There have always been 'artificial' beings
around in story-space, some humanoid and some less so.
modern literature robots--whether
metal machines or genetically engineered replicas--have not altered much except that now they tend to be made by
humans rather than by supernatural powers.
most common story role is to criticise the hubris of humanity. "Danger, Humanity! You will end up creating superior beings who
will judge you harshly and leave you for dead or kill you themselves in
disgust," is a frequent theme.
position is that of the innocent companion – where robots take the role of the
helping figures/guardians to the humans.
R2D2 and C3P0 are the most obvious forms of this benevolent robot.
robot/android stories revolve around human beings' difficulties in reconciling
to their responsibilities and their own wayward natures. Frequently this focuses on the role of
emotions in our lives: either having or not having them and what that means in
terms of action. However, major themes
aside, robots also make great characters in their own right.
a few interesting players from robots in literature, some well-known, and some
to the Master
by Harry Bates, 1940). Gnut is
considered the human protagonist's servant for the length of the story, but at
the end reveals himself to be the master.
This turns over the reader's assumptions neatly. In the 1951 film
Day the Earth Stood Still,
he becomes intergalactic police-robot Gort: "There's no limit to what Gort
could do, he could destroy the Earth."
By his final incarnation in the 2008 movie remake Gort gets much bigger and badder
and has to be destroyed to save the world.
See the threat-meter rise over time and adaptation; from a twist in the
tale to mega-death in 3 easy moves!
Roy, Rachael and Pris: (Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K Dick, 1968). Androids, known
as andys, can only be told apart from
humans by scientific testing. They're used for war, work and as sex toys,
without compassion. Their periodic attempts to escape slavery are met with brutal
bounty-hunter executions, but these three are 'retired' at the hands of Rick
Deckard. As for Deckard, he views his own humanity and purpose with deep
Marvin, the Paranoid Android: (Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams, 1978). 50,000 times
more intelligent than the average human, 30 billion times more intelligent than
a live mattress – Marvin's tragedy is that there is nothing he can find to
challenge or interest him, thus he exists in a permanent fug of gloomy
ennui. He references the Dick book
mentioned above in his lullaby, "How I Hate the Night."
Deirdre: ("No Woman Born", C L
Moore, 1944). A fabulous dancer is killed in a fire and her mind implanted into
a golden robotic body. Able to create a new form of dance and to sing like her
old self, she becomes celebrated and gains the financial independence she
always wanted. Although she manages to reproduce her human warmth in movement
and voice, through the loss of her body and her increasing loneliness she is
already becoming quite 'other'.
Sing The Body Electric,
by Ray Bradbury, 1969). A little girl, Agatha, is slow to accept a robot
grandma as a replacement for her lost mother until Grandma saves her life. Grandma then looks after the three children
in her care with warmth and efficiency, doing everything a perfect grandma
would do. She does so once again in
their old age since, as a machine, she is immortal. The story asks if love can
be shown/received without the capacity to experience it as an emotion.
The Iron Man: (later retitled The
Iron Giant (to
avoid clashing with the superhero) by Ted Hughes, 1968) The Iron Man arrives
from space and befriends a boy who helps him steer clear of trouble with locals
until the arrival of a second alien threatens the Earth. He faces down the Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon in a
feat of strength and gets the creature's agreement to return to its original
calling – singing the music of cosmic harmony to humanity until there is peace
balance out all the victims/saviours of the horrid humans...last but not least
The Cylons (Battlestar Galactica, various books), specifically the
Cylon Centurions, or 'toasters' as they are fondly known because of their shiny
chrome resemblance to a certain fancy kitchen appliance. These robots do
exactly what they were made to do: they menace and kill.
are plenty of other great robots out there.
Have fun finding more!