In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man,” Data is put on trial to determine whether or not he is property of Starfleet. Captain Picard argues that viewing Data as an object rather than a person will eventually lead to Starfleet mass-producing a race of slaves. Starfleet (being Starfleet) rules that Data is a person.
In the Alien movies, the opposite ruling holds sway. Weyland-Yutani manufactures robots that do exactly as they are programmed, and there doesn’t seem to be much (by which I mean any) moral discussion about whether or not androids are people. Everyone basically treats them as sophisticated computers.
You really can’t write robot stories without escaping Isaac Asimov’s three laws, to the point that a fictional robot being or not being “three laws safe” is as intrinsic to its robot-ness as being made of electronic parts. However, the more interesting robot question for me has always been the issue of why people create robots in the first place, and the implications of that creation, which is why I find those two robot backdrops — Alien and Star Trek — so interesting in the diametric approaches.
Now, the “created being” trope is a well-established one in Western literature, with both Pinocchio and Frankenstein (and a myriad of others!) making the English class circuits. In both cases, a man creates life and can not, in way or another, control it — because that created life wants the same freedom its creator has. The human race has a long history of dehumanizing those they wish to deny freedom (and insert any definition of “freedom” here), and I think the robot stories of science fiction are a way of coming to terms with that history (and present). In Star Trek, Starfleet rejects that way of thinking, hoping to move forward into a brighter future. Weyland-Yutani embraces it, and that’s why they’re an evil space corporation.
Because I tend to view robot stories as primarily about freedom, Asimov’s three laws have never appealed to me. After all, he took a complex moral question and solved it like an engineer. Weirdly, it was actually the movie Aliens that first got me thinking about the problems with the three laws. Bishop assures Ripley that he’s reliable and then quotes the first law at her, but he doesn’t call it the first law — he calls it a behavioral inhibitor. Which is an unsettling, even upsetting, way of phrasing it. It’s also accurate.
About The Mad Scientist's Daughter
The Mad Scientist's Daughter
A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots
Angry Robot, January 29, 2013 (US/Canada)
February 7, 2013 (UK)
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”
He looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.
But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.
Following her acclaimed Young Adult debut for our sister imprint Strange Chemistry, The Assassin’s Curse, the very talented Cassandra Rose Clarke moves on to more adult themes, in a heartbreaking story of love, loss … and robots.
File Under: Science Fiction [ Constant Companion | Finn X | Sentient Rights | Hot Tin Roof ]
Also by Cassandra
The Assassin's Curse
Strange Chemistry, October 2, 2012 (US/Canada)
October 4, 2012 (UK)
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.
To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks — all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.
During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.
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