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EP173: Robots Don’t Cry

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mike Resnick.
All stories read by Stephen Eley.

Every now and then we strike it rich. Usually we make a profit. Once in a while we just break even. There’s only been one world where we actually lost money; I still remember it — Greenwillow. Except that it wasn’t green, and there wasn’t a willow on the whole damned planet.

There was a robot, though. We found him, me and the Baroni, in a barn, half-hidden under a pile of ancient computer parts and self-feeders for mutated cattle. We were picking through the stuff, wondering if there was any market for it, tossing most of it aside, when the sun peeked in through the doorway and glinted off a prismatic eye.

“Hey, take a look at what we’ve got here,” I said. “Give me a hand digging it out.”

Rated R. Contains profanity and some sadness.

Comments (31)

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  1. The Devil's Advocate says:

    Yet another story where the robot character is more human than the human himself, just like I robot the movie, bicentennial man, and the later terminator movies, sigh.

    yet you were right, this one did affect me emotionally, and even though it is unabashedly stereotypical, I’m glad you read it.

    As for Mr. DeRegio’s surgery, unfortunately I cannot donate, college does that do you. However, I will keep him in my prayers. Yeah, I know, how ironic.

  2. Lisa Boban says:

    Thanks for letting us know about Jeffrey. I’m not in college (long,long ago!). So I can donate. And I did. I hope many others do too. Cast your bread upon the waters, people.

  3. Calculating... says:

    I don’t know about anyone else, but mike resnick’s stories cannot make me cry. while it was sentimental, it was missing the level of emotion needed to bring me to tears. i could not get attached to miss emily or sammie.

    touching, but not tear worthy.

    Mr. DeRegio’s surgery breaks my heart and i will donate as much as my budget can afford, college does that to you.

  4. […] Fiction: “Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick is now available at Escape […]

  5. Leif Hansen says:

    Man did I cry on this one.
    Hey Stephen, could you please post the donation link on the site?
    Thanks,
    leif

  6. Norm says:

    Resnick is an emotional writer. At first I was thinking that this was too much like Tideline, but by the end this piece got to me. The narrator’s turnabout seems a bit unrealistic. Isn’t barone’ a swear word in some language?
    Sad news about Mr. DeRegio. I will donate and wish I had more to give this talented writer as I have enjoyed all of the UD sagas. The news seems eerily aptly timed given the message of this story, a not so subtle reminder of how fragile we all are.

  7. Leif Hansen says:

    Oops, never mind. Found it on the previous post.

  8. Meercat says:

    I loved this story! The characters and emotions felt so extremely genuine, I couldn’t help but be touched.

    PS. I am glad Sammy was not reassigned :)

  9. Luc says:

    While I can’t say the story was bad, I have to say it wasn’t the equal of some other Resnick stories I’ve heard on EP. It left me a little cold; maybe it was just a little bit too formulaic and predictable.

  10. phignewton says:

    my computer cries every time i try to run photoshop and firefox at the same time.

  11. Benjamin says:

    Much like the comments above, I felt that while the story had a nice and moving premise, it didn’t engage me.

    I found Steve’s reading a bit frustrating too, which is unusual for me – usually he does a great job.

    This time though I found his portrayal of the human character a little too callous – too cynical. I know, I know – that character was supposed to be callous and cynical, but at a point in the story he (the character) gets involved with Sammy and Miss Emily’s fate and is moved by them. I just didn’t hear that change in the reading and it left me disconnected.

    To be fair to Steve, it might have been Resnick’s portrayal of the human that didn’t work for me.

    I kept feeling like this cynical human would ask questions of the robot to ascertain it’s value and not bother with the emotional issues. But he kept inquiring about what happened to Miss Emily and was she in a lot of pain etc.

    That was definitely out of character, as I saw it. Anybody else pick up on this?

  12. Joe says:

    I loved the story — we got all four of Eley’s voices!

    • The Three Stooges “wise guy” voice
    • The “I’m a big hulking hulk” voice
    • The flat machine voice
    • The slightly-lighter “female” voice

    …to be fair, that’s about three more than my daughter gets when I’m reading to her… ;-)

  13. Jennifer says:

    Joe, but we’re missing the dog voice!

    (I had to say it.)

    Not sure about this one. Kind of predictable after awhile to me, I guess. It’s sad, but I’m not a crier.

  14. Bingorage says:

    I’m a crier… but this one didn’t do it for me.

  15. phignewton says:

    do people actually WANT stories to make them cry? perhaps escapepod should spin off another site, i see sobstories.com is available for a mere 300!

  16. tallacman says:

    Excellent story. I had a dream about some of the elements in the story last night after hearing it yesterday.

  17. Meercat says:

    Hi, Benjamin

    I too found that the human’s questions about Miss Emily’s fate were inconsistent with his cynical nature. It didn’t bother me though because I saw this as a completely normal. A person is never purely one type of character, and often actions contradict a stated persona. The narrator claims to be in the business just for the money, but we, as readers (or listeners), realize he is more than that and maybe has been fooling himself and others.

    Just my two cents.

  18. Brave Space Monkey says:

    Are the number of S.E. voices equal to number of voices in his head?

  19. DrCrisp says:

    It was an excellent story inside of a story that was about a page too long. The ending should have occurred after the tombstone was read. That makes the point and the story all lead up to that, that the robot was as human as we are. True, the ending part was technically necessary due to the opening. But once you’ve made your point, quit. Maybe that’s why I like short-shorts best of all. It certainly would not be due to impatience or any ADD that I may…Mmmmm, she smells good!

  20. scatterbrain says:

    I’ve been thinking this over for a long time: given the wide variety of voices and tones Steve Eley can do(about four or so) he would make an excellent South Park voice actor. There, I’ve said it.

    About the story though, I thought it was not a bad attempt at the old tale of robot compassion(the very, very old tale indeed), but I thought the alien character was a bit unbalanced throughout: first he thinks that the ‘bot has emotions, then near the end he bitches about pay.

  21. Audita Sum says:

    Mike Resnick will never make me cry.

  22. Damen Lee Turks says:

    I can’t begin to imagine the pain attached to remembering everything.

    The inability to forget, to help, to grieve, and to change are what convinces the narrator that the robot is human. But I wonder: is the robot more or less human than the narrator because of its perfect memory?

    When we encounter people like the robot in our everyday lives, we dub them removed, detached…somehow less human than ourselves because they can’t let go of the past. They succumb to a constantly looping playback of past events and outdated ideologies.

    Because of that I find it amusing that the author portrays that one inhuman characteristic—the ability to remember perfectly—as the most human of all.

    So, again I ask: does the narrator become more or less human as he—twenty years later—continues to remember the robot?

  23. oldguypaul says:

    Steve,
    I found a Native American Saying: If the eyes had no tears the soul would have no rainbow.

    Obviously the wise ones know the importance of tears

    OldGuyPaul

  24. J says:

    Wow, this more than anything else you’ve ever run, this story left me in shock, crying my eyes out. An actual, legitimate, bad Mike Resnick story. Fucking tragic.

  25. bluedarky says:

    I have to ignore escape pod for a few weeks for personal products and come back to this,

    I always enjoy Mike Resnick stories, and this has the honor of being the first Escape Pod to make me cry in public, (The first being Rupert Bear and the very long walk), keep up the good work chosing the stories Steve!

  26. Raving_Lunatic says:

    Hi. This is the first escape pod episode I listened to, but i’ve since downloaded a large amount of the archive. When I first listened to this story, I wasn’t best impressed. I thought, like others, that the idea had been done before, and that originality was important in SF. But then, a couple of hours after listening, I thought how long it had been since I cried, and realised that I couldn’t remember when it was. And then I thought that maybe I’ve become so cynical and skeptical over the years that I can no longer feel anything.

    I realised then that a lot of people, myself included, can go through life asleep, never really feeling, just on autopilot, but slowly turning into something they are not, something they never wanted to be. I think that this is what happened to the main character in this story, and since I could idenitfy with him this affected me more than fiction has done in quite a while.

  27. Jenny M says:

    This is a bogus story in many ways. For a start, much of it serves mainly to allow the author to explain what’s happening without having to bother showing it through subtle and revealing language. So, we have two traders who apparently know nothing about each other and are constantly asking questions as if they’d just met. We have a lead character who is apparently surprised that a nursemaid robot understands the concept of pain (duh). He’s also surprised by technology that’s over five hundred years old, which is rather like us being surprised when we see a cart wheel turn. Come on. Please. Your listeners deserve more respect than this.

    All of which wouldn’t be so bad if at least the prose was something to enjoy. But so lazily written is this story that we get such stunning phrases as ‘Pain is . . . uncomfortable’. I’m sorry but if the author just can’t be bothered to write properly, there’s no reason for us to be anything other than dismissive about the result.

    There are scrappy contradictions too, which suggest no one bothered to edit this story. For example, at the start we’re told in effect that a printed book is a valuable commodity. Yet later in the story the robot is seen reading to Miss Emily from a book and our profit-hungry trader doesn’t even notice; surely, he’d be ripping up the place looking for such loot.

    Worst of all, is the crude attempt to illicit sympathy in us for Miss Emily. The way to actually get us to care would be to show a fully rounded character we can empathise with. Instead, the author lays on disease after disease to try to make us feel sorry for her. Which is very sloppy story-telling when you think about it.

  28. […] Resnick’s “Robots Don’t Cry” is a story within a narration within a frame story, which gives it structure and a point of […]

  29. Blaine Boy says:

    It’s amazing what the little things in the world can do. It’s amazing how listening to these stories hour after hour, day after day, week after week can really change you. I’m happy to say that I am a changed person (for better or worse) because I listen to and read all these stories while I am still getting a grasp on the larger world. Thank God for Escape Pod. My favorite stories are always the ones where I can come to the forum with something to say about myself or the world around to me. It’s sort of my connection to the podcasting world. I’ve said this for the last two stories as well: thank you all for hearing me out. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I just be accepted into this group. It’s especially hard to be accepted in a high school community when you are different. I get by most of the time just by working, but here…something grabs me and tells me I belong and that people here like me and want to hear from me. That’s probably not necessarily true but I thank you all who might read this and those of you who don’t but still do not condemn me for it. I love to hear from all of you. I don’t know where I would be without you Escape Pod (that includes all the listeners and donaters and commentators). Small Pathetic Joke Insertion: Robots don’t cry and real men don’t cry…does that mean real men are robots? :O

  30. psi says:

    Just read this in the archive, a bit late to comment, but i will anyway;

    Unfortunately i had earlier been watching a documentary on recent war causalities, where a mother is just so grateful to the many people who had risked their lives to get her injured son treatment quickly. He didn’t last more than an hour, this made me cry, a ‘feeling’ robot did nothing but annoy after that.

    I then went on to think about how much a robot like that, apparently unique, would be worth for research, then, how potentially dangerous, if emotion could be replicated then wouldn’t the human race be in danger of replacement. After all, the robot seems to be being set up as morally superior to the human, so if his like were to replace humans, isn’t the inference that that would somehow be a good thing?

    If placed into the story i would hopefully have had the good sense to obliterate any trace of the thing immediately.

    But, of course, to elicit this amount of thought is the hallmark of good SF.

  31. Kate says:

    I realise that this is way late, but I’m just catching up – again. One of my cycles of listening every day, after one of my cycles of not listening for months.

    I’m the opposite to you, Steve. I don’t do emotions easily. I don’t register them as easily as other people seem to, I don’t factor them as important, I stay on a fairly level pitch. But, like you, I’ve been taught that that’s a flaw. A failing. Makes me less human, or something.

    Lately, I’ve been shaking that view. Sure, my emotions function differently. But they’re still emotions. Maybe that’s why I love robot stories so much – who can tell what’s in someone else’s heart? I don’t care if that heart is mechanical or organic, it’s still closed to others. Only you can know it. And so we need to learn to respect and cherish the hints people give us. I don’t cry often, so when I do, it’s a big deal. My best friend, she cries a lot. And when she does? It’s a big deal.