Roderick, Or the Education of a Young Machine – Review

Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review, No. 4, May 1982, p. 31

Sladek, John. Roderick, Or the Education of a Young Machine. Timescape/Pocket books, NY, Aprii 1982. 255 p. $2.75, paper. ISBN 0-671-44886-2. Roderick the Robot, v. 1. Granada, London, 1980. £6.95.

While many are born of illicit liaisons, Roderick ia the child of an embezzlement. A corrupt NASA official launders stolen funds through an artificial intelligence project at the University of Minnetonka. The university researchers, unaware their project is a sham, make great progress and develop an intelligent, self-aware computer program — Roderick. When the embezzlement is uncovered the researchers must defend themselves from charges of corruption and also from violent attacks by “the Agency” aimed at stifling robotics research.

As a protective measure Roderick is placed in a small tank-like body and mailed off. After living with an ecologist and suffering from child abuse, Roderick is sent to an eccentric couple, kidnapped by gypsies, sold into slavery, expelled from a public school, and finally enrolled in a Catholic school. Subjected to heavy doses of television, cruel children and deranged adults, Roderick must fight to develop into a reasonably sane individual, as reflected in the subtitle.

Roderick is a very funny, thoughtful novel. Unlike Goulart’s tales of mad machines in conflict with a few rational humans, Sladek writes of mad humans and institutions opposed to one small, powerless robot. Sladek’s view of artificial intelligence is also unusually realistic, comparable in many respects to Thomas J. Ryan’s excellent —and virtually unknown—
The Adolescence of P-1 (Macmillan, 1977).

Two more volumes are planned, but you needn’t wait to get started. Roderick’s critique of Asimov’s I, Robot deserves immediate attention, as does his belief that the Land of Oz must be somewhere between New York and Pennsylvania. And then, of course, there is Roderick’s view of the Catholic  catechism… — Lawrence I . Charters

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