I is for Isobel—Amy Witting

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

The Uncanny Valley Club: Scenes In Colour.

Dale and Henry, the two pivotal characters in The Uncanny Valley Club, come together in this chapter, chapter four. 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

Shatter it with Mammary Power—book Quotes: Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body.

There’s nothing I could say that would add to anything written by Jeanette Winterson, other than she does have a thing with words, doesn’t she?

The woman serving doughnuts with mechanical efficiency parked her bosom on the glass counter and threatened to shatter it with mammary power. Written on the Body, J. Winterson.

Drawing Scenes: Chapter 3 from The Uncanny Valley Club

Benny the sex-bot salesman, also the company therapist, stretches his talents to creating a sexbot brothel that he has named, The Uncanny Valley Club. Unfortunately, his financial resources are limited to friends and colleagues, and he has come to Scottie, well known for her anti-sexbot campaigns and her cyborg enhancement engineering company, for the very big task of convincing her to invest in his new sexbot Brothel.

‘You pluck these ideas out of that scrubby little head of yours, Benny, and present them gold plated, just to get me on board, but this is no different to an average brothel, is it? I can’t see that there’s anything special about your new business.’

‘Scott, my business is different from all the others like it.’ Benny waves his hand gently across the room as if to display all the businesses that are just not quite as good as his is. ‘It’ll be a standout. We can grow a shit load of money from simple human vice. Listen to me. The Uncanny Valley Club will be the venue where punters can set their desires free, like wild animals tapping into their urges.’

‘Urges? I thought this was part of your therapy business?’

‘It is therapy. It’s next-level therapy. This is me hitting my potential. This is what I’m all about. I’m dragging the therapy trade into the future.’ Benny stands. His excitement at his plans has him all jittery. ‘It’s not called The Uncanny Valley Club for no reason. It’s all about the ‘uncanny’ moment, that dip in the robot-likeability graph, when you see a robot so lifelike that it gives you the creeps. That hideous little moment that defines the difference between robot and human—the absence of soul, your disgust, your fear and your fascination. It’s fake little face.’ Benny points at his own eyes and nose, and screws up his face. ‘You know what I mean, Scottie; you’ve felt it. The sense of deceit; the lack of trust. That’s where the lucrative Uncanny Valley moment is.’

‘Wait a minute, what happened to chicken soup for the soul?’

‘Troubled soul, Scottie; I said, “troubled soul”. This is the hinge where our clientele swing loose. What a goddamn release! They use it, they respond, they lash out and they release that pent-up techno-anger buried deep within. That little moment is so full of energy! It’s a heady mix of fascination and disgust, lust and hate—all those confusing emotions that live in that void. And we will exploit that little, black void of sexuality.’

‘Is this a joke, Benny? What kind of place is this?’

‘Scottie, nobody trusts a creepy little bot unless they know they control it, right? And how do we take control? We remove human morals. Let them do to it whatever the hell they want to do to it. Our club will give them permission to swing loose. Can’t you see it?’

Scottie’s mouth hangs open, speechless.

‘Listen, Scott, The Uncanny Valley Club will be known as the place to explore who we really are at our core.’ He leans in to catch her eye. ‘The punters can do whatever they like to their bot—no guilt, pure release and morality-free—an almighty cleansing of the soul. Do you see what this is, Scottie? Consequence out the window, do you understand? It’s a life-changing moment.’

Scottie’s face contorts with disgust.

‘Oh, the release,’ he says. ‘It’s so damn freeing.’ He lifts his arms into the air as though releasing doves. Benny sees in her face the wall she’s built up against this idea. He needs to make her want it. ‘And Scottie, let me tell you this much: this will happen whether you like it or not. This isn’t new. They exist in Japan and across Europe, and if you get on board with me, right now, you’ll control it in our part of the world. You, Scottie. I know this is what you want—to control this industry.’

Scottie says nothing. He holds his palms out to her and whispers her name. ‘Come on, Scott?’

He needs to get her over the line that she’s drawn for herself. ‘Imagine it, casino atmosphere, private rooms, music and social bots of every colour and proclivity; sturdy ones. You get what I’m saying don’t you? I don’t need to tell you what people are capable of given the chance. It’s exciting! Gives me a buzz just to think about it. All we need is the money. Your money.’

‘Why are you giving me this information, Benny? What you’re talking about is abuse. All you’ve done is give me a heads up to intervene and have you shut down. You’re an idiot, anyone tell you that?’

J. Proudfoot (2022) The Uncanny Valley Club

Robot Creation from Personal Trauma

While researching for The Uncanny Valley Club, one of the more interesting ideas that came up was the idea that, just like many other creatives: writers, painters et cetera, robotic scientists draw on their own traumas to ‘create’ robots.
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.

Drawing Scenes in Colour Chapter 2 From The Uncanny Valley Club: Blood Soldiers.

(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.’

‘Worried?’

‘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.’

Pg6 The Uncanny Valley Club. Julie Proudfoot.

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