Short Story Club: “Eros, Philia, Agape”

The story, by Rachel Swirsky, can be found here, where comments are very appreciative. Elsewhere comment starts with a brief mention at Not if you were the last short story on Earth:

An epic post-mortem of the relationship between a woman, her robot lover and their daughter, after he abandons the family, in distressingly mortal fashion (and yet not), to “find himself.” One of Swirsky’s finest stories to date, and an excellent contribution to the ‘potential humanity of robots’ canon.

Another mention from the same community here:

As the title suggests, it concerns itself with love in its various forms, and asks those questions musicians have been trying to answer for us for decades – and does it with style, and panache, and heart-wrenchingly wonderful prose. Characters who are all too real and three-dimensional – even when they’re a bird; scenarios that are all too believable. I’ll be watching out for more of Swirsky’s work, even though I know she’ll probably put my heart through the wringer.

Jonathan Strahan says:

The highlight of the day’s reading was “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky. Swirsky is a terrific writer who’s been making a name for herself with a string of intelligent, perceptive stories that have appeared in Weird Tales, Subterranean and elsewhere.

“Eros, Philia, Agape” is a robot story. A rich, lonely and beautiful young woman, looking for a change in her life after the death of her abusive father decides to have a lover made, a robot to fill the personal void in her life. That decision leads to love, family and a search for awareness that is created beautifully and sensitively be Swirksy.

While Swirksy’s robot tale with a heart and soul runs perhaps a little long and undoubtedly won’t be the best thing she writes – she’s growing too much as a writer for that to be true – it’s definitely a highlight of the year.

Fantastic reviews:

It is no surprise that things don’t turn out quite as Adriana intends, yet the flow of the story is subtle. Swirsky is not using her science fictional set-up to hammer home any particular message; rather, she is giving us a new framework to consider universal issues about identity and love and marriage and family and parenting.

This is a story Isaac Asimov might have written, if only he had been an amazing prose stylist. “Eros, Philia, Agape” is beautifully written throughout (once you’re past the slightly pretentious title anyway) and I strongly recommend it.

And Joel’s Scattered Thoughts:

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky is a story that’s about as different from Isaac Asimov’s classic Robot stories as any story could be. At the same time, it has some striking thing in common with those stories. The biggest difference is that Eros, Philia, Agape is all about emotions and has the scientific parts of the story as backdrop. Robots in the Eros, Philia, Agape universe don’t have anything like Asimov’s Three Laws built in. At the same time, robots in both stories are not Pinocchio longing to be human. The exploration of what it means to have free robots living alongside free humans with neither dominating is key to the two stories.

I very much enjoyed this story and I hope to read more of the author’s work.

Over to the rest of you!

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60 Responses to “Short Story Club: “Eros, Philia, Agape””

  1. Niall Says:

    I have to admit, this is my favourite of the stories we’ve had. I will be defending it against all comers. :-)

  2. marco Says:

    I could nitpick about some slightly soap-opera-ish aspects (the incest, the sisters, the Will-and-Grace gay couple)
    but this is FAR AND AWAY the best of the bunch.
    Wonderful story.

  3. Duncan Lawie Says:

    I was quite pleased to discover that SF can do something new and interesting with The Robot Story, even if there was something in the description of Lucian which reminded me of Star Trek’s Data.

    The conception of Lucian’s personality integrating, and the way the human child, Rose, also integrates over a much longer period was also neatly done. When I initially read the story, I hadn’t thought there was enough to explain why Lucian decides to disassemble his personality, but it is there in his response to Rose’s “bootstrapping”.

    However, I thought the story rushed a little to offer up the shape of the future, as well as past and present, that it couldn’t quite bear to leave without offering a glimmer of hope.

  4. Ziv W Says:

    Well, I enjoyed this one a lot :)

    Kudos for such an emotionally gripping set-up – the father suddenly leaving and the odd vow of silence are intriguing, but when we realize he’s a robot and seemingly very happy, the story had me dying to know the whole thing.

    Wonderfully evocative scenes and characters. I don’t think I’ll be alone in finding Fuoco the most memorable character, and I mean that in full appreciation…

    Adriana’s abuse by her father didn’t fit in quite seamlessly for me. It felt like a major issue thrown in almost as an aside, or a bit of background. On the other hand, shying around the issue to such extent certainly says a lot about Adriana, perhaps shedding light on another facet or two of her love for Lucian.

    Pacing is very well-handled. Lots of familiar tropes here; Swirsky finds the intriguing details and doesn’t get bogged up treading old ground. There’s something compellingly understandably but skewed about letting a robot form his personality around loving you, and then giving him his freedom.

    My real disappointment, though, was with the ending. As I said, a lot of the story’s immediacy and tension came from the question of Lucian’s motive in leaving what seems his source of joy. I, for myself, didn’t find the eventual answer satisfying. Of all the characters, Lucian is probably the one whose personality I felt was least fleshed out – his motives and thoughts are kept hidden until the conclusion – and the sudden urge to “find himself” didn’t strike me as a sufficient or compelling answer to the question. It seems odd to say, but despite all the discussion of possession and co-dependence, I felt that little of this was shown (e.g. actual exchanges between Lucian and Adriana with any conflict or discomfort), and what was shown was primarily scenes of love, devotion, and family togetherness, and how badly they’ve been shattered by Lucian’s departure. This may be petty of me, but couldn’t robotic, immortal Lucian have waited a few decades, or at least find some less sudden, destructive manner of leave-taking? Or is that part of the point?

  5. Ziv W Says:

    even if there was something in the description of Lucian which reminded me of Star Trek’s Data.

    There is, isn’t there? :)

  6. Lois Tilton Says:

    So now we know that even a robot can be a selfish prick.

    This story really pissed me off, which is an indication of how effective it was. I could not have felt Lucian’s betrayal so strongly if his love had not been so strongly evoked.

    I don’t credit the ending. I don’t think Lucian is ever going to come back, I think he’s going to sit out in the desert until he corrodes like a junked car. And even if he does, he will not find the beloved and loving people he has deserted but the damaged people his desertion has caused.

    The heart of the story is this: to love is to make yourself vulnerable to betrayal, to pain. Better never to love at all. The bird was only the first victim.

  7. Alexander Says:

    I found this story decent, but not great. While the prose and emotions evoked were both strong at the end I don’t see it covering as much new ground as other readers seem to have seen. It’s focused in on a new narrow emotions and relationships, which it covers well, but walking away from it doesn’t leave me with any lasting impressions or insights. This story builds from classic staples of the genre more than it adds to them.

  8. Matt Hilliard Says:

    The story is certainly well-written. I thought Adriana and Rose were well done. I agree with the others here who found Lucian’s abandoning his family to be somewhat distasteful. The obvious question is: did he have a good reason?

    Unfortunately, as good as the story’s emotional notes are, when the story tries to be “hard SF” talking about brain plasticity and consciousness and so forth, I found it totally unconvincing. Excuse the length of my commentary but I’m interested in these issues.

    Whenever someone sets out to tell an SF story about AIs acting like humans, the first thing that must be established are the ways in which the human-like AIs are different than the humans they are pretending to be. Failing to make that clear results in contradictory nonsense (cough Battlestar Galactica cough). Everything we are told about Lucian implies that despite being artificial he thinks very much like a human does. His identity is built off a set of recorded human minds, his brain learns and modifies itself explicitly in the same way as a child’s does, and he’s capable of prodigious feats of pattern-recognition…he has a better read on Rose’s mental states than her human mother, for example. In the end only two differences are mentioned: his biochemical healing abilities and his enduring brain plasticity.

    As part of her AI-rights campaign, Adriana gives Lucian conscious control over his brain plasticity. Why this was necessary or desirable isn’t stated. More control sounds good, but this is after all far more control than real humans have. What would make sense is for Lucian to use this control to dial down his plasticity…like a human adult, he could settle into an identity that way, making him indeed somewhat more human. But if this was what Adriana had in mind, it’s not spelled out in the story.

    In any case, Lucian uses her gift to “restore” plasticity, despite the story earlier saying robots don’t ever lose it. Apparently his control over “plasticity” is so dramatic he can destroy his capacity for language. This is ironically exactly the sort of thing real human brain plasticity cannot do. Through the whole spectrum of healthy human brain development that gives rise to such different personalities and behaviors, spoken language is everywhere preserved. In his letter, Lucian blames human language for giving him some sort of unnatural humanness. Apparently he feels that alone in the desert he will acquire a more natural or otherwise legitimate identity.

    The trouble is none of this makes any sense. Let’s start from the ending. Lucian’s starting point was recorded human minds, so to de-human himself he’s going to have to abandon his most basic programming. Having done that, there’s absolutely no evidence he’ll be anything other than an unthinking husk. Without that human base he has no drives, no values, no reason to ever do anything.

    And why is this necessary? Humans have baseline programming just like he does. When humans go off alone to “find themselves” (an analogy the story makes via the trucker) they really are just giving themselves time to integrate their past experiences. To do what Lucian claims to be doing would require an axe.

    Of course, Lucian says he just destroyed his capacity for “spoken language”. This is hardly enough to do the sort of deep cleaning he says he wants to do. And in any case, he can still understand other people’s speech, so really all he’s done is mute himself so he doesn’t have to explain his inexplicable decision to his family.

    If his explanation being a self-serving sham was intended, then that’s fine, but I see no evidence in the story that it was. Lucian’s official story is the only one we get for why he’s leaving. And his leaving is the central event of the story…without a workable explanation it all falls apart.

  9. Ziv W Says:

    @Matt:

    As part of her AI-rights campaign, Adriana gives Lucian conscious control over his brain plasticity. Why this was necessary or desirable isn’t stated. More control sounds good, but this is after all far more control than real humans have. What would make sense is for Lucian to use this control to dial down his plasticity…like a human adult, he could settle into an identity that way, making him indeed somewhat more human. But if this was what Adriana had in mind, it’s not spelled out in the story.

    My understanding of it was that Adriana was giving Lucian control of himself – because until then, Lucian was predisposed to evolve to please her. The entire rationale behind granting robots eternal plasticity was so that if a master wasn’t satisfied with the robot, they could change it. The whole issue of plasticity is introduced with this line:

    “Its brain will be malleable? I can tell it to be more amenable, or funnier, or to grow a spine?”

    So by giving him control (at their wedding, remember!) she’s relinquishing her own control of him, and the statement being made is that the relationship is a mutual one, not Lucian play-acting to please his master.

    Lucian did keep his plasticity at reasonable levels – that’s what the situation was up until his decision to leave. They had time to raise Rose to be 4 together.

    As for the rest of your response – I personally don’t take issue with the technical details of could he/couldn’t he evolve a new way of thinking, which you say bother you; on the other hand, even suspending disbelief and accepting the possibility, I agree with entirely that A) it’s not at all clear why Lucian developing a “pure, original robot mind” should be seen as desirable, and B) the story nonetheless seems to see it as desirable, and expect the reader’s empathy for the decision.

    Oh, and I liked your point about Lucian being able to understand others – you’re absolutely right, that makes no sense at all. Good thing we don’t know the reason he’s silent until he’s already done talking to people, eh?

  10. Abigail Says:

    I have to say, I’m underwhelmed. It’s a good story and very well written, but it takes a very long time to get to a point – Lucian recognizing the possessiveness of Adriana’s love for him, and the necessity of becoming his own person away from her influence even though he loves her – that seemed obvious from the moment his true nature was acknowledged, and has been the focal point of many previous stories both in and out of genre.

    I’m surprised that Lois and Matt think that Lucian is the villain here. Both his domestic situation and his feelings for Adriana and Rose have been imposed on him. He’s essentially a slave (or an active from Dollhouse) who has never made a free choice in his life. His only path towards becoming his own person is to leave home and try to find his own way back to it. Swirsky plays with our loyalties by recalling the cliche of the middle aged man who leaves home and responsibility to find himself (and by stressing the terrible reasons that have led Adriana to reject flesh and blood men in favor of one she could fashion to suit her every desire), but Lucian isn’t that man, because he never chose his life to begin with. If his and Adriana’s genders were reversed, we’d have no doubt that his decision was the right one.

  11. Ziv W Says:

    Abigail, I share your indignation as to the selfish use of Lucian, but I’m with Lois and Matt in thinking that his method of departure doesn’t follow from that, or from much of anything presented by the story.

    Lucian did not choose his life, and he’s been deliberately shaped as a perfect companion for Adriana. But in contrast, so much of the story seems to be about Lucian’s love and connection to that life. He may have been dragged to where he is, but (on the face of things) he is also happy there; not in a brainless or unaware fashion, but actually appreciating and choosing the life he lives. It is under those circumstances that his leavetaking seems heartless – because we’ve been given every indication that Lucian is genuinely happy, and no indication that anything is amiss that would require him to seek elsewhere.

    This could be deliberate – saying that the very act of casting a soul into a mold is wrong, and must be corrected, even if he is apparently happy. That would be an interesting contention. However, the story addressed this theme in a very indirect fashion. It devotes little effort to portraying such a life as wrong, or some other alternative as right, and the ending seems to implicitly assume that the act of breaking boundaries is a meritorious one. When contrasted against the large swaths of the story making clear the pain and abandonment Lucian’s choice has provoked, I don’t think vilifying Lucian is much of a leap.

    BTW, gender-swapping certainly would have upped the squeem factor, but I think abandoning a daughter – particularly after portraying such a strong, non-artificial connection between them – would still set a lot of alarms off.

  12. Niall Says:

    … and this discussion is exactly why I love this story. It’s one of those cases where I see what a couple of people have suggested is vagueness in the story as open-ness. Because the question Ziv implies –

    we’ve been given every indication that Lucian is genuinely happy

    – that is, what does “genuinely” in this sentence mean? Is unanswerable. Part of the reason the story spends so much time on its early stages, I think, is to make Lucian’s experiences as convincing and whole and satisfying as possible. We’re lead to value his subjectivity, to find it as meaningful as that of any other character in the story (or our own): to consider it “genuine”. And there’s a decent argument to be made that it is — think of Greg Egan stories like “Axiomatic” or “Learning to be Me”; subjective experience is what we have, it’s just that most of us most of the time are unaware of the rules shaping our experience.

    On the other hand, of course, Lucian is a created being; like Abigail, I was strongly reminded of Dollhouse, which is just starting to engage with how valid subjective experience is if you’re a doll. (There’s a leave-taking at the end of 2×01 with some parallels, I think.) And it seems equally clear that once you know you’re constrained by someone else’s rules, you’re not free. Lucian leaving seems exactly commensurate with his situation; his way of finding his self is more extreme than a human’s would be because his situation is more extreme, because he is not — the story reminds of us this quite emphatically — human.

    And then all of this has to be understood within the context of love, in all its various kinds. I find the story quite astonishingly deft in its negotiation of the various kinds of power imbalance — not just possessiveness, though that is the main one — that can shape and deform a relationship. The act of love itself, after all, changes people; people choose to change themselves for love; and as Lois points out, the loss of love changes people yet again. In this, as Rose is a model for Lucian, so I’d argue Lucian is a model for Adriana. I’d strongly disagree with Lois that the story argues it’s better not to love at all; but I’d say it argues it’s best to love with open eyes.

    Adriana did about as much as she consciously could to reduce the possessiveness of her love, I think (I loved her definition of equality: “this unfolding desire to create the future together by raising a new sentience”), and it may be that love can never completely escape that sense of possessiveness, can never be wholly “pure” in the way we might like. So I’m wary of insisting that Lucian’s decision is “right” or “wrong”, though it seems right to me.

  13. marco Says:

    Ok, I don’t have time to discuss the story at the moment, but

    because we’ve been given every indication that Lucian is genuinely happy, and no indication that anything is amiss that would require him to seek elsewhere.

    seriously?

    “He’d never before realized how slender the difference was between her love for him and her love for Fuoco. He’d never before realized how slender the difference was between his love for her and his love for an unfolding rose.”

  14. Lois Tilton Says:

    I wouldn’t say that Lucian is THE villain, but that his choice is selfish and cruel. He isn’t entirely free – but then, who is? No one with ties to others is entirely free. No one who loves is free. And Lucian does seem to have freely chosen many of the things he loves: roses, and Rose. Such choices create obligations. The rose will die if he doesn’t care for it, and Rose creates a further obligation by loving Lucian. Whether he chose that obligation or not, it exists, and he threw them both away, killing them both. Lucian is a person who buys a dog, finds it inconvenient and tosses it out on the side of the road to die. A dog loves, too.

    My problem with this story is that I can’t figure out the author’s intentions. If she is saying that love is a route to pain and disappointment, as I read the story, that’s one thing, but then the ending seems not to fit. [but then, I don't believe in the ending regardless]

    But if there is a character her with whom I am supposed to identify and sympathize – nope. Everyone here is replusive in some way, selfish and spoiled. The decadent society is probably to blame – none of these people have anything real to do, nothing to justify their existence. The bird is the most innocent victim, but the bird is jealous. The gay couple is cloying. The child is obnoxiously spoiled.

    And Adriana – can we blame her for wanting to purchase love when she is afraid of human love? Maybe. But having done so, her relationship with Lucian is unselfish as it would seem possible. She gives him the possibility of freely leaving her.

    And Lucian – how many humans are fortunate enough to have what Lucian has – things that he loves, people he loves, people who love him? He imagines that there is some better, higher, more perfect love, but I think he is deluding himself. “Love the one you’re with” is pretty good advice.

  15. Ziv W Says:

    @ marco:
    Not entirely seriously, but mostly. Because of that line precisely. Because that line tells us “I suddenly realize this relationship is bad for me,” but nowhere does the story show us the relationship being bad for him or chafing him, while conversely, it does show many moments of joy, that human readers at least will read as being significant and meaningful.

    In other words, this line seems to be lying, or at least poorly supported. I agree wholeheartedly that the way the situation came about was seriously messed-up. That’s certainly shown, and I loved the story for that. But the effects on Lucian are not shown, or demonstrated, except inasmuch as “well, he must have been unhappy, because look at all he did.” Adriana has made the effort to relinquish her possession over Lucian, and her current possessiveness toward him is not shown.

    And yet, I agree that this is the central tension of the story – though I didn’t find the justification sufficient for the ending to come off smoothly, the question of the validity of Lucian’s experience and happiness is an interesting one. So, @Niall, I agree with your analysis of the question. I definitely want to reread and rethink the different relationships we see through the story, see how they tie in.

  16. Abigail Says:

    Lois:

    Lucian is a person who buys a dog, finds it inconvenient and tosses it out on the side of the road to die.

    Lucian didn’t buy the dog. Lucian was given the dog and forced to love it and take care of it. Now that he finally has the option, he’s chosen to leave the dog he never chose to have in the first place. As Niall says, the crux of the story is the question of whether Lucian should commit to feelings that have been imposed on him by an external force, and I really don’t see that there’s a right or wrong choice here. In fact, I think the reason I was underwhelmed by the story was that its main source of tension – which of two perfectly valid and understandable choices would Lucian make – is defused in its opening paragraphs.

    Incidentally, I recently read another story, Nicola Griffith’s “It Takes Two” from Eclipse 3, that deals with a similar issue. It’s not a perfect story by any means, and not as well written as “Eros, Philia, Agape,” but I think it treats the issue in a much more surprising and interesting way.

  17. Lois Tilton Says:

    Abigail, that is not how I read the story. It seems clear that Lucian was by no means forced to love the child, and it also seems that he participated freely in the choice to have the child. Was Lucian forced to love the roses?

    Now, someone might argue that his choice was not entirely free, that his unfree love of Adriana forced him to agree to her desire to have the child, but in this respect, how different is he from a human who agrees with some degree of reluctance to a spouse’s desire for a child?

    And even if it were the case that he was not free not to love the child, the child loved him. This is an obligation IMO stronger than his own love for the child, who is so emotionally dependent on him. If a stray dog comes to my house, a dog I haven’t chosen, and I let it in and feed it and allow it to love me, even reluctantly, I am committing a terrible sin by throwing it out on the side of the road, betraying its love.

  18. Ziv W Says:

    Not to besmirch the dramatic resonance of all-or-nothing choices, but even if we entirely accept Lucian’s right to leave Adriana and Rose, and break free of the mold he’s been cast into – he could have done it a lot less painfully then he did here. A seven-sentence letter saying “I’m leaving, you’ll never see me again, and I’ve disabled my speech ability so you can’t argue with me”? That’s pretty hurtful in and of itself

  19. Abigail Says:

    Lois:

    The decision to adopt Rose is purely Adriana’s. There’s no indication that Lucian has any input into whether to become her father, or even which child to adopt (we’re told that Rose is the child whose genetic makeup most closely matches Adriana’s).

    how different is he from a human who agrees with some degree of reluctance to a spouse’s desire for a child?

    Because he never chose to marry the spouse in the first place? Adriana doesn’t give him control of his own brain until after they’re married.

    If a stray dog comes to my house, a dog I haven’t chosen, and I let it in and feed it and allow it to love me

    Lucian never chose whether to let Rose in, or whether to let himself love her. The decisions were all made for him by Adriana. It’s also surely significant that Lucian doesn’t abandon Rose either emotionally or financially – she has a mother, and more than enough material support.

    You seem to be fixating on whether Lucian’s feelings for Adriana and Rose are ambivalent or reluctant, which is clearly beside the point. The premise is that he does love them – that he’s been programmed to – and has now chosen to override that programming, at least partly in the hopes of arriving at that love on his own terms. That seems like a perfectly understandable choice.

  20. Martin Says:

    Lucian was given the dog and forced to love it and take care of it. Now that he finally has the option, he’s chosen to leave the dog he never chose to have in the first place.

    Lucian is given his mental freedom by Adriana prior to them deciding to adopt a child.

    When I saw the reviews quoted in this post I thought I would give the story a miss. However, then when Niall said it was the best of the bunch I did read it. I wish I hadn’t bothered.

    Swirsky’s prose is certainly impressive but I thought this was a dreadful story. It doesn’t help that everyone in it is dripping with privilege but that pales into insignificance next to the unbelievable supporting details (as noted above, Adriana’s whole family are spectacularly unconvincing) and the under-explored central idea of the existence of human intelligence robots. As Matt says, Lucian’s existence doesn’t make sense and nor does Swirsky thinking about what the existence of such robots would mean outside the confines of her story.

  21. Niall Says:

    Well, to take up Matt’s points:

    Having done that, there’s absolutely no evidence he’ll be anything other than an unthinking husk.

    Yes, it’s a leap of faith — of course, and ironically, a very human act, that.

    And why is this necessary?

    It’s worth the risk to live on his own terms. He is not human; it’s a mistake to try to extend what he’s doing to a human equivalent.

    Of course, Lucian says he just destroyed his capacity for “spoken language”. This is hardly enough to do the sort of deep cleaning he says he wants to do.

    He says that the first thing he has done is destroyed his capacity for spoken language. Further steps evidently follow. And since it’s a valid philosophical position that language creates reality, it works for me as a device here.

    I don’t agree that Adriana’s family is unconvincing, though I do agree with marco and Ziv that the incest/abuse doesn’t feel necessary. I’m not sure what you’re getting at with your comment about privilege; certainly, it’s about well-off people, but it needs to be, to throw the constraints and rules that do operate on these characters into relief.

  22. Lois Tilton Says:

    Abigail: I disagree. My reading is that Lucian participated fully in the decision to adopt. On their honeymoon, Adriana and Lucian toured hospitals, running the genetic profiles of abandoned infants until they found a healthy girl with a mitochondrial lineage that matched Adriana’s. The infant was tiny and pink and curled in on herself, ready to unfold, like one of Lucian’s roses. And as Martin points out, Adriana had given him control of his will before that decision, at their marriage. Lucian was programmed to love Adriana, but all his other loves appear to have been quite of his own free will, as does his decision to continue loving her after the marriage, and to leave her. This is five years that he freely remains with them and freely loves them and freely lets them love him.

    And I believe it is quite wrong to say that Lucian doesn’t abandon Rose emotionally. This is simply making excuses for him. Ask any child with a parent who abandoned it whether it does not feel betrayed, just because there is another parent in the household. The text makes it very clear that Rose is gravely damaged emotionally and will probably never recover. Even if Lucian, or what used to be Lucian, returns and loves her again, I doubt if this damage would be healed.

    This is a morally ambiguous work. It is clearly meant to be. But I can’t determine if the author intended readers to sympathize with Lucian’s decision or not.

  23. Martin Says:

    I don’t agree that Adriana’s family is unconvincing

    Consider this passage:

    “Then you can’t have properly processed your grief,” said Jessica, calling from her office between appointments. She was a psychoanalyst in the Freudian mode. “Your aversion rings of denial. You need to process your Oedipal feelings.”

    This seems to me to be shorthand to describe a person rather than something that someone might actually say. It is the soap opera element Marco refers to; the whole of her family are ciphers. This is especially true of her father. The abuse is unnecessary and poorly developed but even the descriptions of him don’t convince:

    He set up elaborate plots to embarrass them. This executive with that jealous lawyer’s wife. That politician called out for a drink by the pool while his teenage son was in the hot tub with his suit off, boner buried deep in another boy. He ruined lives at his parties, and he did it elegantly, standing alone in the middle of the action with invisible strings in his hands.

    That is not only one of the few bits of bad prose, it is also completely unreal.

    As for privilege, I was mostly just asserting my taste in a way someone else might criticise a story for having no sympathetic characters. It is not a compelling criticism, just a reaction. Still, my heart sank when I read “Adriana had been sitting at the dining table, sipping orange juice from a wine glass and reading a first edition copy of Cheever’s Falconer.”

  24. Abigail Says:

    Lois, Martin:

    I think you’re both ascribing to Lucian far too much independence of mind in the immediate wake of his marriage to Adriana. The very fact that it’s the honeymoon that’s spent looking for a baby suggests that the plan was in place before the wedding, and though Lucian was free to change his mind after the wedding, there’s no indication that he did – the Lucian who adopted Rose was the same Lucian whom Adriana had trained into a perfect, and obedient, husband. And why shouldn’t he be? Has it really been your experience that ingrained habits of thought are so quickly and easily broken out of? Especially when one considers how much power Adriana had over Lucian, and how creepily incestuous their relationship was (he’s really more her child than Rose is)?

    What Lucian reminds me of most is the half-dozen or so former Ultra-orthodox Jews I’ve met. A lot of them experience crises of faith or difficulties abiding with tradition as early as their teens, but like most of us, they don’t have the presence of mind, strength of will, or even self-awareness at that age to buck against everything they’ve been taught. So no one’s brainwashing them or holding a gun to their heads, but they’re under huge amounts of social pressure to get married at 18-20 and start plopping out a baby every year. By the time they’re in their twenties or thirties, more secure in their own sense of themselves and certain that they want to leave their community, they’re encumbered by a family. By your logic, Lois, at that point these people have no right to leave and try to make their own way in life.

  25. Ziv W Says:

    I think you’re both ascribing to Lucian far too much independence of mind in the immediate wake of his marriage to Adriana.

    I just wanted to back this up. I love the image of Lucian being granted free will at the altar.

    Such a grand gesture… but at the same time, making it so ridiculously obvious that the marriage itself is still firmly part of the preprogramming.

    OTOH, Abigail, even in the case of the Haredi community, I’d take a dim view of a man or woman who walked out so completely on their family. I can understand the decision, I can sympathize, I can even agree with it – but I don’t think the right to make your own way in life absolves you from responsibility nor family, despite the unfortunate way you got there. It’s a moral choice, I guess, but you seem to see the answer as a given, and I’m a bit bothered that the story seems to as well.

  26. Matt Hilliard Says:

    Niall: He is not human

    My complaint: in what ways is he not human? I stand by my statement that I don’t feel the story successfully demonstrates him as being mentally any different from a human.

    Niall: And since it’s a valid philosophical position that language creates reality…

    Oh, I agree, but does anyone think merely spoken language creates reality? There’s more to language than just being able to speak. The fact he understands other people’s speech shows how shallow his modification was.

    Your point that this was merely his first action is a fair one, but notice it’s apparently the only action he takes while still around Adriana and Rose. Why not just wait to start making wholesale changes until you’re out in the desert (retaining the ability to speak would help you to get there, for one thing)? The only answer that makes sense to me is that: he can’t really defend his decision, or more charitably is worried he will be talked out of it.

    Abigail: By the time they’re in their twenties or thirties, more secure in their own sense of themselves and certain that they want to leave their community, they’re encumbered by a family.

    That’s an interesting analogy and would make for an interesting story. However, I don’t think this is that story. What are the social pressures that are trapping Lucian? He seems to live a life of comfort and leisure. He leaves, so obviously it was unsatisfactory. I’d be sympathetic if the story had explained how he’s not human, or if he had concrete aspirations that were being prevented, or concrete things he disliked. Instead, all we are told are the various aspects of his life that he likes. Although, if he’s just feeling suffocated by Adriana, well, this is a very old and very human sort of marital problem and has nothing to do with robots.

    Ultimately the only reason provided is it is a human life and he is not human. It’s not that he doesn’t like his life, it’s that he rejects his own preferences. Hence my complaints earlier about the details of his nature and consciousness. The story simply tosses out his rejection of his identity in a matter of fact way, expecting the reader to, if not agree, then by sympathetic.

    Abigail’s original point about how the story would read were the sexes reversed is an interesting one, but I think the morality of creating something like Lucian is confused by the fact that in every respect other than how Adriana treats him, Lucian is her son, not her husband. Just like a child, he didn’t choose to be “born” to Adriana. Just like a child, his mind automatically latches on to and loves Adriana. Just like a child, he is imprinted with some (but not all) of her personality. And like many children, he ultimately wants to leave home for a while and establish himself as a separate entity from his mother.

    I think the author was conscious of this tension, because when you think about it this way the incest in Adriana’s youth becomes a pattern that she is unwittingly repeating.

    What this says about the morality of building a robot programmed to love you, I’m not sure. Not to keep beating this poor horse here, but without really understanding how Lucian is different than a human, it’s hard to talk about how “having” Lucian is different from having a child.

  27. Lois Tilton Says:

    Another story dealing with this subject: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/henderson_02_09/

    “The Jisei of Mark VIII” by Berrien C Henderson, February Clarkesworld

  28. Niall Says:

    I stand by my statement that I don’t feel the story successfully demonstrates him as being mentally any different from a human.

    Of course it doesn’t. For the entire duration of the story, he’s running human software. The analogy that came to mind the first time I read the piece, actually, was not just a middle-aged man leaving his family, but a middle-aged man realising he’s gay, and “living a lie”. I take it to be the same sort of instinctual understanding of one’s true nature.

    Why not just wait to start making wholesale changes until you’re out in the desert

    Because humans don’t do things in a purely logical fashion.

    Just like a child

    Just like Rose, in fact — the parallels are clearly deliberate, right down to Rose nearly believing she’s a robot. But like every other analogy you can put on to Lucian, it’s not a perfect fit; his robot-ness resides in that fact, for me.

  29. Niall Says:

    Martin:

    This seems to me to be shorthand to describe a person rather than something that someone might actually say.

    Certainly everyone outside the immediate family — Adriana, Lucian, Rose, Fuoco — is only loosely defined, but again that seemed deliberate to me. The solipsism of romance: only the people within the circle are real. So I should have said, the family and other characters are convincing for their place in the story. (Aside from, as we’ve agreed, the father.)

  30. Abigail Says:

    Ziv:

    It’s a moral choice, I guess, but you seem to see the answer as a given, and I’m a bit bothered that the story seems to as well.

    I’m certainly not taking the answer as a given. As I said above, I think that staying and going are both perfectly valid and understandable choices. It’s Lois’s contention that leaving makes Lucian a villain that I object to.

    And just to be clear, most of the ex-Haredi I know are concerned with trying to maintain contact with their children, whether by suing for custody or even access (mostly the men) or struggling to provide for them after losing their homes and support systems (mostly the women). As you’ve said above, Lucian’s all-or-nothing approach is problematic, and rather clearly intended as a way of over-dramatizing the scenario.

    Matt:

    What are the social pressures that are trapping Lucian?

    As you yourself say, Adriana is essentially his mother, and he was made to remake his own personality to suit her desires. I’d call that an enormous amount of pressure to continue conforming to those desires even after gaining his freedom.

  31. Matt Hilliard Says:

    Niall: Of course it doesn’t. For the entire duration of the story, he’s running human software. The analogy that came to mind the first time I read the piece, actually, was not just a middle-aged man leaving his family, but a middle-aged man realising he’s gay, and “living a lie”. I take it to be the same sort of instinctual understanding of one’s true nature.

    So I guess this is the heart of my trouble. I earn a living programming computers and tend to see these types of things in a certain light. We agree that he’s running human software, but I guess my point is that he is the human software. If you remove the software, a computer does nothing. There is no “natural” thing for a computer to do without instructions.

    This is totally, 100% different from the middle-aged gay man. That man is, in these terms, running “gay software” in an environment that expects him to be straight. There are points of cognitive dissonance in his life, where he wants to act one way but through social pressure feels obligated to act another way. Lucian’s only cognitive dissonance is: I’m a robot, not a human. So what does being a robot mean? The story says we don’t know and Lucian’s going to find out. I guess I feel like I do know: he follows whatever program he’s been given. The story thinks this makes him a sort of slave. Maybe so, but he’s no different than a human who is programmed to eat, sleep, love, etc.

    Abigail: As you yourself say, Adriana is essentially his mother, and he was made to remake his own personality to suit her desires. I’d call that an enormous amount of pressure to continue conforming to those desires even after gaining his freedom.

    The story provides a ton of evidence that he really did remake his personality to suit her desires. It’s not an act, he really does like her, Rose, roses, etc. If the story showed me examples of him subordinating his own identity for hers I’d be fine seeing it the way you do. Having his identity built according to someone’s wishes and having to subordinate his identity to someone’s wishes aren’t the same thing.

    All the story needed to convince me here was a couple scenes after Lucian is given control over his thinking that show how he “falls away” from his previous self and his relationship with Adriana.

  32. Abigail Says:

    If the story showed me examples of him subordinating his own identity for hers I’d be fine seeing it the way you do.

    Why is that necessary? It seems like you’re saying that either a person is free and unencumbered, in which case they’re happy with all their choices, or they’re shaped by their environment and particularly by their parents, community, and the rules and expectations they’ve been raised with, in which case they’re miserable. It’s been my experience that most people fall somewhere on a spectrum between these two points, with Lucian, Niall’s example of the closeted gay man, and my example of the spiritually dissatisfied ultra orthodox falling closer to the latter end than the former. Not to mention that there are subtle indications of Lucian’s unhappiness, or at least his realization of how limited and controlled even his free existence are, throughout the story, culminating with Cuofu’s death.

  33. Niall Says:

    We agree that he’s running human software, but I guess my point is that he is the human software. If you remove the software, a computer does nothing. There is no “natural” thing for a computer to do without instructions.

    Which is fine, except that humans don’t come with software installed — they learn it, as neural connections form during development and childhood — and we’re clearly meant to understand Lucian’s brain to develop in a similar way to ours, except with that permanent plasticity. So if he resets to zero, the analogy is not to a computer without instructions, it’s to a baby’s brain, which develops as experiences of the world reinforce certain patterns of stimulus and response. That wouldn’t do Lucian any good if he was still surrounded by humans, of course, so given that he doesn’t need food and is presumably fairly climate tolerant he goes to the most remote, least human-influenced place he can think of: the desert.

    I’d say your point that humans follow instructions as well is true but not relevant, because we all learn our sets of instructions in a human context. It’s not that Lucian follows rules and we don’t, it’s that Lucian hasn’t had the opportunity to learn in a robot context. Going into the desert isn’t a full robot context either, of course — it doesn’t include socialisation — but it’s probably the best approximation he’s going to get.

  34. David Moles Says:

    Not much to add: I think I’m with Abigail that the story undermines its ending with its beginning and takes too long to make its point, with Martin that the background (and surround) is not very well developed, and on my own perhaps in being utterly uninterested in judging the morality of any of the characters’ actions.

    I thought there was some good writing here and there, particularly with Lucian in the desert, but the imagined reunion came across as sentimental and consolatory — I’d have preferred your proposed ending, Lois, though I think you meant it as punishment and I would instead characterize it as liberating, not to say made of Ballardian awesome.

    And in re this note of Martin’s:

    Still, my heart sank when I read “Adriana had been sitting at the dining table, sipping orange juice from a wine glass and reading a first edition copy of Cheever’s Falconer.”

    I totally agree, and would like to add that while I bought Adriana as the sort of person who might buy a first edition of Cheever, I never bought her as the sort of person who would actually read it.

  35. Lois Tilton Says:

    Punishment? No, more like the natural consequences of a tragic error. If it is punishment, Lucian is punishing himself.

    Niall makes the excellent point that robots run on software. This is what we would call the robot’s Self. The question of self is an interesting one philosophically. Lucian thinks he is going to find his Self, but I suspect that what he has done is erased it. Without, I suspect, making a backup. This is the symbolic value of throwing the roses into the sea.

    The author contributes to this problem by being unclear as to the meaning of “plasticity” and whether the ending is her own optimistic projection of the future or merely Lucian’s delusion.

    I see no point continuing to debate the question with Abigail ["yes he did" "no he didn't"] except to insist that the damage Lucian has done to Rose can’t be dismissed or minimized. The child will grow up at least as damaged as her mother, unable to love. Her fate is foretold in the fate of the bird, pecking itself to death after losing what it loved.
    No every-other-weekend visitation will cure this.

  36. David Moles Says:

    I wouldn’t count on it. Adriana can afford some awfully good therapists.

  37. Lois Tilton Says:

    Adriana’s therapists don’t seem to have done her much good.

  38. Ted Says:

    It’s not that Lucian follows rules and we don’t, it’s that Lucian hasn’t had the opportunity to learn in a robot context. Going into the desert isn’t a full robot context either, of course — it doesn’t include socialisation — but it’s probably the best approximation he’s going to get.

    So, if a baby didn’t need food and was climate tolerant, isolation in the desert would be the closest approximation of a full baby context? I don’t think so. There is no natural robot identity that is more likely to manifest in a desert, any more than there is a natural baby identity that would manifest in the absence of adult humans. I agree with Matt; going into the desert might allow a robot to escape the influence of a particular human, but escaping the influence of all humans would mean becoming an inert box.

  39. Niall Says:

    I just don’t see the logic of that. There are still stimuli in the desert; brain development will still take place; it will just be in the absence of any human cues, so the architecture of Lucian’s robot brain, and whatever differences it may have to our brains, will be more dominant in determining what’s formed. (Of course, you could argue that the context of still being on Earth would be more dominant than anything else, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.)

  40. Ted Says:

    Yes, there are still stimuli in the desert, but without other imperatives, there’s no reason for any response. Any action at all — burrowing in the sand at midday, preventing scavengers from plucking out one’s eyes, or even repositioning oneself to get a better look at the sunset — would require some motivation. And that motivation would have been the result of human influence.

  41. Matt Hilliard Says:

    Niall: Which is fine, except that humans don’t come with software installed — they learn it, as neural connections form during development and childhood — and we’re clearly meant to understand Lucian’s brain to develop in a similar way to ours, except with that permanent plasticity. So if he resets to zero, the analogy is not to a computer without instructions, it’s to a baby’s brain

    This, then, is the fundamental point of disagreement. I contend humans do have software installed. It’s extremely difficult to figure out just what that software is, but I think the heritability studies leave no room for doubt that there is an inborn component (just a component, this is influence, not destiny) to some human behaviors.

    There’s probably no point in debating it since it’s a scientific question and I’m not a scientist. Then again, this is science fiction we’re talking about.

    Abigail: I must have been unclear because your summary doesn’t sound like what I’m arguing at all. Let me try again.

    If I grow up in a family that watches a lot of sports, I’m likely to enjoy watching sports too. I didn’t choose my family and I make a rational choice to enjoy sports. But is my love of sports somehow suspect or unnatural, something to be rejected, just because it arose due to circumstances outside my control? I tend to say no. And in any case, although there are social pressures on me to like sports, it’s OK, because…I like sports. I don’t have a problem meeting those social expectations. Removed from those pressures I would still watch sports, because it’s something I’ve grown to enjoy.

    But some people, for whatever reason, don’t like sports even though the rest of their family does. They have to suffer through long evenings of boring television or trips to arenas or stadiums. If someone like this says they can’t wait to move out of the house so they don’t have to listen to sports commentators all the time, that makes perfect sense.

    My trouble with Lucian was when I read the story I thought he really liked sports…in this case, his family and his home life. Perhaps that’s a misreading of the story but that’s the impression I got.

  42. Niall Says:

    Ted: still not convinced, I’m afraid — I don’t see how you end up with any motivation necessarily being the result of human influence (except in the very general sense that Lucian was produced by human activity, and is going to have been shaped by human assumptions). I think it’s possible that Lucian would end up as something entirely alien, because the feedback loops between environmental (or animal) stimuli and responses would, in the absence of the need for food etc, be very different to ours. But given the assumptions about the nature of the technology in Lucian’s head, I don’t have a problem buying the idea that something will happen.

    Matt: Insofar as what you’re talking about is how gene products shapes neural architecture, hormonal responses etc etc, and is the result of interaction between genetic programming and environment, I’d say it’s not software so much as how hardware shapes the development of software running on it. And I have no problem with the idea that that would happen as much for Lucian as for humans — another way of rephrasing my reading is to say that what Lucian is trying to find out is how robot architecture would shape his software in the absence of human influence.

    I worry that we’re heading down blind alleys here, in that this isn’t a hard sf story, and doesn’t ask to be judged as one — its model of human and robot development is speculative, and geared more as a reflection of ideas about how humans relate than as a literal model. I think it’s internally consistent, but probably not consistent with reality.

  43. Ziv W Says:

    Abigail, Matt –
    Especially when one considers how much power Adriana had over Lucian, and how creepily incestuous their relationship was (he’s really more her child than Rose is)?

    I think the author was conscious of this tension, because when you think about it this way the incest in Adriana’s youth becomes a pattern that she is unwittingly repeating.

    Beautiful point. Thanks for noticing that – that added something for me.

  44. Ted Says:

    I worry that we’re heading down blind alleys here, in that this isn’t a hard sf story, and doesn’t ask to be judged as one

    I agree that it shouldn’t be judged as a hard SF story, and if you had said that in your initial response to Matt, I wouldn’t have joined in the conversation. But you seemed to be offering a hard(ish) SF defense of the story by talking about the robot running human software, and then making the comparison to a baby’s brain. In doing so, you invited further hard(ish) SF critique.

  45. Niall Says:

    Fair enough. I was trying to put my understanding of the story in the terms Matt was using.

  46. Martin Says:

    I worry that we’re heading down blind alleys here, in that this isn’t a hard sf story, and doesn’t ask to be judged as one

    Like Ted I’m a bit confused with this because this is exactly how you’ve been treating it. If it is not consistent with reality what is the point of it? More specifically, why is there a robot in it? You can reflect on how humans relate very easily by simply using humans, making Lucian a robot only adds anything to the story if he is as real as a human and you seem to be agreeign he is not.

  47. Niall Says:

    If it is not consistent with reality what is the point of it?

    Er, the same as almost any other science fiction story?

  48. Martin Says:

    Science fiction isn’t monolithic. A lot of science fiction stories are not consistent with reality simply because of the allure of made-up cool stuff. Swirsky isn’t interested in that.

    This story is about the break-up of a couple and not a lot else. So there must be a reason why the couple are a robot and a woman and not a man and a woman. Which means there is an awful lot of weight being carried by the believeablity of the robot and particularly the believability of its differences to a human. So I’d say a hard SF critique is necessary.

  49. Niall Says:

    I think that’s rubbish. We have not built any sentient robots; in that sense there is nothing Swirsky could do to make him as real as a human, and she doesn’t try. His design is as obviously fanciful as positronic brains, meaning that the story is trivially not consistent with reality, and that when we read “robot” we should be considering the science-fictional tradtion of robots as the story’s context, not the real-world tradition of robotics from which Matt’s objections spring. So the bar the story has to cross is to make internal sense, which it does.

    I think the nub is this: Although Lucian is clearly not human, and does not function within the text as a human, his imaginative roots are not “real-world robot with some differences” but “real-world human with some differences”. The story is not about the break-up of a couple, it’s about the fact that humans are rule-driven creatures; it’s an encouragement to consider which of our own beliefs and desires might be the result of biology, and which might be the result of culture and experience, and what that might mean. Making Lucian a robot (simply the imaginative assertion that his behaviour is in some sense “robotic”) casts different light on those questions, particularly in the context of a love story, throwing different elements of them into relief than an all-human cast would do. The very fact that we ended up talking about “human software” is an indication of the story’s success — it means we’ve been prompted by the science-fictional elements of the story to recast a familiar human question in different terms.

  50. Martin Says:

    I don’t see anything particularly science fictional about the idea of human software. The story isn’t prompting anything new but simply buying into an existing body of knowledge and thought about consciousness. This is generally the way people who think about these things think about these things without need to recourse to robots. You are right that whatever his brain is made of, whether it is positronic or a magic sponge, is unimportant for the success of the story. That isn’t the same as saying the way his consciousness is depicted is unimportant. This is what Matt is saying and what I am agreeing with.

    It would also argue the story doesn’t make internal sense. I’ve avoided mentioning worldbuilding because clearly Swirsky is uninterested in it but this is a world where robots are common, as common as, say, a luxury car but in which we see no other robots. Lucian does not seek out other robots nor is there any discussion of knowledge stemming from a common experience of the existence of robots. The closest the story gets is Adriana’s dalliance with robot democracy which she (and the story) are keen to get away from as soon as possible. It is important for the story that Lucian is completely isolated but it is not plausible.

    This seems to me to be of a piece with the questions about how human Lucian actually is. It reads a lot more like an extrapolation back from an image – a lone robot finding himself, Christ-like, in the desert – rather than actual speculation about what might happen if situation x came about. I really do think it is just about a break-up rather than encouragement to consider nature versus nurture and that this is the only area where Lucian casts a different light on anything.

  51. Niall Says:

    That isn’t the same as saying the way his consciousness is depicted is unimportant. This is what Matt is saying and what I am agreeing with.

    But I’m not saying the way his consciousness is depicted is unimportant. I’m saying your starting assumptions for judging how his consciousness is depicted are inappropriate.

    As to the rest, I disagree with almost every assertion about the story in that comment! So I don’t think we’re going to get much further here. Although I will say I think the notion that it is back-extrapolation from that single image, and the notion that the story is just about a break-up, are incompatible.

  52. Martin Says:

    Yes, we’ve reached that point! However, just to clarify, I don’t literally think the whole story is back-extrapolation from that single image.

    Only one story left in the season now…

  53. marco Says:

    The caricatural aspects in the description of Adriana’s family and friends are meant to emphasize the shallowness of the society they live in- a society where MONEY can buy you a tailor-made companion and noone raises moral objections.

    Adriana felt suddenly out of synch. The whole evening felt like the set for a photo-shoot that would go in a decorating magazine, a two-page spread featuring Cozy Gardens, in which she and Ben and Lawrence were posing as an intimate dinner party for three. She felt reduced to two dimensions, air-brushed, and then digitally grafted onto the form of whoever it was who should have been there

    Adriana is aware of the flatness of her life, and Lucian is her misguided attempt at finding meaning.
    The story is, among other things, about alienation, reification and commodification, in a sense close to the Marxist understanding.
    The situation the characters live in is artificial, their responses are alienated, but their unsatisfaction and pain is real.
    I don’t see much point in faulting the story for privilege and unsympathetic characters, frankly.

    Human, not-Human

    You gave me life as a human, but I am not a human. You shaped my thoughts with human words, but human words were created for human brains. I need to discover the shape of the thoughts that are my own. I need to know what I am.

    I hope that I will return someday, but I cannot make promises for what I will become.

    Lucian is NOT human. His brain hardware is modeled upon the human brain – deep scans of several human brains – and therefore he’s capable of responding to stimuli and evolving accordingly. But every thought, every association, every sensation he feels is the result of a program.

    Already “at birth” his mind could accommodate the knowledge of 5-6 human brains. His memory seems practically limitless. He’s infinitely adaptable.
    He doesn’t need food, doesn’t tire, he can self-heal. Basic human drives like pain, hunger or fear, sensations like tiredness or physical discomfort, the related needs for protection and shelter, which are the roots of emotional development, the deep psychological source of all forms of longing and attachment (eros) in humans and animals alike, have no real meaning for him – he can choose to experience them, play them as a sophisticated recorder, but he’s detached from them, he doesn’t need them in order to live, they weren’t a function in his growth, they did not shape his consciousness.
    How can you NOT SEE that a being with these characteristics, if he were to start his life as a clean slate, without the backup of human concepts/thoughts/notions/aesthetic parameters, would necessarily evolve very differently?

    At that moment, Adriana remembered that Lucian was unlike her. She urged herself not to forget it, and strove not to, even after his consciousness integrated. He was a person, yes, a varied and fascinating one with as many depths and facets as any other person she knew. But he was also alien . He was a creature for whom a slip of a chef’s knife was a minute error, simply repaired. In some ways, she was more similar to Fuoco .

    His consciousness integrated in front of the ocean, when the reactions of his different “brains”, each with its own innate knowledge – one quoting poetry, another making complicate calculations, etc. – merged together and he experienced the sea as an epiphany.

    It’s no coincidence he chooses the desert to dis-integrate, to cast away all of his layers of programming, one by one.

    The point the story is not so much that he realizes he’s unhappy, or that “the relationship doesn’t work for him” , that he doesn’t love Adriana and Rose or that he rejects them because he longs for something more, he’s resentful for being manipulated or simply “wants to be his own man”.

    The point is that he realizes that he’s no different than Fuoco – his feelings are the result of imprinting and domestication, have been shaped, molded and (mis-)directed outside their (potentially) natural evolution, starting from the aesthetic preferences and the knowledge he was already given “at birth”.

    And in what way the love of Adriana and Rose for Lucian is different from the love of Fuoco for Adriana? In both cases love is on the one side a projection upon an object which is made to fit into a particular scheme of desires and needs, and on the other side a (perhaps) genuine affection which doesn’t arise from the same instinctual constellation of desires and needs. Both situations could have gone on indefinitely on a mutual misunderstanding, an exchange of surfaces. Lucian could continue to play the part of husband and father very convincingly – but what he feels for Adriana and Rose is really the kind of love they instinctively read in his behaviour? And if it’s not, would a lifelong illusion be more charitable than the truth?

    Lucian realizes that his feelings are true and false at the same time, and he simply cannot bear it. He has no real choice. His decision, appropriately, is a very human reaction to his dilemma.
    “I cannot make promises for what I will become” is not a metaphor. He does fully realize that he is, in a sense, committing suicide. He does experience the gradual loss of memories, of thought, everything. But he feels that he needs to die in order “to be born”.

  54. Lois Tilton Says:

    marco – yes, this is the point, this is the issue. But the story is morally ambiguous, focused on the question: is this decision or is it not a fatal, tragic mistake?

  55. Matt Hilliard Says:

    Martin: that’s a really interesting point there about the lack of other robots.

    marco, I understand where you’re coming from and certainly I think your read on the story is what the author intended. I disagree but the horse is looking pretty dead.

    Maybe an interesting analogue to this story is Frankenstein, which unfortunately I haven’t read in ages (I guess “Pride and Prometheus” doesn’t count). Mainly because of when it was written, I think some things that have been argued about here were considered self-evident:
    – For a human to be born and raised in a human family is natural and therefore Good. Most readers then would say this was because it was willed by a perfect Creator but for some it was a more impersonal Nature, but those were still mostly in accord.
    – As a creation of a human, the Monster was an unnatural deviation from the order of God and/or nature. This made his creation a Bad thing, although he himself was not necessarily bad.
    – Given his unnatural state, the Monster’s only recourse to improve his condition is to appeal to his creator, Frankenstein.

    Swirksy’s story seems to only agree entirely with the first point. I myself am most enthusiastic about the third, though sympathetic to the first as well.

  56. Alexander Says:

    Lois Tilton: “I see no point continuing to debate the question with Abigail ["yes he did" "no he didn't"] except to insist that the damage Lucian has done to Rose can’t be dismissed or minimized. The child will grow up at least as damaged as her mother, unable to love. ”

    You’re asserting the father going away and leaving a single family home will be as psychologically damaging as abuse was in the prior generation? I have to say I disagree, and find that argument rather disturbing.

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  60. The Ambivalent Eastercon « Torque Control Says:

    [...] see nominations, too, for Juliet Ulman in Best Editor Long Form, and Rachel Swirsky’s “Eros, Philia, Agape” in Best Novellette; and the Best Novel ballot (Sawyer notwithstanding) is much more credible [...]


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