When Harlie Was One Essay - Critical Essays

Jerrold David Friedman


Literary precedents for stories about artificial intelligence can be found throughout modern science fiction. David Gerrold pays homage to one when Auberson jokingly makes reference to the devious HAL 9000, from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Other examples include Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (1950), D. F. Jones’s Colossus (1966), and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

Unlike some of his literary predecessors, the self-aware computer HARLIE is not at all sinister. He is well mannered and very likable, with the innocence of an eight-year-old. He experiences anxiety concerning his personal relationships and concern about his continued existence. This is what adds tension to the story. The reader cannot help feeling the threat of HARLIE’s unjust termination by the heartless Elzer and Dorne.

The story is told from the point of view of its principal human figure, Auberson. Although the plot involves the “coming of age” of HARLIE, it also concerns the education of Auberson, for he matures as well. The story details Auberson’s efforts to determine how “grown up” HARLIE has become, but much of the plot also recounts both Auberson’s efforts to understand love (through dialogue with HARLIE and Auberson’s interest in Annie) and his efforts to convince the board that shutting down HARLIE would amount to murder.

Although Auberson’s character is a...

(The entire section is 407 words.)