REVIEW: “Uncanny Valley” by Greg Egan

Review of Greg Egan, “Uncanny Valley”, in Steve Berman, ed., Wilde Stories 2018: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction (Lethe Press, 2018): 173-208 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Warning: minor spoilers.

The original Uncanny Valley is the “the proposed relation between the human likeness of an entity and the perceiver’s affinity for it” [1], the gap between things which appear to be human but not quite human enough. All the baggage that Mori’s original definition and paper have given rise to feeds into Egan’s story, a lot of baggage for it to carry, even before one begins to read. What would be populating this uncanny valley, and why? This will depend on the reader. What falls into that valley, and why, depends on the individual, precisely because it is about the discrepancy between perception and representation, both of which are individual.

For me, it actually took awhile before I realised who I was supposed to be putting into the valley; but even after it was explicit that Adam was not a man but a robot, he stubbornly refused to go into the valley, for me. It’s not so much that highly-enough developed robots are indistinguishable from humans to me; but that I find it a lot easier to interact with humans if I think of them as a bunch of highly-enough developed automata. So, robot or human, for the most part, it doesn’t make any difference.

But only for the most part: Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the story was the moment Adam did something that did dump me into the uncanny valley — and that was the moment Egan made it clear that a robot could experience sexual arousal and desire.

I have no idea how many other people will share that experience with me, or if they’ll find their own methods of populating the uncanny valley. I certainly recommend that everyone read the story and try it for themselves.

[1] Masahiro Mori, Karl F. MacDorman (trans.), and Norri Kageki (trans.), “The Uncanny Valley”, IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine 2012: 98-100.

(Originally published at, 2017.)

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