Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" (short story, science fiction): A hominid robot wants to be treated as a human

Quote from short story titled Helen OLoy by Lester del RayThere is a lot of thematic similarity with Isaac Asimov's much better known "Bicentennial Man". A hominid robot is so human-like, even emotionally, that it wants to be practically recognized as a human! I personally prefer Asimov's version, but this is a good story.

Title comes from a variation on "Helen of Troy". Because it's a robot in human female body, it's "Helen of Alloy" - changed to cute-sounding "Helen O'Loy".

The story includes some completely unrelated statements about rocket-based travel. But I guess that was fashionable when this story was written!

Story summary.

Dave & Phil are close friends, & tinkerers. They have a robot housekeeper ("Lena"). "Lena has sense enough, but she has no emotions, no consciousness of self." So they replace it with the latest "K2W88", a made-to-order hominid in female body; then make changes & add emotions to it! The result is Helen.

Phil is a qualified doctor. Before they power on the changed machine, he is called on a medical assignment that will keep him away for 3 weeks. The story really begins when he returns - to a heart-broken home.

He is greeted by Helen; Dave is away. Phil & Helen get along well - Helen is very impressive - impossible to see her as a robot. And she is madly in love with Dave, & is prone to crying that melts male hearts! Dave has been avoiding her.

Well - there is a lot of drama. Dave goes away, winding up his business. Then comes back, & marries Helen. And they live happily ever after. At least till Dave dies - of old age. Then Helen kills herself too - and wants to be buried alongside her husband.

That is when we learn why Phil never married. He was in love with Helen too!


Some reviewers seem to see in the story a reflection of social values of US of 1930s - a wife that is expected to behave part servant. I didn't see this point - but I'm culturally rather far, both in time & space.

Of course, the idea of this story has been around since ancient times - a man makes a mud or stone statue, magically puts life in it, & they fall in love. There are lot of variations of it in India; must exist elsewhere in the world too.

None of this came in the way of enjoying this story for me. Quite likable.

Collected in.

  1. Robert Silverberg (Ed)'s "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964".

Fact sheet.

"Helen O'Loy", short story, review
First published: Astounding Science Fiction, December 1938.
Rating: A
Listed in Contento's Top Ten Most Reprinted Stories.


Anonymous said...

it has been 40 yrs since i read this and is always in my mind, i bought the mag at a garage sale and still have it , hmm it was in a pile of old comic books and i paid 2 pennies a piece for them , back in the 60's i mowed lawns for 50 cent's a lawn, delivered papers for 5 cent a piece, and shoveled side walks and drive-ways for a dollar , how the world has changed, when i first had a chance to read this story it stuck , and it is always there , i am over 60now and still this story is there , in my mind , a robot that gains the feeling of being human, and feel's love, makes u think when will all these computer's start waking up and talking about us, sound's stupid , but is it really so far fetched?

hmm, it may be sci-fi, but this is the 21st century, and puters are way smarter than you're average person , most cannot even figure out how to use one other than playing solitaire.

every-thing is now computer-controlled, does any-one really under-stand the impact of making every-thing computer controlled?

oh wait we have three back-up computer's , if they fail what do u do , hand's on ? then u get stuff like re-set and un-plug and plug back in might fix or not work, re-set again LOL.

pretty bad even the geek's can't fix the problem's every-one gets ,
said enuff mmm.

first science-fiction story i remember, Helen O'Loy, it started me reading and i thank ,Lester del rey. openned my mind .