1. What happens when the world goes deaf?
2. Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson is a novella about Robot and “his” existential crisis after the collapse of the world, left only with “his” mechanical “brothers” and “sisters” and the usual fire and brimstone of an apocalypse setting.
3. Maybe deaf is the wrong word. Or the wrong cadence. What happens when the sound of humans is extinguished? “Yes, the cries, giggles, laughter, screams, moans of both pain and pleasure, squeals, wails, whispers–the many sounds of the human race–were all gone. Even the minute sound of blood rushing through veins and arteries, speeding through the heart and up to the brain…was gone.” Could you, theoretically, if you didn’t die and weren’t some pile of dust eating radioactivity, I mean, could you handle it?
4. Robot is special or different than his siblings in that his emotional spectrum has for some reason also been anthropomorphized. He is, like the title suggests, sad that the humans are gone.
5. Humans have created (in our world) a null-sound room–which one research team has monikered as a Dead Room–that most scientists call an anechoic chamber, in order to develop and test various auditory waves.
6. “An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise. The combination of both aspects means they simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension, which is useful when exterior influences would otherwise give false results.” (Wikipedia)
7. Robot specifically misses from the human race Mike and Mike’s nuclear family. Mike was the first human to acknowledge (or perhaps ignore) Robot’s being. “Being” here couples physical and metaphysical, which, according to more Wikipedia, is exactly anathema to Speculative Realism. Speculative Realism, from the one article I read, argues for the multiple possibilities of reality; that no one universal law is stable according to these multiple possibilities (with the exception of the Principle of Non-Contradiction); “there is no reason [the universe] could not be otherwise.” A good ground rule for any Science Fiction.
8. In the anthropocentric world of Robot pre- human extinction, there are workplace laws managing the ratio of humans-to-robots, which presumptuously leads to pay differences, benefits, etc. Like any class distinction, humans have structured a wall to stand on in order to look down upon those below, i.e. robots. Mike plays pool with Robot, takes Robot home to meet his family. He tells Robot stories of his life. He treats “him” like a friend.
10. Robot is fascinated not just by Mike’s stories of an alcoholic, nihilistic past, but of Mike’s budding fascination and subsequent redemption after Mike started reading books. This notion of the redemptive functions of books/stories is not objective. “And it is true that the tool is the congealed outline of an operation. But it remains on the level of the hypothetical imperative. I may use the hammer to nail up a case or to hit my nieghbour over the head.” (Jean-Paul Sarte, “What Is Literature?”) You read/write a story, why?
11. Mike’s wife Sally was a programmer interested in making a computer that wrote. “If you can teach a computer to make something meaningful and unique,” Sally writes Mike, “with as much effort and work and thought as a piece of art, then you’ve got sometihing.”
12. Sad Robot Stories is not what I’m making it sound like. On the back of this handmade edition from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, there is one of those upper-border legend labelling the object “Literary Fiction/Science Fiction.” If we were to prescribe the image of a human as the synecdoche for literature, and your basic C-3PO as Science Fiction, then Sad Robot Stories is a costume of a robot worn by what you assume is a human, but is really just C-3PO playing around.
13. “According to Guinness World Records, 2005, Orfield Laboratory’s NIST certified Eckel Industries-designed anechoic chamber is “The quietest place on earth” measured at −9.4 dBA. The human ear can typically detect sounds above 0 dBA, so a human in such a chamber would perceive the surroundings as devoid of sound.”
14. One of the saddest moments in the novella is when Robot finds Mike’s convulsing body, watches the ghost escaping the eyes of Robot’s one true “friend.”
15. “Robot started to wish for things that didn’t exist. Outcomes that had never happened. He wished for the impossible.”
16. Mike dies in Robot’s arms.
17. And for a second, Robot whirls through the possibility of rushing to the house to potentially save Sally and the kids.
18. “Robot started to make his way to the square house, the smiles of Sally, Junior and Marie beating on the insides of his head chassis.” But then a particular descriptive quality interrupts his quest.
19. “Robot turned around. He imagined all the possible countless outcomes for Marie, a little girl with her father’s eyes, and he walked away. He could not help her. He could not help anyone. Robot felt what it was like to be human, and he didn’t like it.”
20. “The quiet chamber amplifies even the slightest noise, making people accurately aware of anything, including the sound of their heart beating. In fact, the sensation is so intense — including the possibility of hallucinations — that no one has been able to stay in the room longer than 45 minutes, according to the Deccan Chronicle.” (Huffington Post)
21. When the world ends, and Robot has had enough of the new school prejudice of illogical reactions like depression and nostalgia, Robot tries to kill himself by walking into a lake and waiting out his battery. There is nothing for Robot anymore. Not after his interactions with Mike et al.
22. What follows here is the normal religious trajectory for a suicidal character: hallucinogenic revelations forcing a renewed continuation of life; the discovery of a band of similarly lost beings; unassumed messianic status procurement; leadership roles expanded by vague observations; dissent among the ranks; death; turmoil; disbandment and disillusionment; solitary atonement; denouement with a clan of bunkered up humans who need a babysitter.
23. And everyone knows the best babysitter is a good story.
24. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk into a room and realize that you are the sound, the story is you and you are listening to yourself, to the parts of yourself that you’ve never listened to before, were never able to due to a plentitude of outside contexts and mis-clues.
25. It might make you want to take a sit on the bottom of a lake.