Anatomy Of A Robot by Despina Kakoudaki (book review).

January 2, 2015 | By | Reply More

The book ‘Anatomy Of A Robot’ makes more sense when you read its sub-title ‘Literature, Cinema And The Cultural Work Of Artificial People’. Essentially, author Despina Kakoudaki isn’t so much taking a robot apart but how they were used in our genre in comparison to what we actually have out here. Mind you, when she starts off with Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’, there is less regard to whether the robots are organic or mechanical in nature. I thought Frankenstein desire was to create new life from old not robots. The choice of examples in the introduction did make me wonder as to whether Kakoudaki was going to cover the lot or only the one’s she was interested in. She was pushing it with including the Golem and mechanoids from various pantheons as well. In the last chapter, she does hit on a selection of robots and cyborgs from mostly the SF Golden Age so has gone into depth.

AnatomyOfARobot

There aren’t many pictures included in the book but one of particular interest is that of Elektro and his Sparko dog from the New York World Fair 1939-40 which looks typical of how people imagined robots in that time period and wouldn’t have been out of place in a Frank Paul illustration.

The second chapter tends to get away from the media and more into deeply worded meaning as to being mechanical. The third chapter goes back into territory and exploring the rights of robots. This focuses a lot on Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man’ which is in a world of robots where the rest are linked, Andrew Martin is probably unique anyway. Whether anything like that would happen in real life, I’m less sure as I suspect during programming, such aspects of independency wouldn’t be part of its option choices. Kakoudaki does make an interesting observation that Asimov’s other robot stories were akin to black labour although I never saw it that way when I read them originally. After all, none of them declared that they had rights issues.

Oh, there are some beautiful photos of the 1928 stage play of ‘R.U.R.’ and how robots were seen at the time on a theatre budget. When I read the play a few years back, I got the impression that they looked less like robots and more human-looking androids.

There is an interesting observation confusing that both Deckard and Graff are replicants but I think that confuses matters even more in ‘Blade Runner’. With Frederick Pohl’s ‘Man Plus’, Kakoudaki thinks only parts of Roger Torraways’s body was replaced when it was far more extensive than even Robocop. She does spend a lot of time with the remake of ‘Battlestar: Galactica’ but if anything, it’s a sharp reminder that there hasn’t been many robot or android based stories in recent years.

I have to confess that I think Kakoudaki swallowed a dictionary with all the big words she uses throughout this book and I’m not entirely sure if she got her message across but it did give me a couple ideas for some stories which is always a good sign.

Whether or not we give robots autonomy is debatable, mostly because if they are programmed then they are less likely to fall out of human control. Whether they will be controlled by artificial intelligence is still a grey area but is still likely to have the same problem. Humans are less likely to give any artificial life more powerful than itself independence because of the warnings from Science Fiction that they would see its human creators as unnecessary. If we’ve learnt nothing from that, then many authors fears would have been wasted. One can only hope the right protocols are in place.

GF Willmetts

December 2014

(pub: Rutgers University Press. 256 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £23.95 (UK), $27.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-6215-5)

check out websites: www.rutgerspress.rutgers.edu and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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Category: Books, Culture

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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