tag: Robots

Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Aug 1966

This is either Dick’s stupidest premise or his most brilliant. It’s hard to tell sometimes with him, but I’m going with the former. I’ll do my best to summarize.

A man named Ludwig Eng invented something called a swabble. It’s not clear what the swabble actually does but it introduces into the world something called the Hobart Phase which causes time to flow backwards in a strange way where people eat and smoke in reverse and get younger instead of aging. 

In this backwards world librarians destroy books instead of preserving them. One book coming up for eradication is Eng’s book HOW I MADE MY OWN SWABBLE OUT OF CONVENTIONAL HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS IN MY BASEMENT DURING MY SPARE TIME. Only a few people seem to realize if Eng’s book is eradicated then the swabble won’t be invented and the Hobart Phase won’t be created causing time to move forward once again. But then Eng will just write his book and the process will be repeated trapping everyone in a time loop. 

After dealing with another party who wants the Hobart Phase to continue for their own obscure reasons the librarian Niehls Lehrer meets with Lance Arbuthnot who wrote a book he hopes to get eradicated that will somehow counteract Eng’s book. The effects of the Hobart Phase are weakening though so they better move fast.

Dick expanded “Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday” a few years later into one of my least favorite novels Counter-Clock World.

Cast of characters

  • Niehls Lehrer – a librarian
  • Ludwig Eng – wrote the book that created the Hobart Phase
  • Carl Gantrix – attorney for Bard Chai
  • Carl Junior – Gantrix’s robot
  • Bard Chai – head of the Clearness Council
  • Anarch Peak – leader of the Free Negro Municipality 

James P. Crow

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First published in Planet Stories May 1954

Four hundred years in the future, long after a nuclear war, robots have relegated humans to second-class citizens after they convinced them that humans had been invented by robots and not the other way around.

The only way the humans can compete with the robots is through an impossibly difficult set of tests called the Lists. Only one human, James P. Crow, has been able to pass these Lists, and he did it by secret use of a time window which let him see the future answers to the test but also see into the past. Only he knows the truth that humans created the robots. 

Eventually Crow passes the final List and with a perfect score on all the tests becomes the highest member of the Supreme Council. He tells the robots if they leave Earth he won’t make the robot’s true origins public. They agree to his bargain leaving Crow in charge of the Government to rebuild a new human society. 

With the name “James P. Crow” this is an obvious attempt at a civil rights allegory. It’s kind of muddled in that sense, although I do like the premise.

Cast of characters

  • Donnie Parks – a young boy hoping to pass his Lists test
  • Edgar and Grace Parks – Donnie’s parents
  • James P. Crow – the only human to ever pass the Lists
  • L-87t – a robot sympathetic to the human’s struggle

The Impossible Planet

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First published in Imagination Oct 1953

Three hundred fifty-year-old Irma Gordon wants to see Earth before she dies, except Earth is just a myth that never really existed. She promises enough money to Captain Andrews that he decides to take her cash and find an ‘Earth’ for her to visit over the objections of his second in command Norton. 

Along with Irma’s robot they travel to Emphor III, a third planet with a single moon in a nine-planet system. When they arrive Andrews convinces Irma the barren rock is Earth. After landing Irma and her robot vanish into the ocean. As Andrews and Norton leave Norton picks up a coin stamped with E PLURIBUS UNUM which he assumes is just a piece of trash, and they prepare to head home.

This was adapted as “Impossible Planet” for season one of Electric Dreams. I like the design of this episode with a robot that looks like it’s straight out of ’60s or ’70s sci-fi, but I’m not exactly sure what they were going for by introducing a spiritual love story connection between Irma and the second in command. 

Cast of characters

  • Captain Andrews
  • Norton – the second in command
  • Irma Gordon 
  • Irma’s unnamed ’robant’ companion


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First published in If Nov 1954

Ed Doyle hurries back to Earth from Proxima Centauri and arrives just after his first son is born. He had been gone long enough to forget though that he and his wife Janet aren’t allowed contact with the boy who will instead be raised entirely by robots.

Nine years later, after separating from Janet, he returns again to Earth and meets his son for the first time. Peter, who is on track at that young age to become an organic chemist, is amused as his dad tries to convince him to live a simpler life with him in the Proxima system. After dismissing his father Peter tells the robot Doctor Bish that the smell of his dad reminded him of the odor of the laboratory animals, an observation Doctor Bish certainly agrees with.

Cast of characters

  • Ed and Janet Doyle
  • Peter Doyle – Ed and Janet’s son 
  • Doctor Bish – Ed and Janet’s robot doctor

The Chromium Fence

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Jul 1955

A civil war has broken out between the Naturalists, who believe it is a man’s right to smell bad, go bald and have halitosis, and the Purists, who insist every man should have his sweat glands removed, teeth whitened, hair restored, etc. Don Walsh doesn’t want to commit to either party, but with an upcoming election he’s forced to take sides or else deal with the consequences. 

It’s a goofy premise that just illustrates mankind’s destiny to create factions and fight to the death over the stupidest trivialities. 

Cast of characters

  • Don Walsh – our undecided protagonist
  • Betty Walsh – Don’s wife
  • Jimmy Walsh – Don’s son in the Purist Youth League
  • Carl – Don’s Naturalist brother-in-law
  • Charley – a robot psychoanalyst 

Sales Pitch

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Future Science Fiction Jan 1954

Ed Morris and his wife are constantly harassed from all directions by advertising and robot salesmen. Ed dreams about immigrating to Proxima and living a simple life there among just a few thousand other people. Before he can convince his wife to agree to this plan a traveling robot salesman shows up at their door to sell them a fasrad. 

The robot smashes their furniture and demolishes their appliances before they realize the fasrad it is demonstrating is actually itself: a Fully Automatic Self-Regulating Android (Domestic). It repairs what it broke, demands to be bought and won’t take no for an answer. 

Ed flees in his tiny commuter ship and the fasrad catches up to him when he stops to refuel. Ed intends to make it to Proxima, but his small domestic ship can’t handle being pushed to its limits. The ship blows apart, and as the remains drift toward the nearest star where it will burn up Ed finally has some peace and quiet. That is until the damaged robot, now stuck in a loop, tries to sell him a fasrad.

“Sales Pitch” was adapted as the forgettable episode “Crazy Diamond” in the first season of Electric Dreams. Like several other episodes in this series it has nothing to do with the original premise of the short story, which is too bad because Dick’s story is hilarious. 

Cast of characters

  • Ed Morris – a commuter from Earth who works on Ganymede
  • Sally Morris – Ed’s wife