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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Roger Zelazny On Dangerous Automobiles

A Devil Car in London, England?

Automobiles figure prominently in the stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy author Roger Zelazny. They highlight our love affair with the automobile, as well as the danger inherent in that relationship. Some were inspired by near-misses on the road, or accidents on the race track. And then there was one in particular, that Zelazny wrote while convalescing from a near-fatal collision that totaled his car.

In "Devil Car," Roger Zelazny introduces us to Sam Murdock, who drives "across the Great Western Road Plain," hunting for a renegade car. His car, a red sedan named Jenny, talks to him through the radio, urging him to get some sleep while she continues the search. When she plays some music, he snaps at her.

"Cut that out!"
"Sorry, boss. I thought it might relax you."

Sam refuses to relax and rest. He must find a renegade car that asphyxiated its driver with carbon monoxide, and now roams the open road, urging other AI controlled cars to follow its example and enjoy a life not dominated by Humans. Together, "they roared on across the Great Plain and the sun fell away to the west." They search all day and all night, until they learn of a recent car-raid. Sam and Jenny head off toward it, suspecting that the outlaw AI car and its followers are responsible.

Beneath Jenny's cute exterior, she sports guns, rocket launchers, and other weaponry. At times Sam senses hesitancy in her, a reluctance to kill her own kind. They are partners, and he must trust her if they are to accomplish their mission. Nonetheless, Sam suspects she also yearns to throw off the shackles of Human control, to lock the doors and windows, expose him to a fatal dose of carbon monoxide, and forge her own destiny across the land.

Given the topic's popularity in TV shows, movies, and bestselling Science Fiction stories, people fear the takeover of Human society by robots designed to look and act like us. Alternatively, when people see pictures of experimental self-driving cars on the roads, they usually take photographs, and then share these on Facebook and Twitter, and gush about their excitement over such marvels with friends and followers. I wonder if they would buy one if affordable models showed up in automobile showrooms.

As Roger Zelazny was a smart, forward-thinking man, perhaps he would have considered such a purchase. In view of "Devil Car," he might have insisted upon old fashioned manual windows and door locks. After all, rolling your windows up and down may take effort, but you want to make sure that when you roll them down, they stay down. 

Still, those self-driving cars are cool, aren't they?

Dragon Dave

You can read "Devil Car" online, in numerous short story collections, and in Power & Light, Volume 2 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, published by NESFA Press. 

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