The Complete Roderick

Posted by : atcampbell | On : October 6, 2008

The Complete Roderick by John Sladek

This meeting at the North Village Library drew thirteen participants. Our topic was The Complete Roderick, a classic robot book by ArmadilloCon 6 Guest of Honor John Sladek. The book was original published in two volumes: Roderick (1980) and Roderick at Random (1983). Five of us had read Sladek before. Ten of us started the book. Seven finished the first part (the novel Roderick) and three finished the whole thing. Four of us had read this work many years ago.

Many in the group enjoyed the book for its humor and social satire.  It worked well as a commentary on the culture of the late 70s/early 80s and as a parody of the literary fiction being published at the time. We appreciated Sladek’s clever prose and stream-of-consciousness storytelling approach. Those of us who’d attended graduate school appreciated the crazy goings-on at the university in the book. One person detected a strong message of “distrust authority.”

The scenes of Roderick’s development and the reactions of those who observed him were interesting.  It was curious how people treated Roderick differently as his appearance changed. Many of us enjoyed reading about Roderick as a child robot. One person liked the discussions of Roderick’s soul. Another felt the book was a subtle attack on Asimov.

One reader simply loved the book. He liked the sequence with Roderick at a Catholic school. He appreciated the use of the 3 Laws of Robotics. He felt the whole book is a critique of Artificial Intelligence.  If a machine reaches intelligence, why not join a rock band?

Those who tried to read the book strictly as a hard sf novel were disappointed. Many from this contingent are active in the Austin Robot Group. One person felt that the technology was so dated that it hurt the story. He found it unbelievable that a robot could be around for 30 years and not be obsolete without regular upgrades. He felt that the title character, the robot Roderick, was clearly sentient, and wished the author had explored this idea more. Another complained that the book was a tedious slog, and gave up after about 100 pages. He did not find it believable when the robot did little boy things, and did not like any of the characters.

A few people felt that the book did not really have a story to tell. One person thought the book was a framework for the author’s pet peeves. Clearly some passages were parodies, but she did not know the subjects of the parodies. This group felt that there were too many characters and plot threads, and the story was confusing.

Overall it was an interesting discussion full of diverse opinions. We would recommend the book to people who like literary sf and who want to read about the culture of the 70s and 80s. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Fuddrucker’s.

–A. T. Campbell, III