Drawing Scenes from The Uncanny Valley Club: Social Bots Chapter four with Pics Art

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.

Drawing The Uncanny Valley Club: Scenes in Colour Chapter One

During downtime between drafts of The Uncanny Valley Club, I took to making drawings of scenes from the book, usually one or two drawings per chapter. Drawing was an easy way to keep engaged with the stories and themes in the book—which helped maintain continuity of the storylines when I came back to them.

They were simple drawings, I had no plans to show them, so no planning went into them other than seeking out a scene that stood out, and drawing it, then digitally enhancing it. Looking back on them now, I quite like some of them and so thought I’d share one occasionally along with its scene.

This first drawing is from chapter one.

A loud, hollow thump comes to Henry’s attention from across the circuit. A pedestrian lies on the road—with arms spread out and legs stiffened in fright, Jesus-style—stalling the honking traffic. A woman bends a knee to the road by the pedestrian’s side, to help, and shouts threats at the receding self-drive while holding her phone high to record its cold-hearted retreat.

A crowd gathers, drawn to an opportunity to air grievances, and they, too, reach out with their phones, as though in a synchronised Nazi salute, to film the self-drive as it tootles down the road, off and away, without a care. The entire shenanigans a result of the self-drive having selected the path of least damage: up the curb, onto the footpath, and neatly into a lone and oblivious pedestrian—thump.

The Uncanny Valley Club— a fictional look at how the way we treat robots might influence the way we treat each other.

It’s been eight years in the works, and The Uncanny Valley Club is finally done and dusted and set free in the world. I say robots above, but it’s essentially about sexbots. And, I’m going to say (bravely) I’m quite proud of this book. The characters have come to life and are now quite real to me—and I’m quite fond of them. The last few drafts really brought them to life, and the good scrub and polish given to it by Lindsay Corten (Corten Editorial) has taken away any fears I might have had about the book.

But mostly, I feel like I’ve written the book that has given me a chance to say what I’ve wanted to say. Why Robots? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about relationships with robots (or sexbots) and it stirred up my long-time interest in, and anxieties about (which started in my uni days) cyborgs and Bladerunner type stories. Before long I found myself deep in a research tunnel that led me to explore the way interactions with sexbots might change how we humans would relate to each other. The result is this new book, The Uncanny Valley Club.

Within the wider look at sexbots I’ve cheekily indulged in a thread that allows for some of my research to come to light, that being the interesting fact that traditionally people who identify as male are more likely (statistically) to be interested in the creation of robots in the image of humans, than in cyborg robotics or enhancement type robotics (cyborg engineering) which is more likely to be the domain of women. This has allowed for a really fun tension between female and male roboticists in the story, and for some explosive events.

On the face of, it’s a speculative fiction novel set in mid-21st Century—yes, not too far from now, but the focus is on relationships with robots, think The Stone Gods (Jeanette Winterson), or Machines Like Me (Ian McEwan). The story follows Henry King as he dabbles with the idea of using a sex doll to treat a medical condition. The deeper themes take a look at our relationship with a world of self-drive cars and artificial intelligence. It asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality.

The book has been in the making for eight years. Not eight solid writing years, but on and off, with long periods of inaction due to ill health, on my part, putting it on ice for years at a time. (At times I couldn’t read a sentence let alone write one, and at one point decided I’d not write again.) But here we are with the book finished.

Blurb: Henry King manages Quinn Corp, a robotics company, but he’d rather spend his time with his vintage car, and his house full of vintage memorabilia. He often chases down the self-drive cars to nudge them off the road causing them to spin off into a kerbside crash. When Henry purchases a sex robot to treat a medical condition—at the encouragement of his friend Vince, who owns his own sex doll, and his therapist, who is a sex doll salesman—it changes who he is, how he feels about himself, and how he treats the women in his life. Henry struggles in his life trying to connect the two worlds of robots and humans, fiction and reality, lust and hate, until it all comes falling apart for him in The Uncanny Valley Club. Set in the mid-21st century, The Uncanny Valley Club asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality. Treading the psychological path between human and robot relationships, The Uncanny Valley Club is a fast-paced speculative fiction novel by Julie Proudfoot, author of The Neighbour and winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. 

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