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By Leo Tolstoy Ben H. Winters
QUIRK BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Quirk Productions, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFUNCTIONING ROBOTS are all alike; every malfunctioning robot malfunctions in its own way.
Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys' house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with the French girl who had been a mécanicienne in their family, charged with the maintenance of the household's Class I and II robots. Stunned and horrified by such a discovery, the wife had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the robots in the household were terribly affected by it. The Class IIIs were keenly aware of their respective masters' discomfort, and the Class IIs sensed in their rudimentary fashion that there was no logic in their being agglomerated together, and that any stray decoms, junkering in a shed at the Vladivostok R.P.F., had more in common with one another than they, the servomechanisms in the household of the Oblonskys.
The wife did not leave her own room: the husband had not been at home for three days. The II/Governess/D145, its instruction circuits pitifully mistuned, for three days taught the Oblonsky children in Armenian instead of French. The usually reliable II/Footman/C(c)43 loudly announced nonexistent visitors at all hours of the day and night. The children ran wild all over the house. A II/Coachman/47-T drove a sledge directly through the heavy wood of the front doors, destroying a I/Hourprotector/14 that had been a prized possession of Oblonsky's Father.
Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky-Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world-woke at eight o'clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom, but within the oxygen-tempered Class I comfort unit in his study. He woke as usual to the clangorous thumpthumthump of booted robot feet crushing through the snow, as a regiment of 77s tromped in lockstep along the avenues outside.
Our tireless protectors, he thought pleasantly, and uttered a blessing over the Ministry as he turned over his stout, well-cared-for person, as though to sink into a long sleep again. He vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it: but all at once he jumped up, banging his rotund forehead against the glass ceiling of the I/Comfort/6, and opened his eyes.
He suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife's room, but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he knitted his brows.
Small Stiva, Stepan Arkadyich's Class III companion robot, clomped happily into the mona on his short piston-actuated legs, carrying his master's boots and a telegram. Stiva, as yet unprepared to undertake the day's obligations, bid his Class III come a bit closer, and then swiftly pressed three buttons below the rectangular screen centered in Small Stiva's midsection. He sat back glumly in the I/Comfort/6, while every detail of his quarrel with his wife was displayed on Small Stiva's monitor, illuminating the hopelessness of Stiva's position and, worst of all, his own fault.
"Yes, she won't forgive me, and she can't forgive me," Stepan Arkadvich moaned when the Memory ended. Small Stiva made a consoling chirp and piped, "Now, master: She might forgive you."
Stiva waved off the words of consolation. "The most awful thing about it is that it's all my fault-all my fault, though I'm not to blame. That's the point of the whole situation."
"Quite right," Small Stiva agreed.
"Oh, oh, oh!" Stiva moaned in despair, while Small Stiva motored closer, angled his small, squattish frame 35 degrees forward at the midsection, and rubbed his domed head in a catlike gesture against his master's belly. Stepan Arkadyich then re-cued the Memory on the monitor and stared desolately at the most unpleasant part: the first minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from the theater, with a huge pear in his hand for his wife, he had found his wife in her bedroom viewing the unlucky communiqué that revealed everything.
She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, supervising the mécaniciennes, limited in her ideas, had been sitting perfectly still while the incriminating communiqué played on the monitor of her Class III, Dolichka, and looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation. Dolichka, despite the rounded simplicity of her forms, appeared equally distraught, and her perfectly circular peach-colored eyes glowed fiercely from her ovoid silver faceplate.
"What's this?" Dolly asked, gesturing wildly toward the images displayed upon Dolichka's midsection.
Stepan Arkadyich, as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in which he had met his wife's words. What happened to him at that instant happens to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed toward his wife by the discovery of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even-anything would have been better than what he did do-his face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan Arkadyich, who from his work at the Ministry understood the simple science of motor response)-utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile. Still worse, Small Stiva emitted a nervous, high-pitched series of chirps, clearly indicating a guilty thought-string.
Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and rushed out of the room, Dolichka springing pneumatically along behind her. Since then, Dolly had refused to see her husband.
"But what's to be done? What's to be done?" he said to Small Stiva in despair, but the little Class III had no answer.
Chapter TwoSTEPAN ARKADYICH was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He wasn't the type to tell small, self-consoling lies to his Class III, and Small Stiva was programmed to console, but not to offer or confirm dishonest impressions. So Stiva was incapable of pretending that he repented of his conduct, either to himself or to his Class III. He could not at this date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, and only a year younger than himself. All he repented of was that he had not succeeded better in hiding it from his wife. But he felt all the difficulty of his position and was sorry for his wife, his children, and himself. Possibly he might have managed to conceal his sins better from his wife if he had anticipated that the knowledge of them would have had such an effect on her. He had vaguely conceived that his wife must long ago have suspected him of being unfaithful to her, and shut her eyes to the fact. He had even supposed that she, a worn-out woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way remarkable or interesting, merely a good mother, ought from a sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. It had turned out quite the other way.
He idly activated the Galena Box, praying the gentle fluttering of the Class I device's thinly hammered groznium panels would have their usual salutary effect on his disposition.
"Oh, it's awful!" said Stepan Arkadyich to Small Stiva, who echoed him, chirping "Awful awful awful" from his Vox-Em, but neither could think of anything to be done. "And how well things were going up till now!"
"How well you got on," noted the Class III, falling into his familiar role as comforter and confidant.
"She was contented and happy in her children!"
"You never interfered with her in anything!"
"I let her manage the children and the Is and IIs just as she liked. It's true it's bad her having been a mécanicienne in our own house."
"Yes, bad. Very very very very bad!"
"There's something common, vulgar, in flirting with one's mécanicienne, in getting the grease-oil on one's cuffs, as it is said. Oh-but what a mécanicienne!" Responding unhesitatingly to his master's implied request, Small Stiva cued his monitor with a flattering Memory of Mlle Roland: her roguish black eyes; her smile; her figure slyly making itself known within her silver jumpsuit.
Stiva sighed, and Small Stiva sighed with him, and in unison they murmured, "But what is to be done?"
Small Stiva had a relatively advanced empathetic and communicative function, compared for instance to Dolly's Class III, Dolichka, whose Vox-Em could barely produce sentences-but on the other hand, she had more advanced use of her end-effectors. Small Stiva's stubby midtorso appendages were several clicks short of full phalangeal function. His short legs worked adequately on their pistons, but Stiva's Class III was for all intents and purposes a very clever little torso and head. In moments of pique or jovial teasing, Stiva called him his little bustling samovar.
Drawing a deep breath of air into his broad, bare chest, Stepan Arkadvich walked to the window with his usual confident step, turning out his feet that carried his full frame so easily. He pulled up the blind and signaled Small Stiva to bring him his clothes and boots and activate the II/Sartorial/943. The Class II automaton motored to life, a pair of long, flat "arms" unfolding and extending forward from the sides of its hatbox-sized body as it wheeled over to Stiva on its thick treads. As Stiva settled into his comfortable armchair and presented his face and neck, one of the Class II's end-effectors grew thick with shaving cream, and from the other flicked forth a gleaming silver straight razor.
As the II/Sartorial/943 began carefully lathering Stepan Arkadvich's cheeks and jowls, Small Stiva emitted a series of three sharp pings: A communiqué was arriving. Stiva gestured for his little beloved-companion to play it, and soon his face brightened.
"My sister Anna Arkadyevna will be here tomorrow," he said, checking for a minute the efficient end-effector of the II/Sartorial/943 cutting a pink path through his long, curly whiskers.
As the communiqué from Anna Arkadyevna concluded, Small Stiva's whole frontal display lit up brightly, and his gleaming dome of a head spun rapidly around atop his little body. He, like his master, realized the significance of this arrival-that is, that Anna Arkadyevna, the sister Stiva was so fond of, might bring about a reconciliation between husband and wife.
"Alone, or with her husband?" the Class III required.
As he opened his mouth to answer, the II/Sartorial/943 let out a shriek as loud and piercing as a boiling kettle and sank the razor end-effector deeply into Stiva's top lip, causing him to jerk backward and yelp.
"Ah! Ah!" he shouted in genuine pain, hot blood streaming from the wound into his mouth and down his neck. The Class II screeched again, deafeningly, its razor-tipped end-effector drawn back for a second slash. Stepan Arkadyich raised his hands feebly before his face, trying to protect his eyes, and to wave away the noxious cloud of sweet perfume the II/Sartorial/943 was spraying from the Third Bay at the base of its midsection. The Class II swept its blood-smeared end-effector directly at Stepan Arkadyich's plump neck, nicking his Adam's apple and missing the carotid artery by a matter of inches.
Stepan Arkadyich hollered wildly over the din of the Class II's feverish beeping. "The thing is maltuned! It's become maleficent! Small Stiva!"
But Small Stiva, programmed in keeping with the Iron Laws to defend his master even past the point of his own destruction, was already in action. The loyal Class III bent forward at a 45-degree angle and launched himself like a little cannonball directly into the black metal frame of the malfunctioning robot. The II/Sartorial/943 was knocked off its treads and thrown across the room, where it smashed against the glass top of the comfort unit.
"Bravo, little samovar," said Stepan Arkadyich through his wadded handkerchief, which he had stuffed up against his lip in a half-successful effort to staunch the crimson flow from his face.
The Class II's horrid beeping had not yet ceased, and the malfunctioning of the sartorial unit was more dire than Stepan Arkadyich had realized. It righted itself and shot back across the floor with demonic energy, whirling gyroscopically as it came, firing hot, thick globs of shaving cream toward Stepan Arkadyich's eyes, its straight-razored end-effector swinging in wild, deadly circles. Stepan Arkadyich cowered back into the corner, his arms flung up helplessly before him.
Small Stiva, faster and more complex in his functioning than the smartest of Class IIs, which this simple household sartorial certainly was not, easily intercepted the smaller machine. Holding it at arm's length with one midtorso effector, Small Stiva flung himself open at the torso, revealing the intensely hot groznium furnace that burned within him. Then, suddenly, he let go of the II/Sartorial/943 and let the thing fling itself forward-the errant Class II flew into the torso furnace, and Small Stiva clanged the door shut behind it.
"My Lord. I have never seen such a severe maltuning in a Class II, to so wantonly contravene the Iron Laws," mused Stepan Arkadyich, dabbing more blood from his gashed lip with his shirttail. "I am lucky, as ever, that you were here, mon petit ami."
Small Stiva whistled proudly and stoked his groznium core for one hot instant-and from within him came the hiss and pop of the II/Sartorial/943's polymers disintegrating. The casings and trim would be destroyed, but the machine's thousands of groznium parts, indestructible and reusable, would, by a remarkable process, be "internalized" into Small Stiva's own biomechanical infrastructure.
Stepan Arkadyich struggled to his feet and was casting about for a fresh shirt when Dolichka whirred officiously into the room.
On her monitor was displayed a simple message: "Darya Alexandrovna is going away." After Stiva had read it glumly and nodded, Dolichka pivoted on her thick metal legs and whirred out. Stepan Arkadyich was silent a minute. Then a good-humored and rather pitiful smile showed itself on his handsome face.
"Eh, Small Stiva?" he said, shaking his head.
The android turned his head all the way around, flashed a cheerful red from within his frontal display, and piped, "Worry not, master For you, all things will turn out right."
With a midbody effector he was holding up Stepan Arkadyich's fresh shirt like a horse's collar, and blowing off some invisible speck with a burst of air from his Third Bay, he slipped it over the body of his master.
Chapter ThreeSTEPAN ARKADYICH, IN SPITE OF his unhappiness and his natural irritation at the sacrifice of a particularly good household Class II, walked with a slight swing of each leg into the dining-room, where coffee was already waiting for him, piping hot from the I/Samovar/1(8).
Sipping his coffee, he activated Small Stiva's monitor to display the first of several business-related communiqués he had to review. One was very unpleasant, from a merchant who was buying a small but valuable patch of groznium-rich soil on his wife's property. To sell this property was absolutely essential: but at present, until he was reconciled with his wife, the subject could not be discussed. The most unpleasant thing of all was that his pecuniary interest should in this way enter into the question of his reconciliation with his wife. And the idea that he might be led on by his interests, that he might sock a reconciliation with his wife on account of the sale of the land-that idea hurt him.
When he had finished viewing his communiqués, Stepan Arkadyich dismissed Small Stiva, enjoyed a sip of coffee, and allowed the morning news feed to wash over him.
Stepan Arkadyich took a liberal feed, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. With the liberal party and his liberal feed, Stepan Arkadyich held that marriage is an institution quite out of date, and that it needs reconstruction; that religion is only a curb to keep in check the barbarous classes of the people; that the progress of technology was too slow, especially in the realm of Class III vocalization and action/reaction; and that there could be no mercy shown the terrorists and assassins of UnConSciya-even though it was that very technological progress those terrorists claimed to be fighting for.
Excerpted from Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Ben H. Winters Copyright © 2010 by Quirk Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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One thing I have learned, since writing a book called Bedbugs, is that when you write a book called Bedbugs, people are very curious whether you've ever had bedbugs.
It's funny, because I once wrote a book called Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and nobody asked whether I'd had sea monsters.
Well, the answer is no, I've never had either, thank the Lord.
The other main difference between this current book and that old one (and my other so-called "mash-up" novel, Android Karenina) is that this one takes its genre responsibilities more seriously. Whereas Sea Monsters and Android were basically parodies, attempts to humorously and interestingly blend "classic" works of literature with new genre elements, Bedbugs is an honest attempt to scare and chill the reader. No one was supposed to be seriously afraid of the giant mutant lobsters that rampage through my version of Jane Austen, but you are definitely meant to be afraid of the creepy crawlers I've unleashed this time around.
Horror novelists (and filmmakers) have a lot of different ways they try to keep you up all night. Here were three of my strategies, in Bedbugs:
1. Pick the right subject matter.
Half my work was done before I started, because so many people are already so freaked out by bedbugs.
In my humble opinion, truly spooky books and films take as their subjects things that have a pre-existing inherent scariness. Sharks, giant dogs, child-like dolls stuffed in the backs of closets, a row of birds on a telephone wire. People already suspect that the soft-spoken dude checking them into their motel at three a.m. is a knife-wielding lunatic, so Hitchcock just has to press the right buttons.
I am honored that Bedbugs has been compared here and there to Rosemary's Baby, and I just like to point out that that books takes a process that is often the locus of considerable anxiety (i.e. pregnancy) and amplifies those anxieties until they enter the realm of true fear.
2. Live in the mundane and day-to-day.
Especially in the early pages, I tried to firmly ground the story in the realistic, everyday lives of the characters, stuff like grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, taking the kid to the playground, marital squabbles and make-up sex. With just occasional notes of what's to come: a smear of blood here, an unexpected noise there, an unnamed sense of melancholy and dread. This is a technique you will find abundantly in books like The Shining, the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, even The Amityville Horror. There's this careful creation of a realistic, familiar world before the darkness begins to seep in.
3. The Great disintegrating narrator.
Bedbugs begins from the perspective of Susan Wendt, an anxiety-prone insomniac, and it does not leave her point of view for the entire novel. This gives the reader no opportunity to evaluate the truthfulness of her experiences and opinions, and we are unsure, as her paranoia and fear escalate, what is real and what is false. In this effort to bond the reader with the narrator, and keep you in the grips of what are either delusions or genuine monsters, I am working in a grand tradition, beginning with marvelous old-school ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw and The Yellow Wallpaper, both of which tread similarly uneven psychological ground.
So there are a view of the ways that Bedbugs attempts to work its particular form of dark magic...even before we get to the blood-soaked nightmares, the bugs skittering out of wall sconces, and the intimations of demonic possession.
Whether it all works, you'll have to tell me...
Ben H. Winters