Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Tik-Tok by John Sladek

Everyone has a favorite killer-robot story; this is mine.

Tik-Tok is a 1983 novel by the American writer John Sladek, told in the first person by the title character, a robot in early 21st century America whose "asimov circuits" have failed quite comprehensively. It is short; it is funny; it is full of malice. You should read it.

...what, you want more? Oh, OK.

Sladek was one of the great satirists of SF, with a cutting wit and a great eye for the absurd. He was part of the New Wave - my sense is that he moved to the UK in the mid-sixties to be part of the New Wave - and one of the few SF writers clearly influenced by the Surrealists. He's a mid-century writer to the core, steeped in cultural references both high and low and bred in the sterile American suburbs of the post-war era.

(The only other time I've covered a Sladek book on this blog - his last collection The Lunatics of Terra in 2007 - I said "He's a bit like J.G. Ballard trying to be funny, at times, and a bit like a nastier, updated Pohl the rest of the time." That still strikes me as a decent way to put it.)

The time is roughly our "modern" day, about fifty years on from when it was written. The traditional self-aware domestic robots are common, and Sladek does not shy away from the implications of enslaving sentient beings as property. Our narrator is Tik-Tok, beginning at the moment when he became an artist and took control of his fate. He will tell us his story, both what happened before that moment - starting from his first owner, and running through a garishly picaresque series of misfortunes and troubles - and how he became rich and famous and committed all sorts of crimes afterwards.

Tik-Tok is indeed a killer robot. At points in this book he talks about how he's trying to kill comprehensively, to see all of the ways he can be evil, all of the things he can do that the standard robot-controlling asimov circuits would prohibit. 

The other side, of course, is his past. Humans were casually murderous to him and other robots - and just as much so to other humans as well. Tik-Tok lives in a world which failed to be a Hobbesian one of violence of all against all only because robots were disarmed...but now they are not.

It is a short book; it moves very quickly and is crammed full of ideas, bits of business, murderous plots, and action. I can't think of any reason why any SF reader worth talking to would not read Tik-Tok.

No comments:

Post a Comment