “yellow-haired hell cat” with her own mining operation on an asteroid and an alleged case of hyperthyroidism; Henry Ohm is an experimental physicist boarding with Sofi at the request of his employer, Robots Incorporated. They are being chased by a robot that has apparently gone crazy. ::record scratch::

“Sofi Jokai had been operating her wildcat uranium mine on a shoestring before Robots Incorporated approached her with their proposition. Now the corporation was paying all the operational expenses so that the proceeds of the mine were pure gravy. Further, they had guaranteed that any improvements which they installed would automatically revert to Sofi when the experimental units were withdrawn. Machinery damaged by the robots was to be replaced at the corporation’s expense. A substantial bonus to compensate for risk involved was included. Robots Incorporated hadn’t even overlooked Henry Ohm, their experimental physicist, whom they’d sent along to check the robots. Sofi was to get a monthly check to cover Henry Ohm’s board, lodging and nuisance value.”

So what went wrong? The experimental robots have been configured with advanced sensor feedback systems, in an attempt to explore “mechanistic psychology”:

“We were faced with devising an intricate mechanical nervous system. Thus, should a joint grow warm from lack of lubrication, an impulse of distress could be telegraphed to the central clearing center, identified, shunted to the lubricatory system which would oil the joints. A spark of consciousness would be created. It would manifest itself as acute distress in the defective joint.

 

We incorporated a simple metabolism by which the robots converted raw stuff into fuel and lubrication. The rest of the mechanism was much the same as that of any animal confronted by the necessity of self-preservation.”

Now the robots are refusing to work, threatening the humans, and—wilder still—seem to become preoccupied with sex and procreation!

Why would the “rational robots” with no external input except from a man and a woman cooped up in close quarters with plenty of tension between them start running amok? I won’t go into too detail, but the solution to the big-man-with-screwdrivers puzzle is punching the lady the in face.

I’ll touch on this briefly, and I think it’s important, because of how rare this sort of flippant violence against women is in the pulps I’ve read and reviewed. About the only other pulp story off the top of my head where a guy hauls off and slugs the dame is in Brackett’s The Starmen; in that case, the lady is an at-that-point unformed space Nazi who’s going to stop the hero from escaping to liberate the galaxy from the ethno-elitist space Nazi empire. The violence seems extreme in Love Among the Robots, because it WAS extreme (by standards of Planet Stories, anyway)—I’ll keep an eye out in the letters to see if anyone was taken aback by this. But there was purpose behind it—assuming this was a send-up of/piss-take on Big-Men-With-Screwdrivers stories. If that is the case, it lampshades how hackneyed many of the solutions to the engineering puzzles of science fiction tend to be—lots of sciency dialog tends to end up with a “bang!” quick, dumb “why didn’t we see it all along?” answer. And a dame getting uppercut is one hell of a quick, dumb Big-Man-With-Screwdriver solution, and it’s a hell of a “bang” to the reader.

 

7 Comments
  • Nicholas Archer says:

    I found the story to be interesting and it held my attention more so as it progressed. The solution was interesting though I’m not sure it was fore-shadowed other than the Thyroid Gland explanation. Overall: It might not be Asimov but I like it.

    One complaint though. I don’t understand the ending, it confuses me. I understand that Henry had reached the limit of the “abuse” (for a lack of a better word) he could tolerate from Sofi. Did he chase after her to give her another slug or to do that thing feminists are always ranting about that starts with an r?

    I should probably take a break from politics I think I’m starting to think like them. AH! Hyper-Thyroid!

    • cirsova says:

      I think the implication of the ending is that the sexual tension has become so thick between them that he has transmogrified into a Tex Avery wolf-man and is chasing her down for smooches.

      • Nicholas Archer says:

        What is a “Tex Avery Wolf-man”? Is that a reference of some kind?

        Also when you say, “chasing her down for smooches” Are you being literal or are you referring to the second interpretation of the ending?

    • cirsova says:

      Also, I’m not sure if she had literal hyperthyroidism or that was just the physicist telling her that because she was high-strung. Like calling someone a spaz or a sperg. It may not have been a clinical diagnosis.

  • I’ve come across some slapping of women in various pulps, but that usually falls into either a) the bad guy is doing it, or b) the woman is hysterical or something and the slap is meant to shock her out of it.

    Outright punching I think I’ve only come across in stuff like the Golden Amazon stories where the woman is essentially super-powered.

    The McDowell stories I’ve read before usually have some sort of conflict between man and woman in them. Commonly it is the women who are violent and savage.

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