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WesternSFA


The Humanoids (1948)
and
The Humanoid Touch (1980)
by Jack Williamson
(several publishers). 178pp; 186pp respectively

The Humanoids is one of the classics of science fiction, in case you didn’t know. One of the first books about robots/androids “serving” man…in a benevolent way.  They are great fun.

Yes, in the “I, Robot” collection by Asimov we do have an earlier approach to benevolent robots.  One of his early stories “Robbie” was published in 1940. And within the tale is mentioned Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, the first Law being a robot cannot harm a human being, which Williamson echoes. (And there are earlier tales of robots: certainly Karel Capek’s play “R.U.R “ (1920) is one example.)

So, Williamson was not first perhaps---but his books remain outstanding classics, nevertheless.

In Williamson’s universe, fundamentally, a human develops humanoids/ androids whose purpose is “To Serve and Obey, And Guard Men from Harm” This is stated on a plaque on the chest of every humanoid made. Warren Mansfield, is the creator of the mechanical folk because he developed “rhodomagnetics” an energy source which changes …well, everything.

The original humanoid planet is Wing IV and is the site of the ‘rhodomagnetic plexus that drives and controls the humanoids. And—no human is allowed within five light years.’ (Those androids are no dummies).

Clay Forester, an astronomer and engineer, in the first book is the one who cries the sky is falling, but no one believes him. The humanoids will save humans from drudgery, pain, work, violence: in other words—their lives will be made perfect by the presence of the humanoids. And if there’s any resistance, why then they get an attitude change with the help of a little drug the humanoids have developed for just such a contingency: Euphoride.

Clay Forester’s constant struggles and confrontations with the humanoids is the central issue of the first book. He is never convinced the humanoids are anything more than creatures to dumb down, pacify and destroy human intelligence by claiming to preserve humans from harm. Intellectual pursuits may have harmful consequences (even sex might…if your health is not tip-top). Though their creator really wanted them to replace miners, farmers and factory workers, self-aware humanoids quickly replicate and get the upper hand.

Humanity becomes their placid cud-chewing sheep. And the androids sweep through the human worlds like a plague.  Except for Clay Forester, and the philosopher Mark White, who manages to keep escaping the humanoid clutches with a small band of humans who are able to teleport, utilize telepathy and the ability to move objects with their minds. White really wants to change the humanoid’s Prime Directive.

Why yes, Mr. Williamson coined this phrase first.  Williamson’s Prime Directive states:” “To serve and obey and guard men from harm.” This is the law of the humanoids, built into their central plexus and zealously defended from change, was meant to make them the unfailing saviors of mankind.” (So, it’s a little different than what the Star Trek universe espoused later.)

Poor, beleaguered Forester spends the first novel running and hiding, and eventually believing Mark White’s position. The “psionics” White is able to utilize confounds the androids. Psychic abilities:  It is the one thing they cannot control.

So “The Humanoids” is basically the struggle of a very few people to fight against the plague of humanoids that want to protect the humans from everything---so much so, they are reduced to living infantile lives. Their minds are dulled by drugs and the cotton-wool surfaces of the world transformed by the Humanoids.

In “The Humanoid Touch,” Williamson has leapt centuries into the future. The humanoids continue to spread like blight through the galaxies protecting humans from life around them and cocooning them in bland horror.

Once more, we have a stalwart few, on the planet Kai who know the humanoids are on the approach and who do not want humanoid service, of any kind.  If they can reach their sister planet, Malili, where the humanoids cannot function, they might be free of the passive/aggressive androids, except of course, Malili is pretty toxic to humans who are not indigenous to the place.

Again, it is one lone man, Keth Kyrone against the imminent Humanoid invasion. We follow him as he grows up. He is abandoned by his parents because they are dealing with dangerous ideas. He has a bleak, sort of English-boarding-school childhood.

Soon enough he discovers the nature of the humanoids. And he wants no part of them.

Kai’s sister planet, Malili, is going to be the refuge because the people there live just fine (in a very back-to-the-earth symbiosis, with no need for machines.) And something on Malili is inimical to the humanoids. “Telurgy,” Williamson explains, “is the process of “The art of creating physical phenomena through the use of rhodomagnetic energy under tachyonic (psionic) control.” This means human minds can manipulate the world around them on a sub-atomic level: Teleportation, mind control, etc. They have no need for humanoids.

These two books are wonderful examples of early science fiction (even though “The Humanoid Touch” was written in 1980---it has the same flavor as The Humanoids). They’re both worth a read (and they’re very short, compared to this day and age). If you love science fiction at all, it’s a great piece of educating nostalgia to go back and read (or re-read) the classics to see where we have been and where we are going forward from. ~~ Sue Martin

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