John Sladek: The Complete Roderick

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John Sladek The Complete Roderick
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    The Complete Roderick
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The Complete Roderick: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Never before published in its entirety in the United States, is John Sladek’s masterpiece. Roderick is a robot who learns. He begins life looking like a toy tank, thinking like a child, and knowing nothing about human ways. But as he will discover, growing up and becoming fully human is no easy task in a world where many people seem to have little trouble giving up their humanity. The Complete Roderick The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction John Sladek was one of SF’s premier satirists, and is his masterpiece—a dark comedy of artificial intelligence, previously split into (1980) and (1983). Roderick is an experimental robot, a well-meaning innocent who grows up and learns what it is to be human in the comic inferno of modern America. Being human isn’t much fun: bullied at school, diagnosed as mentally unstable for saying he’s a robot, forever in trouble for applying logic to religion… Being a robot is tough: a sinister government agency is determined to destroy all AI “Entities”. Luckily their agents are hilariously inept—one assassin lying in wait for Roderick gets mugged for his laser-aimed sniper rifle. Like Voltaire’s Candide, Roderick moves wide-eyed through a world of insane commercialism: (Danton’s Doggie Dinette, the posh canine restaurant), fly-by-night religions (the Church of Christ Symmetrical), non-art (identical purple squares, meaningless when painted by Roderick, are praised as cutting-edge art), junk science (research into psychic pigeons is faked but generates a bestseller anyway) and—everywhere—people whose fads and tics and rigid prejudices make them more programmed, less truly human, than Roderick himself. This book is painfully funny, sprinkled with wild ideas and nifty one-liners: a surreal musical called ; marketing a dull book on fishing as ; the lady founder of Machine Lib, dubbed the Joan of Arc-welding; buying your jeans at Denim Iniquity… Beneath the dazzle, there’s some seriously comic discussion of artificial intelligence and why it fascinates us. Applause to Gollancz SF Masterworks for producing the first one-volume edition of this major SF satire. — Amazon Review

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‘I got it, all right. Simple, he just funnelled the money through this hick university up north, into these here dummy companies. I mean, look at these names, Rockskill Industries, Pebblework Electronics, Bouldersmith Inc — who the hell’s supposed to be fooled by names like that?’

‘Hey you twat, them files are marked TOP SECRET, you got a clearance?’

‘Bullshit, man, Stonecraft never had no clearance himself, this is all faked up. See, he got this university to buy stuff from these companies — owned by him — at about ten times market value, only we picked up the tab. Look, double-billing, I mean that’s really an old trick, I mean that’s really old, man…’

‘How did he get away with it? Didn’t this university look at their own bills? SOP, Bob.’

‘That’s just it, he looked over all the damn universities till he found this jerkwater outfit using an old computer accounting system, shoulda been scrapped years ago. There, he seen his chance and took it.’

Masterson swore next door, and the four fell silent, but only for a moment.

‘Gotta admire the old bugger, in a way. He bitched our computer too, so it passed stuff over to the next audit, and then the next — looks like two, three billion here never audited. Bob, what you got there?’

‘Damned if I know. Notes about a “secret robot project”, how he’s putting these hick university guys to work on — you know, I think this was his blind. If the hicks thought it was secret stuff, they sure as hell wouldn’t ask embarrassing questions.’

‘Robots, sheeit! You mean he told ’em NASA was making robots? Sheeit!’

‘Gotta admire the old bugger. Sure knew how to keep everything in the air, all right.’

Masterson came in cursing and laughing quietly. ‘Too bad he didn’t keep himself in the fucking air, though, ain’t it? Know what he done? Soon as he heard we were on to him, he went and suicided on us. Crashed his fucking plane and left us to clear up his shit. Shit!’ He kicked the empty file cabinet, walked up and down the room, and then stood, fists on hips, staring at the pictures on Stonecraft’s wall.

‘I don’t know, you give your fucking life to try to build something, and all the time you got some fuckhead like this tearin’ it all down. Look, there’s a picture of Luke Draeger, remember him?’ None of them did. ‘I seen him walk on the Moon, boys, I helped put him there. Or was it Mars? Anyways, NASA still means something to some of us. It means — it means — billowing exhaust clouds catching the first light of dawn, a silver needle rising, reaching for the fucking stars! The puny crittur we call Man setting out to conquer the sky, to rendezvous with his Eternal Destiny! Call me a dreamer, boys, but I see Man leaping out from this little planet of ours, to the Moon, to the planets, to our neighbouring stars and finally beyond, to the infinite reaches of dark promise beyond — into the cocksucking Unknown!’ He turned to face them. ‘So that’s why we’re gonna bury this, boys. To protect NASA. To protect the destiny of the human race, our inheritance in the Universe. Bury it, boys. Deep.’

‘Yeah, but we got the dirt on this old—’

‘Forget it. Make out a confidential report for all heads of departments, but keep it in the family. Bury and forget, for NASA’s sake.’ Bob handed him the robot notes and he started reading them, as he talked. ‘I mean otherwise how’s it gonna look for us? Being ripped off by some dumb asshole who blows the whole wad on old planes, how’s that gonna look? Congress heard about this they’d shut us down so fast — robots, huh? Maybe I better wire the Orinoco Institute about this, have ’em drop in on this University of Minnehaha. Them Orinoco eggheads collect robots just like this dirty mother-fucker collected flying trash. I recollect they got a standing memo about reporting attempts to make robots.’

‘Yes sir, but how can we keep it in the family if we go telling the Orinoco Inst—?’

‘You let me handle that, junior. All they care about is in this here batch of notes — no need to tell ’em any financial details.’ His hand shook as he turned a page. ‘Don’t know how we’re gonna clean up this mess, get rid of them old planes and make it all look good, but that’s just what we’re gonna do. So get to work, boys. Any questions?’

‘Yes sir. Okay if we have Stonecraft sell the old planes to a NASA subsidiary at scrap value and then auction—’

‘Sell ’em, burn ’em, do what you like. Keep ’em flying, I don’t care.’


‘His last words on the radio, they tell me. “Keep ’em flying.” Just before he piled his old Belaire Something-or-other into a mountain in Colorado. If he was alive, I’d kill the sonofabitch myself.’ Masterson sat down at the telex keyboard. The boys exchanged winks.

‘Sir, I thought Belaire was an old car, hahahaha.’

‘Just shut up and move your ass! I gotta send two wires, and I don’t want to make no mistakes.’

Kevin made an invoice into a paper airplane and sailed it over to Bob. ‘Funny thing, though, it was a computer error that put us wise to old Stonecraft in the first place.’

The conference room was full of pipe smoke.

‘We’ll have to send someone, of course.’

‘Of course. To check it out. Though—’

‘Exactly. Minnetonka has a point oh three, not much likelihood of—’


The telex message passed from one liver-spotted hand to another. ‘Still, remember St Petersburg? Point oh oh seven only, yet look what turned up. We’d best be prepared—’

‘For a revised scenario? Of course. We’ll do all the usual extrapolations, based on personnel information—’

‘Which is never up-to-date, remember.’

‘Exactly. In the last analysis—’

‘No matter how good our figures are, we have to—’

‘Send someone. Precisely.’

Someone sighed, sending pipe smoke scudding across the page.

‘Someone from the agency?’

‘Naturally. Who else could we use? And they do get the goods.’

Another sigh. ‘But the way they get them — do they have to—?’

‘You know they do. We’ve worked that out in all three scenarios, in all eight modes. To six significant figures.’

‘But our assumptions—’

‘Are all we have. In the last analysis.’

‘Undeniably. So we send someone.’

‘Of course.’

The ivory-coloured door swung open, admitting Rogers, Fong and a breeze that disturbed the wrinkled paper on the desk.

‘…can see you’re disappointed, okay but let me explain, let me just — five minutes, you can spare that?’

‘Nearly three a.m., Lee, why don’t we call it a day?’

‘No listen I’ll lend you a book, it’ll help you understand. It’s here somewhere, just sit down a minute, while I… Learning Systems it’s called, learning systems, you have to know something about them otherwise how can you explain things to your committee?’

Rogers sat sideways in the armchair again, preparing to tap his foot on air. The slow smile opening on his Mr Peanut face might have been a sneer. ‘Not my committee, Lee. Hell, I’m only one of twenty-four members. Dr Boag has the chair. And I ought to warn you, there’s plenty of hostility there. Not many committee members are as open-minded as I am about this, ahm, this artificial intelligence. Frankly, one or two think it’s faintly blasphemous — and quite a few more think it’s a waste of time.’ The smile widened. ‘Can’t say I’m in a position to enlighten them, either.’

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