Morry Largen is a retired professor with a very pragmatic attitude towards artificial intelligence. He wants robots to look like robots – metal, boxy and functional. As he lives alone and has health concerns, he purchases the ugliest robot possible to assist him around the house. He names it Clank.
This story was originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s a subtle, thought-provoking and satisfying read, and Morry’s grumpy reluctance to have Clank in his life is endearing. He is clear-eyed in his understanding of what Clank is and isn’t. As time progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that other people lack his insight.
For me, a highlight was his wry discussion with his daughter regarding his reluctance to make Clank prettier.
“It’s the emotional bonding I object to. Pretending a machine is a person.”
“I understand that. But do you have to go to extremes?”
“I’m a sentimental creature, daughter. Who knows what I’d do if I had a thing that looked like a cute pet? There were times when I even felt sorry for some of my students.”
“So you’re living with a metal monster just because you’re worried about your own feelings?”
I felt that was incisive. The same gentle humour pervades the story as a whole. Morry’s refusal to pretend a computer program is equivalent to a human mind serves as a kind of tragic affirmation of the worth of humanity – for genuine feelings, for our fragile animal lives.
A lot of the sadness of this story is unspoken, but remains compelling: Morry repeatedly insists that he has friends and has no need for a companion, he plays video games intended for his granddaughter’s entertainment. “Bonding with Morry” never comes across as morose, however. It maintains a kind of charming lightness throughout, and the prose is clean and pleasant.
I also think that the title is excellent.