I have wanted to read R.U.R ever since I did some research on classic science fiction and discovered that Capek is the first to popularize the word “robot” – something that has become a staple – perhaps a cliche of science fiction itself. The Robots in Rossum’s Universal Robots are not machines in the way we think of machines ie mechanical, clockwork, computer driven automatons, but a literal synthetic human. They are “machines in that they are created to work as factory equipment.
Here is an excerpt:
DOMAIN: (Solemnly) And then, Miss Glory, old Rossum wrote the
following day in his book: “Nature has found only one method of
organizing living matter. There is, however, another method more
simple, flexible, and rapid, which has not yet occurred to nature
at all. This second process by which life can be developed was
discovered by me today.” Imagine him, Miss Glory, writing those
wonderful words. Imagine him sitting over a test tube and thinking
how the whole tree of life would grow from it, how animals would
proceed from it, beginning with some sort of beetle and ending with man
himself. A man of different substance from ours. Miss Glory, that
was a tremendous moment.
HELENA: Go on, please.
DOMAIN: Now the thing was, how to get the life out of the test
tube and hasten development: to form organs, bones and nerves,
and so on: to find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones,
and so forth, in short — you understand?
HELENA: I don’t know. Not much, I’m afraid.
DOMAIN: Never mind. You see, with the help of his tinctures he
could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with
the brain of a Socrates or a worm fifty yards long. But being without a
grain of humor, he took it into his head to make a normal vertebrate.
This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life.
It didn’t mind being sewn up or mixed together. THAT, you’ll admit,
couldn’t be done with natural albumen. And that’s how he set about it
It seems that the unseen Older Rossum of the book’s title discovered a way to weave human tissue and create false humans, his family member (younger brother, son? it actually just says younger) takes this information and removes everything that makes a person human to create a perfect working class, you know without those pesky emotions. This obviously backfires and spells doom for humanity. It’s funny that that robot science fiction is so ingrained with the idea that “robots” would be our downfall, considering this was what happened in the literal first robot story.
Rossum’s Universal Robots is actually a three act stage play and is somewhat short, but it’s a fun read. The dialog is somewhat surreal and almost comedic, but I enjoyed it.
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