Geoff Ryman's short story, "Warmth," presents the question of what love is.
The main character of the story is Clancy, a young boy (at the story's beginning) whose mother tries to make him all he can be—though she seems to do this more for herself than for him.
Booker, Clancy's mother, has decided that she can guarantee the kind of adult he will be. She shuts him away inside their home with only a robot to care for him. She drastically limits his socialization. However, just because Booker is Clancy's mother does not mean she is good for him. Her desire to make him into the person she wants him to be is detrimental to the boy's mental and emotional health.
Everything in Clancy's life comes from the care he receives from BETsi, their robot. She raises him, helps him manage his fear, make friends, and even rebel a little. When his mother works, BETsi is there. When his mother has a breakdown, BETsi stays with Clancy for weeks when no one knows where his mother is. BETsi even protects him when burglars break into their home.
Booker and the representative for the robot contractor see BETsi as a mere machine. For Clancy, this could never be true. BETsi has helped Clancy understand himself and his place in the world. She has provided him with coping mechanisms. Clancy is angry that his mother does not understand that BETsi is more than a machine. However, despite his deep fondness for BETsi, Clancy also fails to fully understand her—specifically, BETsi's capacity to love.
The story is entitled, "Warmth," and Clancy has clear ideas about "warmth." He learns early that everyone wants to be loved.
So, I said, tell me about the games.
And that was the right thing to do. At five...I started to listen, because the kids could at least tell me about video games. They could get puffed up and important, and I would seep envy, which must have been satisfying for them.
It seems as if BETsi's coaching has worked.
"What you may not know," she told me, "is that you have a natural warmth that attracts people."
As Clancy gets older, he remembers the things BETsi has taught him. His ability to make people feel his warmth helps him succeed. Struggling to connect with clients, he remembers her comment and...
...I go in...and by the end of the convention we're laughing and shaking hands...
In this way, ironically, Clancy is like BETsi. He can see Booker does not have the "warmth"—but BETsi does.
When Clancy is in college, Booker sells BETsi. He is furious! Booker says:
It's just a machine, Clancy. I mean, it wasn't as if she was a member of the family or anything.
First of all, Booker has no concept of family; and Clancy knows that his mother has no understanding of how vital BETsi was to him:
"You," I said, "have sold the only real mother I have ever had."
Clancy tracks BETsi down, but she is now with new child, and does not recognize him. However, her impact on his life never fades.
Interestingly, we find that Clancy is (in some ways) as misguided as his mother. He knows love is important, but doesn't recognize BETsi's capacity to love:
It is necessary to be loved. I'm not sentimental: I don't think a computer loved me. But I was hugged, I was noticed, I was cared for. I was made to feel that I was important, special, at least to something...
To the best of BETsi's ability, she did love Clancy. Her every action made him feel loved. He hopes that in Heaven he might find that sense of BETsi's love—in "that wiped disk."