Adventures in False Advertising: The Robot Brains

Posted: February 3, 2011 in reviews, Ryan Crutchfield
Tags: , , , ,

My name is Ryan Crutchfield and I am a system architect and application programmer with a master’s degree in archaeology that I never get to use. I am a regular contributor at weirdthings.com and my twitter stream (@rc6750) will more than likely bore you to tears.

I am a huge fan of robots. I have built my own robots, have robot-themed artwork hanging on my walls, and even celebrated the recent 90th anniversary of the creation of the word (by drinking alone in my apartment). With some exceptions, I enjoy most literature and movies involving robots. For example, despite the ABSOLUTE RIDICULOUSNESS of this movie, I am still excited (and embarrassed) to see it. So when I was recently perusing the Sci-Fi section of the local used book store it was with great excitement that I came across The Robot Brains by Sydney J. Bounds published in 1967. The cover features a giant robot with claws, clearly chasing a terrified human across a barren landscape. The text above the title ominously declares, “Monster brains dominate the Earth and destroy man’s only hope for survival”. HELL YES. I thought I was about to be treated to some late 60’s robot apocalypse fiction.

I could not have been more wrong.

I am not sure what the statute of limitations is on spoilers, but I am about to drop some 44-year-old spoilers, so consider this your warning.

Here are a few of the things you will find in The Robot Brains:

  • Carnies
  • A weapon referred to as “The Decapitator”
  • Mass decapitations of leading research scientists (see above)
  • Hordes of dog-sized carnivorous insects
  • Radioactive clouds
  • An investigative consultation with Madame Rosita the fortune teller
  • Time travel
  • Paradox-free time travel MURDER
  • Giantesses that are 9 feet tall, vacuous, blond, and identical
  • Super intelligent, angry dwarfs with enormous heads who can teleport at will; their leader is named Waldo
  • Planet-wide sonic weaponry
  • A hydroponic jungle chase scene
  • Oh, and a love interest between one of the protagonists and one of the carnies.

Anything in this list would have been appropriate and exciting to use in the title, but as you may have noticed, this list does not include robots. THERE ARE NO ROBOTS IN THIS BOOK.

Well, that is not entirely true; on page 129 we are introduced to the only robots in the story. It should be noted that these robots have almost zero impact or relevance to the plot of the story at all.

“The flashing lights rushed nearer, and he saw that they came from the domes of two machines. The size of small cars, circular in shape, they traveled on tractor belts. The beams came from revolving beacons that scanned the desert through three hundred and sixty degrees.”

“He banged on one and shouted: “Anyone at home?” There was no answer and he knew then that the things were robots. Robots! Lifeless automatons directed by remote control – from where? And by whom?”

Yes – the first time the word robot is used is 2/3 of the way through the story and is used to refer to remote controlled machines with absolutely no intelligence of their own. These machines are mentioned a few more pages in the story, but then are never seen again. Technically, I guess I should say that there are no robots of significance in this book, but considering the title has the word robot in it, I am going to stick with my initial reaction that there are no robots in this book.

Since my vision of apocalyptic robot mayhem has been dashed, what is left when we are faced with the actual plot of The Robot Brains?

Research scientists are being decapitated by a maniac killer! The basic premise of the story is that a group of super smart dwarfs called The Brains from the future have come back in time to kill any and all research scientists who are advancing human knowledge. The stated reason behind this appears to be some sort of attempt to shake off the choke hold of The Watchers, who are using their superior technology to keep The Brains down. The Brains have been travelling undercover in the present day as a side show act in the fair. In fact, it is noted early on that the recent rash of murders only happens when the Burkholder Fair is in town. This makes absolutely no sense when we discover later on that these dwarfs possess the ability to teleport anywhere they want. Once The Brains are outed, they start a decapitation spree across the world that would make the Committee of Public Safety proud. There is lots of time travel back and forth, a ton of decapitations, post apocalyptic visions, and not a whole lot of robots.

There is also no regard whatsoever for chronological continuity problems. The Brains plan on killing all scientists from the past as a means for eliminating their adversaries. However, killing off hundreds and thousands of the smartest people of the day has no visible effect on the future. Perhaps the universes split, or perhaps it was just a bad idea. The Brains also never stop to consider that perhaps killing off their ancestors might be bad for them.

In retrospect, I believe that the title of this book should have just been The Brains and perhaps the cover could have depicted the terrified human running from dwarfs with “The Decapitator”. Maybe robots were the zombies and vampires of 1967 and simply including them in your book title alone would increase sales and interest. I know it fooled me.

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Comments
  1. Jeff Holland says:

    I’m so torn.

    On the one hand, yes – this is a flagrant misuse of “robot brains” in the title and I totally see your point, but…on the other hand…you listed 13 things that, I don’t know how they can’t make a mind-blowing story when crammed all together.

    Perhaps a moratorium is needed on the “cramming a bunch of genre shit together and seeing if it’s awesome” philosophy. Because every time I see it I get way too excited.

    (Looking at you, “Sucker Punch.”)

  2. Ryan Crutchfield says:

    I can assure you it is not as great as it sounds. There were so many things in the story that I didn’t even remember them all at the time (for example, there is a present day character named the Khan who plans to take the world hostage with rockets filled with poison gas). I will admit though that I couldn’t stop reading the story; the insanity was like a train wreck I could not look away from.

    I never made that link and now you have me worried about Sucker Punch. It is either going to be awesome or horrific.

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