tag: Robot Simulacra

Jon’s World

Buy it on Amazon
First published in Time to Come 1954

The robotic humanoid “claws” the United States built during their war with the Soviets in 2051 gave them the upper hand in battle, but soon the claws turned against the humans that created them, driving the majority of people off the planet to the safety of the Moon, before fighting and destroying themselves. 

Years later, League member Caleb Ryan and the businessman Kastner are selected to travel back in time to retrieve papers documenting the artificial brain that powers the claws from a scientist named Schonerman who invented it, so that the humans on Earth can use this knowledge to construct worker robots in the present day that can help rebuild the planet.

In the meantime Ryan’s son Jon is having visions of increasing intensity where he sees an entirely different peaceful reality untouched by war. Before leaving Ryan decides to have his son lobotomized, a rather extreme, albeit successful, “solution” to his son’s visions. 

Schonerman is accidentally killed when they go back in time, and since the claws had never been invented, when Ryan and Kastner return to their present time they find the peaceful world exactly as Jon had described it.

Dick wrote this just after “Second Variety”, his story about the robotic claws and the humans fighting them just after the war.

Cast of characters

  • Caleb Ryan – League member selected to travel back in time
  • Jon Ryan – Caleb Ryan’s son
  • Kastner – United Synthetic Industries Combine member who travels back in time
  • Walter Timmer – the medical director
  • Schonerman – scientist who developed the principles for the first artificial brain 

Oh, To Be a Blobel!

Buy it on Amazon
First published in Galaxy Feb 1964

George Munster fought for Earth during its war with the amoeba-like Blobels from Proxima. As a Blobel spy he assumed the form of the Blobels, and after the war’s end he still reverts to Blobel form half of every day making dating and socializing almost impossible.

His psychoanalyst connects him with Vivian Arrasmith, a female Blobel and former Terran spy who reverts to human form six hours of every day. They marry, but years later when they have difficulty in their relationship Vivian stabilizes as a human full time in order to save her marriage not knowing that Munster has stabilized full time as a Blobel in order to operate a business on Titan.

Cast of characters

  • George Munster – a human who turns into a Blobel
  • Dr. Jones – Munster’s robot psychoanalyst
  • Vivian Arrasmith – Munster’s wife. A Blobel who turns into a human
  • Pete Ruggles, Sherman Downs, Reinholt Glaubman – Munster’s fellow vets
  • Nina Glaubman – Munster’s mistress
  • Henry Ramarau – Munster’s attorney

War Veteran

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
Buy it on Amazon
First published in If Mar 1955

A survivor of a war between Venus and Earth appears to somehow travel back in time, arriving on Earth days before the conflict begins when tensions between the two planets is at an all-time high. Earthmen at the City Hospital eventually uncover the Venusian plot to use a simulacra of a war veteran from the future to trick Earth into believing they will lose an upcoming war in order to prevent a war between the planets that Venus doesn’t want to fight.

This pulp potboiler, like a number of other stories Dick wrote in the 1950s, is populated with wooden characters and much too long.

Cast of characters

  • David Unger – the titular war vet who supposedly served under Nathan West
  • Vachel Patterson – cancer specialist at the City Hospital
  • Edwin LeMarr – neurologist at the City Hospital
  • Evelyn Cutter – records keeper at the City Hospital
  • John V-Stephens – a Venusian surgeon at the City Hospital
  • V-Rafia – a Venusian girl rescued from a crazed mob
  • Nathan West – Lieutenant on the battleship Wind Giant
  • Francis Gannet – owns Transplan Industries

The Electric Ant

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
Buy it on Amazon
First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Oct 1969

Garson Poole learns from a doctor that he is an electric ant (ant in this case refers to an organic humanoid robot) after he wakes up in a hospital following a squib accident. He soon finds everyone at his company already knows, and he is only a figurehead in charge because the owners want somebody they can control.

Knowing his true nature he begins to experiment with the punched tape roll in his chest that controls his sensory stimuli, screwing around with the input mechanism much like a human does by taking drugs in an effort to alter or figure out reality, until he manages to burn out the control and ‘die.’

It’s a simple story, but Poole is a sympathetic character and the ending is sad.

Cast of characters

  • Garson Poole – owner of Tri-Plan Electronics
  • Louis Danceman – Tri-Plan’s second in charge
  • Sarah Benton – Poole’s secretary

Second Variety

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
Buy it on Amazon
First published in Space Science Fiction May 1953

A war between Russia and the U.S. left the world’s cities destroyed. The American government fled to a secret base on the moon, while behind on Earth a skeleton crew of soldiers fights what remains of the Soviet Army. The Americans have the vicious robotic claws on their side until the claws learn to evolve. Deep in underground factories the claws begin to build machines, indistinguishable from humans, that kill without loyalty to Russia or the Americans.

While traveling to meet with the Russians, the American Major Hendricks finds this out when he encounters the young child David, the third variety of these robot simulacra. The Russians tell him about the first robot variety, but then the question becomes which one of them is the second variety pretending to be human.

The next story Dick wrote is a sequel of sorts called “Jon’s World” that takes place in the future after the war. The 1995 movie Screamers based on “Second Variety” starring Peter “RoboCop” Weller sticks close to the short story and managed to entertain me in spite of some 90s-era special effects.

Cast of characters

  • Major Hendricks – our protagonist
  • David – the third robot variety
  • Klaus Epstein – a Russian soldier
  • Rudi Maxer – a corporal in the Soviet army
  • Tasso – a young girl embedded with the Russians

Martian Time-Slip

Martian Time-Slip
Buy it on Amazon

In Martian Time-Slip, Jack Bohlen, a service repairman on Mars, crosses paths with Arnie Kott, a big man on the planet who is struggling to maintain his standing as the UN pushes for new regulations.

In this phildickian future of 1994 we learn the frightening statistic that one out of six people suffers from some form of schizophrenia. We also learn that someone with autism is trapped in a world they perceive as moving so quickly they can see into the future. Amid rumors of the UN’s interest in some Martian land for new settlements, Kott schemes to use Bohlen (a ‘former’ schizophrenic) and Bohlen’s connection to his young autistic neighbor Manfred to get a jumpstart on the competition and claim the land for himself.

This book is one of my favorites. The description of Jack’s first schizophrenic episode as a young man is terrifying, as is the entropic, “gubble gubble” world of Manfred as it encroaches into the minds of everyone around him.

Along with Dick’s ideas concerning autism, nothing about the planet in Martian Time-Slip suggests an attempt at rigorous science. PKD’s Mars features flowing water (although it’s scarce), breathable air and an indigenous population of natives called Bleekmen who were on the planet when Earth colonists arrived.

In the hard science fiction novel Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson named the 39.5 minutes of non-time between midnight and 12:01 when the clocks are stopped on Mars in order to simulate an even 24-hour day the ‘Martian time-slip’ as an homage to Dick’s book.

Cast of characters

  • Jack Bohlen – our protagonist. A service repairman on Mars
  • Silvia Bohlen – Jack’s wife
  • David Bohlen – Jack’s son
  • Leo Bohlen – Jack’s father. A land speculator from Earth
  • Mr. Yee – Jack’s employer
  • Arnie Kott – president of the Water Workers’ Local
  • Anne Esterhazy – Arnie’s ex-wife. Circulates a political newsletter for women
  • Norbert Steiner – Jack’s neighbor and dealer in black-market food
  • Otto Zitte – a black marketeer
  • Manfred Steiner – Norbert’s autistic son in Camp B-G for anomalous children
  • Dr. Glaub – a psychotherapist
  • Doreen Anderton – Arnie Kott’s mistress and Jack’s lover