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Robot Wisdom by Alfred Bester


His senses uncrossed in the ivory-and-gold star chamber of Castle Presteign. Sight became sight and he saw the high mirrors and stained glass windows, the gold-tooled library with an android librarian on the library ladder. Sound became sound and he heard the android secretary tapping the manual beadrecorder at the Louis Quinze desk. Taste became taste as he sipped the cognac that the robot bartender handed him.

He knew he was at bay, faced with the decision of his life. He ignored his enemies
and examined the perpetual beam carved in the robot face of the bartender, the classic
Irish grin.

“Thank you,” Foyle said.

“My pleasure, sir,” the robot replied and awaited its next cue.

“Nice day,” Foyle remarked.

“Always a lovely day somewhere, sir,” the robot beamed.

“Awful day,” Foyle said.

“Always a lovely day somewhere, sir,” the robot responded.

“Day,” Foyle said.

“Always a lovely day somewhere, sir,” the robot said.

Foyle turned to the others. “That’s me,” he said, motioning to the robot.

“That’s all of us. We prattle about free will, but we’re nothing but response…
a mechanical reaction in prescribed grooves. So.. – here I am, here I am, waiting to
respond. Press the buttons and I’ll jump.” He aped the canned voice of the robot. “My
pleasure to serve, sir.”

“… Press the button and watch the robot jump. But I’m not a robot. I’m a freak of the universe… a thinking animal… and I’m trying to see my way clear through this morass. Am I to turn Pyr E over to the world and let it destroy itself? Am I to teach the world how to space-jaunte and let us spread our freak show from galaxy to galaxy through all the universe? What’s the answer?”

The bartender robot hurled its mixing glass across the room with a resounding crash.

“The answer is yes,” the robot said, quite distinctly.

“What?” Foyle asked, taken aback.

“The answer to your question is yes.”

“Thank you,” Foyle said.

“My pleasure, sir,” the robot responded. “A man is a member of society first, and an individual second. You must go along with society, whether it chooses destruction or not.”

“Completely haywire,” Dagenham said impatiently. “Switch it off, Presteign.”

“Wait,” Foyle commanded. He looked at the beaming grin engraved in the steel robot face. “But society can be so stupid. So confused. You’ve witnessed this conference.”

“Yes, sir, but you must teach, not dictate. You must teach society.”

“Why? Why reach out to the stars and galaxies? What for?”

“Because you’re alive, sir. You might as well ask: Why is life? Don’t ask about it. Live it.”

“Quite mad,” Dagenham muttered.

“But fascinating,” Y’ang Yeovil murmured.

“There’s got to be more to life than just living,” Foyle said to the robot.

“Then find it for yourself, sir. Don’t ask the world to stop moving because you have doubts.”

“Why can’t we all move forward together?”

“Because you’re all different. You’re not lemmings. Some must lead, and hope that the rest will follow.”

“Who leads?”

“The men who must… driven men, compelled men.”

“Freak men.”

“You’re all freaks, sir. But you always have been freaks. Life is a freak. That’s its hope and glory.”

“Thank you very much.”

“My pleasure, sir.”

“You’ve saved the day.”

“Always a lovely day somewhere, sir,” the robot beamed. Then it fizzed, jangled, and collapsed.

From The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Walter Sobchak August 7, 2019, 3:20 PM

    An under appreciated classic. Perhaps the best work of fiction post WWII.

  • Sam L. August 8, 2019, 10:34 AM

    I’m pretty sure I’ve read the book, but far too long ago for me to be certain. And my books are in storage, so I can’t look for it.

  • John the River August 8, 2019, 12:21 PM

    All my books are in the house that burned down…
    … but I must get another copy of that (in hardcopy, because with Kindle the ‘badthink’ is being erased) and read it again.

  • Eskyman August 8, 2019, 5:20 PM

    When I saw the title on this piece, at first I was overcome with joy, as I have never read “Robot Wisdom” by Alfred Bester; then I realized it was an excerpt from The Stars My Destination, which I’ve only read a couple of dozen times, and not something new to me. Oh well!

    That is indeed a masterpiece, and has relevance to many things today; particularly our new Religion of Scientism, which has white-coated High Priests who together form a Consensus of Scientists; “Quant Suff!” they chant in unison, while brandishing beakers and showing charts with hockey-stick graphs. It’s all very scientific! Anyone who doesn’t buy into this fantasy is a “denier,” so we know what we can’t say. Sigh.

    As to Kindle e-books and the vanishing act that digital books are prone to, like happened to all the Microsoft e-books which are now etherized, I’ve found a solution: I use Calibre E-Book Management, which allows me to save a copy of my digital media on my own HDD; when I buy something from the Kindle Store, I use an older copy of Kindle for PC, version 1.17.1, which lets me save my .mobi files without DRM. Then I copy that into Calibre, where I can read it directly or send it to my phone or tablet. Here’s the link to Calibre:

    https://calibre-ebook.com/