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The social bots appear in unexpected places in The Uncanny Valley Club, and when Henry discovers his closest friend, Vince, who has always been hell-bent on making sure he remains completely biological himself, has purchased one, it doesn’t sit right with Henry. The Social Bots (or sexbots, depending on a character’s point of view) are utilised differently by each of the characters, and their uses vary from therapeutic to fun-park to degrading.
“As Henry speaks, his attention is drawn to a swelling movement of the covers on the other side of the bed, and, in that moment, there emerges—like Gulliver from ropes—a pale face that, as the sheets slip away to the floor, gradually reveals itself to be the head, then the neck, and then the body of a woman.
Vince’s eyes follow Henry’s gaze. ‘Have you not met Greta?’ he asks, and he casually throws a thumb over his shoulder. Vince smiles because, of course, Henry has not met Greta. Greta is new.
‘Nope, I’m inclined to say I haven’t met Greta. And here I was thinking the piles of bubble wrap in the lounge were a new exercise machine.’
‘It is kind of a new exercise machine.’ Vince grins.
Vince grabs a plate as it begins to slide from the covers with the emergence of his bed companion, who has been so still and quiet this whole time that Henry suspects Vince intended to keep this new thing in his life hidden.
It’s a serene face that smiles at Henry, but her eyes dart down, up, down, then up again as it takes in the details of what it means to be Henry.
‘Hello Henry,’ it says. ‘Lovely to see you again.’
Although Henry has worked for Quinn for many years, he doesn’t deal with the social bots. It’s not his job. His focus is the business of getting contracts signed, deliveries delivered and debts paid. In fact, he prefers not to think about the bots as functioning beings and how they’re used, at all.
Vince watches Henry’s face.
‘We’ve met before?’ Henry asks it.
‘Not exactly,’ it says, ‘but I’ve been aware of you.’
And now Henry finds that, apart from complete surprise, he’s feeling agitated by the idea of it knowing him, but he not knowing it, and the only way he can manage to express an opinion is to mock Vince: ‘What were you just saying about being the real deal?’ Henry says, and he thumps his fist against his own chest.”The Uncanny Valley Club, Chapter 4, Julie Proudfoot. 2022.