Back in Junior High School I had found a book called “The Martian Chronicles”. It was a series of short stories chronicling humanity’s time on Mars. From their initial landing up until their last moments. Without giving too much away a war comes to Earth. The short story “There Will Come Soft Rain” gave an idea of Earth’s situation and it was a bleak one. The stories in this book helped me understand that a lot of science fiction stories fill you with melancholy. I remember a lot of those stories, but this story, although terribly depressing, was one of my favorites.
It starts off describing a future home where everything is automated. It comes off as a perfect home for a perfect family. Breakfast is made for a family. Morning announcements for them to hear. The weather and advice for proper attire is given. The garage door is opened to allow the car out. Except the house is empty.
“Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one o’clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one!
But no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft thread of rubber heels. It was raining outside. The weather box on the front door sang quietly: “Rain, rain, go away; rubbers, raincoats for today…” And the rain tapped on the empty house, echoing.”
As the story progresses the reader begins to learn the house is empty and is left with the question, where is the family? It does not take long before being told what happened to the world of this house.
The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.”
The entire family as well as the city the house is located in were annihilated by nuclear war. Only the house was left standing. After this revelation, an understanding is reached. This story is about the actions of a house long after its masters have disappeared. It shows how simple machines that are programmed to do one thing will continue performing their duties without caring if it has anyone to serve. That to me is depressing. The destruction of the human race does not matter because lets face it, it was bound to happen. Its the persistence of these machines to continue doing their duties even when it does not matter. Do these robots realize that what they are doing is redundant, but are unable to stop because that’s the only thing they know how?
This is a theme that has been present in a lot of science fiction. Its also one of the most saddening themes. In the movie AI there is a robot boy who is as real as a boy can get. Wanting a mother that will love him, being able to get scared and feel love for others. That movie is another sad movie I cannot bring myself to watch again, but the ending always stuck with me. Technically it has a happy ending, but that is not how I saw it. Spoilers for those who have not seen it. In his pursuit to become a real boy, the robot travels to the bottom of the ocean in order to find the fairy that will let him become real. He finds her, but is unable to understand that she is a statue. He wishes to her to become a real boy over and over in hope that she will grant him his wish, but it never happens. He spends his entire lifespan in that submarine wishing that he would be real so he could finally be with his mother. By all definitions this robot was a sentient being, but as a machine he spent his whole life doing one thing, never deviating. Sure he is much more complex than the mice in the book, but it was inability to do anything else that depresses me. Sure the movie technically ends happily, but I did not see it that way. The robot bear that was his companion from the beginning is with him at the end as well. As the robot boy finally achieves happiness and drifts off to his eternal slumber he is left alone, unable to die. Where was his happy ending? He did not have one as he was just a robot destined be a teddy bear. I might have gone off topic with the bear, but watching him wonder what next was just too hard to watch.
End of the spoilers for AI. Start of spoilers for Wall-E. In the movie the Earth has been severely polluted, driving all humans off the world, leaving behind robots that will clean up their mess. We don’t see this part of the movie, joining thousands of years later after all those robots have fallen into disrepair. Instead we are introduced to Wall-E, one of the robots left to clean the Earth. Sure Pixar has the skill to make his tale a cute and lovable one, but that changes when you put some thought into his story. Wall-E has been on Earth a long time by himself. His only purpose was to clean the pollution. A job he happily carried out by himself for thousands of years. Luckily Wall-E managed to obtain sentience and make his time on Earth a nice experience, but the fact is that all that time he would perform the duty he was assigned to do, clean the pollution. It did not matter who he was doing it for because its what he was built to do. If Eva never came Wall-E would have spent the rest of eternity performing the same routine.
This theme is one that manages to depress me, but is also one that I love. It helps me become emotionally involved in the story as I cannot possibly fathom the lives of these machines as they perform the same thing over and over. They don’t do it to serve their humans masters, they do it because they don’t know how to do anything else.