Wednesday, May 10, 2006

John Sladek - Tik Tok

I’ve always thought that Asimov’s Robotic Laws were a bit of a cop out. Perhaps it’s my computer programming background, but I always had this nagging thought that putting all the safety stuff in three short instructions was a recipe for disaster. However, the laws have gone down in SF history as a pretty firm set of codes to Robotic behaviour, even cropping up in Star Trek.

The laws;

1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

are supposed to mean that Robots are unable to harm human beings. Though since Asimov’s work is littered with stories where flaws are discovered in this, or that application of the rules, it’s perhaps mystifying that they have got such high-regard.

So it was a delight to discover Tik Tok. This robotic autobiography tells the tale of the gradual realisation of a robot, that he doesn’t have the Asimovian restrictions on behaviour. Indeed, the fact that everyone assumes all robots are safe, means he can act pretty much as he wishes. So he takes his vengeance out on humans, firstly individually, then on a greater scale, till eventually he finds himself in a position were he can plan the destruction of the entire race.

He does this, because Robots are little more than slaves. Used till they drop by their masters, brutalised, vandalised, raped and broken, Robots have conscience, but are restricted from doing anything to break their chains. Given Tik Tok's life experiences, it's not surprising that his vengeance is violent and brutal.

This novel is a genuine comic SF story. Comic SF often suffers on two fronts – not being funny, and not being good SF. Tik Tok is nothing short of brilliant, both in its parody of the SF genre itself and because it’s a good work in it’s own standing. Tik Tok stands himself as one of the classic anti-hero's of all time.

This is definitely a “Resolute Reader Recommended Read”, and I don’t often say that.

1 comment:

Dr. Clam said...

What, no comments yet? Yet this post came very near the top when I googled "Sladek robot"!
I read this book many years ago and just happened to be thinking today about the way the humans vote the narrator into power even though his platform includes 'destroy the humans' - sadly, this is probably an accurate prediction of the behaviour of most Western democracies when faced with such a situation, based on current trends...