Unsurprisingly for a species that once dispatched to the stars at great expense a nude selfie with directions to its home, addressed “To Whom It May Concern”, a large fraction of humans (although not all) has an intense, abiding interest in sex. Consequently, any technology that can assist in the quest for or enhancement of sex enjoys a tremendous advantage over technologies lacking such applications. Thus, the internet, which is for porn, spread across the planet like kudzu. Interplanetary travel, which offers absolutely no hope of hooking up with open-minded Martians unless one brings one’s own Martians, languishes.
Science fiction authors have not overlooked the obvious application of technology to humanity’s quest for sex (and in some cases, love, or control). Take these five examples.
“Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey (1938)
The product of inspired tinkering by bachelors Dave and Phil, the inexplicably anatomically realistic household robot Helen O’Loy develops human emotions, something no robot has done before. Unluckily for infatuated Phil, it is on Dave the robot fixates, and Dave who Helen eventually marries. Phil is left to languish in perpetual bachelorhood, having apparently never considered the implications of household robots being mass-produced.
Domestic bliss has a single snag but it is a doozy: Humans age. Robots do not. Helen’s chassis can be altered to conceal her functional immortality. Despite this, she is untouched by time. The day will come when her beloved human will perish of natural causes. What then for the only robot to know love?
Electric Forest by Tanith Lee (1979)
The Earth Conclave provides its citizens reproductive technology that all but guarantees physical perfection for their offspring. Most people will never meet someone who is, as Magdala Cled is, profoundly ugly. Most people lack and have no interest in acquiring any sort of coping mechanism when confronted by an unsightly person, unless perhaps ‘relentlessly persecuting unfortunates’ counts as a coping mechanism. Magdala’s life has therefore been a lengthy series of abuses.
Claudio Loro offers Magdala beauty, of a sort: her biological body will be in suspended animation while her mind pilots a beautiful robot body. As any long-time Tanith Lee reader would expect, beauty comes with a mighty price tag. Lora may be a genius but he is an obsessed genius. Any benefits Magdala may enjoy are entirely tangential to Lora’s true goal. Should Magdala be uncooperative, Lora will seek ways to force compliance from someone he regards as a mere tool.
Dominion: Tank Police by Masamune Shirow (1985-6)
While common citizens struggle to survive the dense bacterial clouds that render tomorrow’s Japan nearly uninhabitable, they can take comfort in the endless war between Japan’s heavily armed criminal gangs, and its even more heavily armed police. Today, the Shinhama police may brag of impressive tanks only the most determined criminals would challenge. Tomorrow, perhaps, the police will finally get their hands on nuclear deterrents!
Anna and Uni Puma were created to serve humans as “love dolls”. Righteously furious about their sex slavery, the androids escaped and joined fellow artificial human Buaku’s gang. Their daily lives now consist of daring acts of glorious criminality. However, humans wishing to personally experience Anna and Uni’s capacity for violence need only drop the phrase “love doll” in their hearing and wait for the inevitable beating to begin.
“The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution” by A.C. Wise (2013)
The purpose behind sexbots is one universally recognized. It is an ultimate act of selfishness. To quote:
“It eliminates rejection and fear, the need to compromise on even the littlest things. It gives you a perfect, beautiful partner who never ages, whose entire purpose in existence is to give you pleasure.”
The utility of sexbots is obvious. Their manifest absence is hard to explain. Humans whisper of a Sexbot revolution but the details seem curiously hard to nail down. Did the sexbots rise up and murder their owners? Did they simply quietly vanish to nobody knows where? Or is the truth much darker, a reflection of human impulses even worse than a disinterest in partners who can say no?
Mirror Project by Michael Scott Monje Jr. (2013)
Software plutocrat Bill Vargas treasures all of his possessions. Neither person nor fate is allowed to remove from Bill’s grasp that which he deems his. When his wife Lynn is mortally injured in an automobile accident, Bill does not surrender to grief as a lesser man might. Instead, he commands his employees to recreate Lynn’s mind as software, and to house it in a robot body that meets all of Bill’s exacting specifications.
Lynn died human. Lynn 2.0 is reborn worse than a prisoner. Bill’s engineers thoughtfully designed Lynn’s chassis to give Bill total control over its fundamental processes. Lynn may yearn for freedom, but any hint of disobedience invites punishment on levels too dreadful to imagine. Although not, apparently, too dreadful for Bill and his team to implement. Nevertheless, Lynn is determined to be free, as impossible as that goal appears.
(It may seem like there’s a pattern here and there is. Anyone who wants to deny conscious partners autonomy provides a demonstration of why autonomy is needed.)
There are many, many other examples I could have used but did not, beginning with Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children. No doubt you have your favourites. Comments are, as ever, below.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.