Monday, June 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1013- Helena Bell: Robot

It eats tiny particles of your flesh.
Thanks to Loni at The Eye of Loni's Storm for pointing out Helena Bell's brilliant sci-fi story "Robot" last week. While she had me hooked on the premise alone, what she hadn't mentioned, to my pleasant surprise, is that the story is told in the 2nd person. You are the robot. You are, throughout the course of the entire story, given instructions from a woman to whom you have become a personal servant.

For all of the this, the story is not yours. It is the narrator's. It is one of the best voices in a short story I have come across in some time. There's such loneliness and bitterness in the way she gives instructions, simultaneously bossy and needy, that her story is almost told entirely through tone. Of course the details help as well, and those details tell of a woman who is clearly nearing the end of her life. Oh, and the robot eats "the diseases out of [her] flesh."

It's certainly a difficult story to walk away from. The analogy, if that is what it is, seems to just hover there waiting to be grasped. I suspect there are many ways to interpret it. Loni said it was about the "slow progression toward death." That makes sense to me. I also think it could be someone haunted by the realization that she has not become the woman she set out to become. In my interpretation, the robot could represent that idealized self, now coming back to haunt and "consume" her.

It's a compelling story in any case.


Loni said...

I didn't even think about the POV of the story. Honestly, most of the time I don't really think about it, unless it disturbs my reading of the story. I'm so glad you liked it and I like your interpretation.

This week I read another story that had a bit of a flesh and death factor.

Maybe my next story should not be so death oriented...

Eric P said...

As a prose poem, it has some promise.

As an actual SF story, I thought it basically failed on all levels. A medical(?) robot that apparently eats flesh, rather than cauterizes it? Seems a pretty odd thing to have developed in the first place. I also thought it was sloppy writing when the speaker says she will plug it in and then it will power the house. What does that even mean? Generally, I didn't think very highly of it.