Almost Human

There are all kinds of robots in this short story collection from 1965—wayward robots, security robots, dystopian robots, god-like robots, existential robots, diplomatic robots and even robot lovers. 

But there’s only one kind of story here. All the contributions from Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Lester del Rey and Robert Bloch et alia are excellent. For once, the book’s cover blurb isn’t ridiculously hyperbolic: “Science fiction at its exciting best!”

Engineers predict that robots will achieve humanlike intelligence by the year 2029 and they’ll probably reach singularity by 2045. In the future, metal men will no longer be soulless creations with only neutral electrical impulses to guide them. Jack Williamson (“With Folded Hands”) and Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) both agree: “Robots are the ministering angels of the ultimate god arisen out of the machine.” 

Invasion of the Robots begins with a provocative story by Isaac Asimov called “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Fifty years after the end of WWII, robots are just beginning to assimilate into society as general household handymen. Tony (TN-3) is assigned to a home in the suburbs and makes himself immediately indispensable (in more ways than one). Stories of humans falling in love with robots are pretty common, but Asimov’s story adds a delicious dose of comeuppance at the end. Guaranteed, it’ll make all the ladies in the house say “Yeah!”

The standout story in this anthology is easily “With Folded Hands.” At first glance, Jack Williamson’s acclaimed novelette is simply about robots making life easier for humans. “They were immune to human imperfections, able to save men from themselves,” writes Williamson. 

But the situation quickly spins out of control. The author has a message for all of his readers. He wants us to see how good intentions become the ultimate horror. “You can imagine what happened,” says Williamson when his theme is revealed, “bitter futility imprisoned in empty splendor. Something worse than war and crime and death: utter futility. We became pampered prisoners.”

And finally, Robert Bloch’s story shows how perverse a robot/human relationship can be. As an experiment, Bloch’s metal boy is raised just like a human child. Junior is an extremely Intelligent creation, but his life experience is limited. 

The only two people who see him on a daily basis are his creator Professor Blasserman and his nanny Lola Wilson. At some point (as you’d expect) Junior takes special notice of Lola. “I want you to oil me,” he tells her again and again. 

After pleading with his nanny to give him a lube job, Junior finally makes his move. The last thing Lola remembers as she falls to the mattress is the sound of the robot’s harsh metallic voice. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he repeats over and over again. The funny thing is, writes Bloch, he sounds “Almost Human.”

[Invasion of the Robots / Edited by Roger Elwood / First Printing: April 1965]