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Author Topic: EP173: Robots Don’t Cry  (Read 15566 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: August 29, 2008, 07:54:14 PM »

EP173: Robots Don’t Cry

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley.

Every now and then we strike it rich. Usually we make a profit. Once in a while we just break even. There’s only been one world where we actually lost money; I still remember it — Greenwillow. Except that it wasn’t green, and there wasn’t a willow on the whole damned planet.

There was a robot, though. We found him, me and the Baroni, in a barn, half-hidden under a pile of ancient computer parts and self-feeders for mutated cattle. We were picking through the stuff, wondering if there was any market for it, tossing most of it aside, when the sun peeked in through the doorway and glinted off a prismatic eye.

“Hey, take a look at what we’ve got here,” I said. “Give me a hand digging it out.”


Rated R. Contains profanity and some sadness.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2008, 12:38:51 AM »

I'm such a sucker.  This story got me.  I've always loved robots and believed that if they could think, they could love.  Sammy was clearly the Tinman who didn't have a heart but that didn't stop him from loving, even if he didn't know it.  It was a very sweet story.
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2008, 12:25:40 PM »

Curse you Mike Resnick- you've made me tear up yet again.
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2008, 07:15:02 PM »

Outstanding!  Great job on the narration, Steve. 

Even though this was a very predictable story, I was still engrossed.  I can relate to the narrator when he said, "Shut up!"  I normally react with anger when I'm upset.  I'm working on it.

This made me think of the Firefly universe.  It's not the same, but Greenwillow would fit right in.

I also like the fact that Mike wasn't heavy handed Sammy's emotions.
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2008, 08:16:35 PM »

That needed a "This Story Will Make You Cry" Warning. Unless you are Sammie.
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600south
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2008, 06:10:51 AM »

That needed a "This Story Will Make You Cry" Warning. Unless you are Sammie.

Steve did warn just that at the beginning, no?
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alllie
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2008, 08:02:14 AM »

That needed a "This Story Will Make You Cry" Warning. Unless you are Sammie.

Steve did warn just that at the beginning, no?

Yeah, but I didn't believe him. Till I cried.

This story brings up the question of what we will want robots to be once we have robots and can control their intelligence. I believe we need only look at dogs to see what we want. I think future robots will be like dogs emotionally and be made to love us and WANT to protect us. Which will be sad for them if we don’t reciprocate.

Love has proved an effective shortcut in evolution. An animal doesn’t have to reason out why he/she needs to protect an offspring or a mate. Love will make many animals do that automatically, though they may have to balance love against fear. (Gazelles don’t fight lions if an offspring is taken but every bluejay in hearing distance will come scream at you if you touch a bluejay baby.) I think we will want that emotion in robots. One of the main criticism of robots (outside of factories) is that they are not emotionally responsive. (Alllie considers how she would feel about her rumba nudging her toes to remind her that she needs to pick up her shoes so it can vacuum. Hmmm.)

That far in the future I think a nursemaid robot would have been made so it was able to feel love and want to protect and care for its charge. That was the part I found a little unbelievable, that Sammie wasn’t built with those feelings and had to develop them.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2008, 11:17:53 AM by alllie » Logged
JoeFitz
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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2008, 06:56:31 PM »

I usually don't mind Resnick stories and I usually don't mind a little tune on the heartstrings; but this story just didn't work for me. It seemed like a tv episode. Frankly, I was much more interested in the Baroni than the child, the robot, or the "love" story. Perhaps it was just a little too "after school special" for me.

On the extro - saying the boilerplate in one breath was a nice touch. Well done!
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« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2008, 10:53:48 PM »

Thumbs up.  I liked the story a lot.  One thing I didn't quite get was the tear duct implant idea.  So there would be water  streaming down Sammie's face and it would "feel" like crying, but would he as a robot have strong enough emotions in his "brain" to generate tears?  Maybe I missed the explanation or didn't understand his ability to become emotional. 

I've enjoyed all the Resnick I've heard on EP, with the exception of the basketball robot story.
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« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2008, 01:25:08 AM »

tech's never been the point of Resnick's work but it seems like the career of an interstellar antique collector would be much more involved. the problem is in the traveling; once you hit relativistic speeds the concept of 'old' gets complicated. even if you assume some sort of jump tech to avoid the time dilation in traveling you still have the star systems moving relative to each other (opposite sides of a spinning galaxy, dunno the numbers but they seem big).

on top of that, how would you prove the age of anything? you'd have to know the manufacturing planet and the ambient carbon-14 levels to even begin. short of introducing some sort of 'magic tech.'

anyway, a solid story that started me thinking.


This story brings up the question of what we will want robots to be once we have robots and can control their intelligence. I believe we need only look at dogs to see what we want. I think future robots will be like dogs emotionally and be made to love us and WANT to protect us. Which will be sad for them if we don’t reciprocate.

the answer is probably as varied as human imagination.
some people are much more comfortable without the worry that they may hurt something.
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mike-resnick
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« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2008, 10:11:48 AM »

Thought you might like the genesis of "Robots Don't Cry":

   One day I was in Barnes & Noble or Borders (I spend a lot of time in both), thumbing through a new coffee-table book on Kilimanjaro, when I came to a photograph of Dr. Richard Leakey holding up a mildly human skull, and in my haste I thought at first that the caption said he was displaying a newly-discovered specimen of Australopithicus Robotus.
   I did a double-take and went back and read it more carefully, and of course what he had in his hand was the skull of an Australopithicus Robustus. Made a lot more sense.
   But all the way home I kept wondering what an Australopithicus Robotus might be like, and before I went to bed that night I had written “Robots Don’t Cry.” It was a Hugo nominee in 2004, was made into an amateur film (titled "Metal Tears") as a film school graduation project by a young director named Jake Bradbury (damned good name for a science fiction director, don’t you agree?), which had its world premiere at Noreascon IV (the 2004 Worldcon) and has been showing at cons all over the country ever since. Then it became a computer-animated film, "Machiines Don't Cry"...and last month I sold Polish radio rights to a group that's dramatizing it.

-- Mike Resnick
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« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2008, 12:43:45 PM »

Stories like this are what I listen to Escape Pod for!  Now don't get me wrong; I like variety.  If this type of story ran week after week, I would grow tired of it.  However, I love a great emotional story now and then, especially in sci-fi.  It is the editorial choice of Steve to run several of these stories throughout the year, and that is why EP is at the top of my list of favorite podcasts.

Emotional stories do always have a danger of crossing the line into sappy, but Robots Don't Cry does not go into that territory, in my opinion.  The emotions were evident, but subtle and not overplayed.  I like how Sammy wanted to cry, but understood its limitations as to why it could not. 

I am a sucker for a good robot story.  This Resnick tomato tasted very sweet.
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« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2008, 01:41:12 PM »

I am really sorry to say this, but I was slightly disappointed with this story and am a bit surprised that everyone loved it so much. For some reason I had expected more. Maybe it was just the "Resnick-Factor", that made me get all worked up, or the intro that made me expect another emotional meltdown, ... but it didn't happen this time. Not that the story did not make me sad, it certainly did, but as for the writing, it felt more like a think-piece rather than a properly thought through and executed story.

It felt too slow especially in the beginning and I had the feeling that Miss Emily was more of a place-holder rather than a character, she did not really come to life for me. Ok, agreed, she was not the center of attention anyway, but her character (personality) seemed essential for the robot's 'emotional development' which is obviously at the center of the story.

However, the interaction between the narrator (forgot his name) and Baroni was very interesting and the narrator's observations made this story worthwile to me. But I have to conclude that there was something missing. Sorry. I know, I am probably breaking some unwritten law, by creating an opposition here, and criticizing a story by Mr Resnick himself, but I am just describing my impression. We can always blame Steven Spielberg and the impression of AI left in my memory, maybe that somehow screwed it (this sort of story) up for me. Yep, blame the Spielberg.
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« Reply #13 on: September 01, 2008, 03:15:27 PM »

I am really sorry to say this, but I was slightly disappointed with this story and am a bit surprised that everyone loved it so much...

...But I have to conclude that there was something missing. Sorry. I know, I am probably breaking some unwritten law, by creating an opposition here, and criticizing a story by Mr Resnick himself, but I am just describing my impression.

I don't think you need to fret about having a differing opinion.  That's what the forum is for.  It doesn't matter who wrote it; it doesn't matter what others think of it.  I, for one, appreciate hearing your opinion.
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« Reply #14 on: September 01, 2008, 07:07:02 PM »

Thanks for the background, Mike. It's always interesting the new possibilities that can be opened up just by misreading something.


Love this sort of story, something of an exploration of what it means to be a person, an individual. Found this very engaging and Sammy a most sympathetic character (an actually a nickname I've been called myself. Though I am hardly a robot. As far as any of YOU know..). Didn't make me cry, but I did find it very touching.
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« Reply #15 on: September 02, 2008, 05:17:50 AM »

I was moved by the idea of the story, that a robot could become more than the sum of its parts and "evolve" to a point where it had emotions, but the story didn't move me. I didn't feel for any of the characters, not even the robot, and at the end, where Our Hero has his change of heart, that came so quickly that it didn't have any impact -- or, at least, not the right kind of impact -- on me. The worldbuilding -- the universe, not Greenwillow -- was too fast, and the tech couldn't support me through what I thought was a not-that-great story. I guess I wasn't in the right frame of mind to enjoy this one in the same way as the other commenters. But then, I think I often miss the "point" of Resnick stories, in that whatever others say they like, I find myself not liking to the same extent if at all.

I'd like to have known more about the Bironi (which sounds like either an alcoholic drink or an ice cream treat). Why didn't Our Hero address him by name? Was he the only person on Our Hero's ship? And, as for Greenwillow, if it's a farming colony without a lot of money, how did Emily's parents afford a robot as complicated as Sammy? Or were they less expensive back then? More questions than answers -- nice news cliche there, I know.

I also don't care for Steve's "snide, world-weary, vaguely-southern" character voice.

So, in all, not a good EP for me.
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« Reply #16 on: September 02, 2008, 08:01:58 AM »

An interesting idea, but no tears over here, I'm afraid. I didn't find the rapid transition from ruthless, mercenary antique-hunter to blubbing, touchy-feely human being very credible. I think if there had been something more personal to the protagonist/narrator - something in his backstory - that hooked in with the tragedy of Miss Emily in an emotionally powerful way, I'd have found the transformation more credible. It takes a lot to change a leopard's spots.

Or maybe I'm just a Sammy  Wink
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« Reply #17 on: September 02, 2008, 10:48:35 AM »

I loved it. I have to admit, I didn't get why anyone thought that being able to create tears on demand and being able to cry might possibly be the same thing, but I suppose developing a system of robotic emotions to run on unknown and obsolete hardware would have been beyond even Mech 3, trooper that he was.

And I was a little confused by the references to Australopithecus (thanks for the insight into that, Mr Resnick!); for a moment, I suspected that this was a universe something similar to Hominids, in which Homo sapiens (or in this case, the genus Homo) never evolved. But somehow I doubt that's the case.

Why didn't Our Hero address him by name?
Do Baroni even have names?
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« Reply #18 on: September 02, 2008, 11:25:54 AM »

I can't explain *why* I'm a skeptic, but whenever another Resnick story pops up in the feed, I feel like it's almost daring me to get emotional, and I'm betting it I won't.  Most of the times, Resnick wins.  He certainly did this time, although I found myself feeling a bit more emotional during the middle of the story than the end, probably due to imagining Miss Emily's smile and how she didn't seem bothered in the least by her prosthetic leg.  (Didn't cry this time, though. So, HA.)  I really like the idea of interplanetary grave-diggers/antique collectors, too, and was also very interested in hearing more about the Baroni.

There should be some kind of honorary Heartstring award (probably prestented by Rachel Swirsky) for Mike Resnick.

Why didn't Our Hero address him by name?
Do Baroni even have names?

Good question.  I'd guess yes, but it's just a guess.  I don't think the narrator of this story had a name, either (although Miss Emily obviously did, so you probably can't ask the same thing about humans).
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« Reply #19 on: September 02, 2008, 12:10:19 PM »

The words "Resnick" and "Robot" were both right there at the outset - I knew it wouldn't work for me.  Why, oh why, did I even listen to it? 

If the story made me cry it was from all the worldbuilding that just did not work, the characters that were cookie cutter and boring, and the very cliche of another robot that learns to love.

Resnick stories can work for me when he does fantasy.  The minute he tries SF there are always so many implausible things going on that it just throws me right out of the world.
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