Roderick/Roderick at Random Analysis

John Sladek

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Roderick is a robot manufactured at the University of Minnetonka at a time when research into artificial intelligence has been outlawed. The opening chapters depict the efforts of Dr. Lee Fong, the director of the project, to gain funding for his work from the university following withdrawal of his federal funding, which turns out to have been secret and illegal. Meanwhile, two forces threaten Roderick. The government-run Orinoco Institute and a loathsome industrialist named Kratt are both intent on destroying the robot and its creators.

To prevent destruction of the robot, the inventors first send Roderick to Hank and Inca Dinks, who ignore him and allow him to begin a lifelong fascination with television. He is then sent to an older couple, Ma and Pa Woods of Newer, Nebraska, who try to raise him more or less as a human child. Unfortunately, a wandering band of gypsies kidnaps Roderick from his front yard. They sell the robot to Kratt, who puts Roderick to work telling fortunes in a carnival. He is rescued from this situation, however, and returned to the Woodses.

Back home, Roderick enters public school. Despite his appearance, Roderick is treated as a strange and troublesome human child. His classmates bully him, and his teachers diagnose him as mentally unbalanced. He is expelled, but not before he accidentally gains access to the school’s computer and alters both his record and that of a particularly vile instructor. He is then sent to a Catholic school, where he engages a troubled priest in difficult discussions on the nature of being human. In the meantime, Pa Woods has been altering Roderick’s appearance to make him look more...

(The entire section is 679 words.)