(2001) John Sladek, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 611pp, ISBN 1-85798-340-8
This 45th volume in the SF Masterworks series contains both Roderick (1980) and Roderick at Random (1983), which were conceived as a single novel, but have never been published as one until now. It is the autobiography of a learning machine who has quite enough problems growing up, as it were, even without the efforts of the shadowy Orinoco Institute to destroy it. Raised in a succession of homes, Roderick survives against the odds to eventually get a job washing dishes in a restaurant for dogs! A couple of his former foster parents go their separate ways; the mother campaigning for machine's rights, the father leading a movement of 'New Luddites'. At the same time Kratt Industries is asserting its rights to ownership of Roderick, renegade agent O'Smith is still trying to kill him. What will become of Roderick in this crazy world?
Sladek's satire is, for my tastes, somewhat overblown. Despite favourable comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut (not to mention Candide and The Wizard of Oz), I think that Sladek was overambitious with this one. His satirical observations are overwhelmed by the strictness of his narrative structure, and the seemingly endless cast of characters swirl around creating confusion and misdirection, with frequent wandering off the point. On the whole I prefer Sladek's Tik-Tok (1983), which covers much the same ground without getting bogged down in its own cleverness, and in which the satirical and comedic intent is not lost. Having said that, I would nonetheless agree that Roderick deserves its place in the Masterworks series.
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