Reader reviews are so good on so many levels. Mostly, they’re independent impressions of the book that help other readers to decide if they’d like to pick it up, but as an author, they also give an insight into how all those words you’ve laboured over, and rewritten and reassessed and finally let go, have landed. It’s so valuable and I’m always grateful when a reader takes the time to review.
When the next book on my TBR pile is by an Australian author, female, and set in Australia, I pour the coffee, grab the book and go back to bed. I is for Isobel is such a beautiful classic, a little bit sad, a little bit real, at times funny, and a lot lovely to read. Isobel’s attachment to words is fun and fascinating.
She turned her head to look at him, remote in sleep: delicate sallow oblong face, fluted upper lip, light-brown crimped hair drifting across his forehead…listen, you don’t have to paint his portrait.
Doctor, I have this problem. Some people count lamp posts. I describe them. You don’t think that’s a problem? You should try it sometimes, like five lamp posts one after the other, a word picture of each, to be handed in nowhere at the end of the day…I is for Isobel, Amy Witting. 1990
Dale arrives in the city to join the anti-sexbot core.
Dale and Henry, the two pivotal characters in The Uncanny Valley Club, come together in this chapter, chapter five. Neither is who the other expects to be meeting. To Dale, Henry is the person she needs to get close to, a senior and dynamic business manager at Quinn Corp. Someone with the reputation of a manipulator who she needs to be careful of, but upon meeting him, he comes across as a bit of a loser. To Henry, Dale is the new intern, more of an inconvenience to Henry, but she’s to become the person who brings both him and Quinn Corp undone. (How I came to be drawing these pictures )
She embarked on this venture four weeks ago with the creation of a persona, one completely at odds with her own, allowing her to be the person she needs to be. But now, she’s rattled. She bolsters herself by reciting the list of attributes she had decided to take on: unflappable, uncaring, straightforward, daring—I don’t give a fuck. A personality to wear like a cloak.
She pulls her bag close against her legs. A woman heads toward her, her face focussed, and then moves on past while hurrying along her four small jiggling children—a family size that must be a pleasant throwback to the last government. The crowd thins. The trains become still. A fake vintage clock echoes throughout the station with a confected tick thunk, tick thunk, tick thunk, and the vast building pulsates with the emptiness.
Her phone vibrates in her pocket, and she takes it out. It’s Esther from QRC. She breathes in. It rings and rings. She breathes out. Train noise builds around her. Heels click, and the drones return to hover. The energised air needles her anxiety.The Uncanny Valley Club, Julie Proudfoot
The social bots appear in unexpected places in The Uncanny Valley Club, and when Henry discovers his closest friend, Vince, who had always been hell-bent on making sure he remains completely biological himself, had purchased one, it doesn’t sit right with Henry. The Social Bots (or sexbots, depending on which character you are) are viewed differently by each of the characters, and their uses and valuability vary from therapeutic to life-changing, or fun-park to degrading. (For the why of how I came to draw scenes from each chapter see here)
“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.
The Robotic scientists also channelled their psychical-physical sufferings onto the robots they created, and their machines mirrored parts of themselves. Robots were modelled on the unconscious sufferings of their makers, as physical and social limitations and models of post-traumatic stress disorder were imported into the machines. 17 Richardson, K. (2015). An Anthropology of Robots and A.I. The robotic scientist is unconsciously engaged in a process of stamping the object with his or her characteristics…Despite all the abstract and technical processes that go into designing a robot, the result is a creature that bears an uncanny resemblance to its maker. Robots are very much like their makers. 97 Richardson, K. (2015). An Anthropology of Robots and A.I.I found the idea fascinating and explored it in chapter 16, where Henry and Dale discuss, over a casual lunch, the idea that Quinn the Robot Scientist, has incorporated his own sociopathic tendencies into his robots.
‘Let’s just call him what he is,’ she says. ‘He’s a sociopath, right?’ ‘You’re probably right about that.’ ‘Can I disappoint you even further, Henry? Quinn’s actually not as much of a genius as you think. He doesn’t get his ideas out of thin air. He takes his cues from his own life and his own body. The base nature of his dolls starts with him; they think the way he does, behave the way he does, and respond the way he does. Little Quinn replicas. His dolls are all sociopaths.’ Henry listens to what Dale has to say, but she can’t be right. ‘If you’re right, Dale, then every single doll out of Quinn’s factory would be a sociopath.’ ‘Yes, and each part of Quinn’s dolls is a separate creation; they’re 3D-printed pieces with their own dot brain: the arms, necks, legs, heads, fingers—everything. Each little piece has its own model of Quinn’s quirks and abilities—or disabilities—or mental state. Do you understand what I’m telling you, Henry?’ ‘I get what you’re saying, but since almost every doll in this town comes out of Quinn’s warehouse, and as his advanced dolls begin to roll out into projects, that would mean there would be a lot of Quinn-like sociopaths in the population.’ Dale shrugs at him. He expected her to explain where his thinking had gone wrong, and tell him, “No, this is not true”, but she nods as if to say, “Yes, it’s all true, but what’s to be done about it?” Pg 120 J Proudfoot (2022) The Uncanny Valley Club.
(Notes on the why of drawing). Esther, a fix-it person in the robotics company, covering up transgressions, and acting as trauma cleaner when things go awry, often calls on her boss’s (Quinn’s) rival in the world, Scottie, a cyborg engineer, to make ‘adjustments’ to her body, and has recently taken a new technology, blood soldiers to treat hormonal health issues.
“Henry has known Esther way more than ten years, and if he’s recalling correctly, she’s never mentioned her actual age, which is probably irrelevant as he’s certain she’s not all real. She’s a big fan of Scottie Fuennel’s cyborg enhancements, and she’s had parts switched out so many times—which possibly range in age from teenager to something approaching a century—that she’s probably not even certain of her own age either.
‘Yesterday, I was, like, dropping dead,’ Esther explains. ‘You think about your age when you tick one over, right? And to be honest, I’ve been feeling pretty shitty. So, I go to the doctor. And guess what? I’ve been worried for no reason.’
‘Yes, for no reason at all. I’m not even sure I should share this with you, Henry. Have you heard of Blood Soldiers? A little bit of me, a little bit of technology.’
‘Blood Soldiers? Never heard of it.’
‘It’s a treatment, with soldiers suspended in it.’
‘Sounds like you should be worried.’
‘Like penicillin, only—’
‘Only tiny little men with helmets?’ Henry queries.
‘Of course not, but tiny, yes, and then off they go the little fuckers, to seek out their targeted cells.’
‘Is this new? Who did you get it from?’
Esther doesn’t reply.
‘Was it Scottie? Don’t let Quinn find out.’
‘I don’t care what Quinn thinks; Quinn’s all talk. I think I’m the only person Quinn doesn’t scare.’
‘So, you have tiny men inside you, dismantling your cells for the rest of your life?’
‘Gross, I know. But no, they deactivate in fifty days and expel the usual way. Job done.’ Esther laughs.
‘You poop the soldiers?’
They’re both silent for a beat, taking that information in. Henry watches the lift numbers tick by—140, 139, 138.
‘I think this conversation is over, Henry.’