While at C2E2 this year, we happened upon one of those exhibitor booths where some guy is selling "vintage" toys. You know the type I'm talking about -- there are any number of disassembled G.I. Joes, a few He-Man toys, and undoubtedly a WWF action figure, all in one big pile. This particular exhibitor had "C3PO's Book About Robots," which you can see from the cover retailed in 1983 for $1.25. (It cost more than that to buy at a comic book convention.) After flipping through it briefly and seeing some of the illustrations that I'm about to share with you, I knew immediately I had to buy it.
The book starts off by pretending C3PO, and not some marketing hack, is leading you through the history of robots. Do not be fooled. Despite the first page dropping the knowledge that the word "robot" comes from "the Czechoslovkian word robota, which means 'forced labor'," (seriously? No wonder many copies eventually form a plan,) this book is hilariouisly stupid.
By the third page, we're slyly informing children that pleasure bots exist. Oh, the book may say there are "entertainment robots" that are "computer programmed" to "do only a few things a real person can do, but the robots do them so well that they appear to be alive." I don't know about you, but to me that says "SEXOCON 4000." Or maybe to the illustrator that says "slightly drunken stage magician robot."
And now, for something completely different: apparently in 1982, Heinz built a ketchup robot named "H.J." for the World's Fair in Knoxville. (Remember, everyone, we parked under the Sunsphere.) H.J. is classified as an entertainment robot even though the sort of person who would fuck an eight foot bottle of ketchup is clearly a specialized consumer. H.J. was operated by someone "from afar" who spoke many languages, presumably so the robot could say "Sir, please don't stick that there" in Japanese, should the need arise. Oh, and also, apparently in the same class as entertainment robots, there are the "working" entertainment robots, like "Silent Sam," the flagman in the main photo there. See, three quarters of this page is dedicated to the greatness of the Heinz greeter robot, but H.J. only gets the inset. Silent Sam is humanoid and supposedly directs traffic. Once again, humans lording their greatness over the rest of us condiment-bots.
There's some lip service to actual, real, industrial, make-life-easier robots -- the kind like you find on assembly lines that are really just an automated arm programmed to do one job over and over again. We gotta make sure we pay our respects to those hard working automatons that help us out in our every day life -- but not for long, though, because the immediate next chapter is on page six, and it's called Humans Are Smarter. (The pretense of a protocol droid writing this book is very, very thin.)
You see, we humans have to program the assembly line robots because they're just robot brains, half the size of a man's brain. It's science. My favorite part from this section, other than the misspelling, is the phrase "a working robot has no sense of touch," in case you order the advanced Heinz-bot model and then get all mad when you can't stop it from gripping too hard. Also note how Threepio seems to have a look on his face that says "I can't believe this idiot can't change his own clamp hands," like he didn't rely on an eight foot Yeti to put him back together once.
On the next page it talks up how robots don't have a union so they can totally work in the dark for 24 hours without a lunch break and that's cool, we don't even have to worry about them getting black lung. "While robots do the dirty work, people can be trained to do safer and more creative jobs." Anyway, the next fantastic type of robot we talk about are the office workers, which to me seems to be the safer, supposedly more creative jobs. And I don't believe there are magic inter-office mail delivering bookcases that scoot along the floor, no matter what this illustration tells me. As an aside, they mention robots that will read a book for the blind. I guess books on tape are not exciting enough?
We're getting in to a really long post here, so I'll save the rest of the book for next Wednesday. But believe me when I say it only gets better and creepier from here on out.