The collective presidents of the United State’s birthdays are being celebrated today, which begs the question: Do robots count their birthday by manufactured date or when they get turned on? How many presidents were robots? Place your baseless accusations in the comments!
Robots have rattled and clanked their way through stories for generations. While this isn’t the first time that they have infiltrated the arena, it is the first that they are the main prompt. Will they destroy all humans? Or are these automatons running on different programming? Let’s take a look at the stories.
Danny Brophy gets weird in “Kid A: A Story in Ten Songs”
Brea McCoy takes over with “Execute Order #66-6”
Robots, does anything capture the imagination quite like them? The wish for a machine that can do the mundane tasks for you is something that has crossed all of our minds once or twice. The idea of something greater is present in books, TV, and movies as well. How far will our authors take their plans for an artificial man? Let’s see:
“Execute Order #66-6” by Brea McCoy – Talk about a topical story. “Torn from the headlines” as it were, but with a twist. That twist, of course, is the interpretation of the prompt.
We jump right into the story with the stating of some radical views that have become almost too common these days. The references to hair molded like plastic and spasmodic flailing hint at where this story is going without coming right out and saying it.
And where that story goes is weird, and wonderful, and a little bit confusing. The idea that a radical presidential candidate who says things that no other candidate would admit to even thinking can’t be real is a fairly common one but I don’t think anyone believes he is not actually human. That’s where this story comes in. What if he was actually artificial? What if he was built and deployed by the other party’s candidate to be an enemy to rally against? I really liked those ideas, and I think they were conveyed well in the time and space allotted. There were a couple other ideas that were flirted with and I was confused by them at times (does Mr. Flanders have some kind of power that cripples those who hear it?)
One thing that I thought was missing was depth. I know that this story is more of a sledgehammer than any kind of intricate tool but everything was so simple and one dimensional that I felt like I needed more from some character
All in all, a solid, concise, tongue in cheek interpretation of the prompt. Well done.
Kid A: A Story in Ten Songs by Danny Brophy – Right off, I have to tell you, not a big Radiohead fan. I know enough about them to understand there was a reference there but not enough to actually catch any of them. Sorry, Mr Brophy.
That being said, I enjoyed the basis for this story; a “race” of androids created by Man has outlasted its creator and established its own society. A society based on the pursuit of knowledge. As one doctor feels like he is nearing the end of that chase he decides to break the rules and study the “ones who came before”. At least that;’s how I saw it. This is one of those stories that feels like it is operating on a few levels and I may not be aware of all of them.
I liked the idea that in the android society, there were some crimes punishable by “death” or permanent shutdown. They seem to have carried on some of the conventions of our society that we may not have foreseen.
I liked that the androids were hesitant to allow Man to be recreated in fear of him repopulating the Earth and carrying on his destructive ways. That mankind could be seen as akin to dangerous pathogens or nuclear fissibles is a statement worthy of pondering.
Where this story ultimately missed its mark, unfortunately, is in Man himself. I didn’t find him to be relatable to me at all, which in a story where he is literally the only human around is really saying something. I didn’t get why he had a hard time learning how to speak or how to eat. That is the kind of things that babies do pretty much instinctively.
I also had a hard time with the timeline of the story. Some of the conversations with Seaton seem to take place well before they should. It made for a couple rereads but ultimately not enough to make the story unreadable.
The ending is wonderful, just as we are led to believe that Greanisis is following the Seaton’s orders and terminating the experiment we see that he is doing exactly the opposite; freeing Man to live in the world again unhindered and alone. Beautiful.
This week we had two very different takes on a simple prompt, and that is what I love best about the Arena. Both stories made me think and made me feel. Both also could use maybe one more draft to polish them up. Alas, the Arena is a demanding master and needs a verdict now. My vote goes to the story that seems to be more complete, that seems to just plain work better. That story is “Execute Order #66-6” by Brea McCoy
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Robots have been a mainstay of science fiction almost since the beginning. They hold a mirror up to the human condition, whether our working conditions or our emotional life. We stare directly into the uncanny valley in the hopes of finding out what makes us human and them mere machines.
Two combatants have risen to the robot challenge this week. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Execute Order #66-6” – I enjoy how this story works at two levels. There is of course the topical surface level, where the story might be read as a humor piece. The mirror is a funhouse mirror, distorting reality but only slightly, allowing us to laugh at the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Yet this story is also a horror story, where the powers that be manipulate people at large by their robot. In one sense, the robot could be replaced with a human actor and the story wouldn’t much change. But I think the use of a robot makes a point that wouldn’t be there with a human puppet. The powers behind the throne are treating the American people exactly as they’re treating the robot: an object to be manipulated.
“Kid A: A Story in Ten Songs” – This story hits a lot of the right buttons for me. I love the idea of a far-future civilization of robots trying to understand its creators by cloning a human. (Where did they get the source DNA? Not sure it’s important to the story, but I want to know.) I love the struggle Man has to come to grips even with something like thought and language as a sentient being in the center of a society alien to him. I love the use of stream of consciousness to articulate his awakening awareness.
Yet I wonder if this story is hampered by the short story format. By jumping from Greanisis to Lil to Man, I think the emotional impact of the tale is blunted, at least as it stands. Perhaps in a format where sufficient play could be given to each of the characters, I might have enjoyed the story more. As things stand, I find myself wondering whose story the tale really is and if perhaps a tighter focus on that one character might have led to a tighter story.
Robots in control versus robots in the control of the powers behind the throne. Regular readers of these pages know that in the end, I will always vote for the story that had the greatest impact on me. And for me, this week, that story is:
“Execute Order #66-6” by Brea McCoy.
There you have it folks! Brea McCoy has won round 63 of The Writer’s Arena! She kept our arena denizens from having a perfect sweep, as Joe, Al, and Tony won their first fights of the year.
Let’s see if our audience agrees.
A very strong victory for Brea! Congratulations again.
This concludes the first round of the New Year in The Writer’s Arena. We’ll be back on February 29th, as Joe steps back into the ring. Thank you all for voting and keep an eye out for our first anthology!