Thursday, February 25, 2016

"You Are the Man"

"Robots Can't Lie."
By Robert Leslie Bellem (1902-68).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, July 1941.
Reprinted in Science Fiction Adventure Classics, May 1972.
Short short story (9 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) (includes an entertaining brief author autobiography).
"There was one thing about robot slaves; they couldn't tell a lie—yet this one did, and put Tim Kermit in a murder cell."
The mutilated body of Sylvia Gaynor, wife of Geoffrey Gaynor, president of General Robots, Inc., is found in their home, killed by a radium gun. ("A person hit with a Q-bolt," we're told, "is not very nice to look at since the flesh struck by the bolt is severely disrupted and burned.")

The police are confident they have their murderer: Tim Kermit, "a minor telecast executive" who works for the National network, but Kermit vociferously denies it. Their confidence arises from having an eyewitness to the crime, in this case a servant robot, and as everybody knows, it's incapable of telling a fib:
. . . because of the tamper-proof nature of the [robot's memory] mechanism, it is impossible for the slightest inaccuracy to slip into a [memory] playback. In brief, a robot simply can not lie. It records whatever it "sees" and repeats whatever it records.
There's a dramatic confrontation between the robot and Kermit:
A whirring hum emanated from the automaton's motivity center, indicating that it was in functional condition. Its polished viso lenses surveyed Kermit for a dispassionate instant; then, ominously, it leveled an accusing metal finger at him and said: "You are the man.  . . . You smashed the other robot, then blasted my lady's body with a Q-gun. You are the man."  . . . He saw himself on trial for his life, saw this metallic monster in the witness box, its perjured testimony accepted as truth because it was axiomatic that an automaton could not tell a lie . . . "But this one's lying!" Kermit bellowed . . .
Even Dutton, Kermit's boss, indicates his doubts: "Robots can't lie, Tim!" True enough, Kermit concedes, but they do have one flaw that nobody's thought of: "They can be fooled."
Comments: An amusingly off-kilter little (not fair play) sci-fi mystery stylistically marred by some purple patches, mostly involving the protagonist's girlfriend: "Loreen's hand flew to her mouth." - "I shan't leave you, Tim. Ever." - "Tim! Oh-h-h, Tim, darling!" - and so forth, not to mention someone getting "trickled" into making a move.

For more about robots, some of which tell the truth, others that tell lies, and a few that commit murder:
~ At the Scene of the Crime HERE.
~ The Rap Sheet HERE.
~ The highly frangible "Laws" of Robotics HERE.
~ Four ONTOS encounters with robocritters HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

There's a plenty of information about uberpulpster Robert Leslie Bellem on the World Wide Web:
- Wikipedia HERE - FictionMags HERE - Two exhaustive bibliographies HERE and HERE - The Thrilling Detective HERE - The ISFDb HERE - The IMDb HERE.

The bottom line: "R-4 got stuck on the First Law. 'Can anyone really protect a human being from all harm whatever?' it thought. 'No. It is inevitable that all humans must be injured, contract illnesses and ultimately die. The future can only be averted for humans who are already dead. Ergo . . .' It took a dozen cops to subdue R-4, after his blood orgy in a department store (83 dead, none injured)."
John Sladek

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