CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
Calgary, AB: EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2006.
102 pp., pbk., $19.95.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Advance Copy.
EARLY ONE MORNING,
AT THE SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT
The forerobot leaned over to one of his
workerbots and said: “Weird to see a human
down here, eh? And so early in the morning
too.” The workerbot replied: “How do you
know it is a human?” And the forerobot said:
“he hasn’t got any sewage on him.”
In 1950, Isaac Asimov’s collection of SF short stories, I, Robot, appeared, containing Asimov’s three "Laws of Robotics" to which he later added a 'zeroth law'.
Law Zero: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Law One: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
Law Two: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
Law Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order law.
In Jason’s Christie’s i-ROBOT Poetry, his robots, if they have heard of Asimov’s four laws, certainly do not always strictly obey them. In addition to the poetry collection’s title nod to Asimov, its contents also give recognition to Karel Kapek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in which the word Robot first appeared. The play’s contents proposed a paradise in which the machines initially brought many benefits to mankind, but, in the end, they also led to problems which included unemployment and social unrest.
Christie’s 76 poems, which are largely socially satirical either in obvious or subtle ways, are as short as a single line, and, while most occupy less than a page, a few do take up two pages. Bit by bit, the poems give a picture of a new post 2014 society, one in which robots have, via various programming upgrades, become sentient and no longer see themselves as subservient machines. As described in “The Commanding Heights: A Retrospective,” because of the installation of entrepreneurial programs, two-thirds of the world’s human population now work for a robot employer or a fully robotic corporation. As noted in “Robot Mouth: An Open Letter to the Author,” by legislation, robots’ hours of work have been reduced from 24 to 16. “Another World” explains that “Around 2015, robots took over most of the acting jobs because they could exactly convey the right emotions demanded by the script.” Not only have robots been given the right to vote, they can also run for office, and an “augmented” human in “Organoptropy” admits to “voting for the robot candidate, even though her main platform policy is the extermination of all human beings.”
As Kapek’s R.U.R. pointed out, mankind’s use of robots could bring problems, some minor, but others more significant. In i-ROBOT Poetry, one of the lesser problems of giving robots speech via a language chip is that garborators can now complain about the quality of the family’s waste. At a more serious level, the courts have become flooded with cases brought by robots against their owners after it was “discovered that along with sentience and emotions, robots inherited the ability to feel pain, but not the emotional vocabulary to articulate it.” In one case described in “Newsflash from the Dustbins of History!”, a VCR sued its owners for keeping it “in a vegetative state for over a year” while deciding “whether or not they needed it around any longer.” In “Ideo Radio Poem,’ another robot tries to incite rebellion by shouting, “We want mercy and fair treatment. We want to be paid for our labour, a proper rate, a salary.” In “Inadiplomacy,” the robots go even further: “All the robots called in sick today. They want to unionize.” Like human adolescents, some studentbots wish to make their own independent career choices. Consequently, a bulky, heavy treaded robot designed to work in mines wants to be a ballerinabot in “Lunar Thought: Canary.” Contemporary problems find new faces in the future robotic world. Instead of debating same sex marriage, legislators must face the question of robots being united in holy matrimony in “Robot Marries Robot” while the abortion issue finds its robotic equivalent in “Digging Up the Dead” and “Abortion.”
In one of his poems, “Spirit”, Christie also challenges his readers to become personally involved in the poem’s contents. A human is having a conversation with its answering machine but does not recognize that the machine’s flashing display is actually another form of communication. Since Christie doesn’t tell his readers what “long, short, long, short, (pause)” etc. mean, it will be interesting to see how many adolescents recognize the blinking to be Morse Code. (As an old Boy Scout, I did the decoding: cogito ergo sum. And my grade 9 & 10 Latin classes finally prove their value: I think; therefore I am. ) And fans of Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” may enjoy Christie’s variant, “Light Brigade Versus the Silicon Valley Workerbot Uprising of 2024s.”
Christie’s i-ROBOT Poetry offers much good reading, and its contents will definitely appeal to high school students. Teachers in a number of subject areas, not just English, will find the collection’s contents connecting with their curriculum. For instance, what sex ed. class could not benefit from the following poem?
Excerpt from The Robot Health
Note to young robot: Be careful which socket
you stick your plug into, or which plug you
stick into your socket.
An animated BookShort, adapted from the book and running 3:28 min., is running both on BookTelevison and The Canadian Learning Channel. Visit www.bookshorts.com to view the film and to see two “behind the scenes” short features, one on the making of the film and the other an interview with Jason Christie.
Dave Jenkinson, who is not a reviewbot, teaches courses in adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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