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The Humanoids by Jack Williamson

The Humanoids (original 1949; edition 1969)

by Jack Williamson

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374928,918 (3.61)5
Title:The Humanoids
Authors:Jack Williamson
Info:Lancer Books, Inc., mass market paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, science fiction

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The humanoids by Jack Williamson (1949)

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    I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (Anonymous user)

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Short Review: Early science fiction problem novel deals with the problem of human misery by saddling humanity with invincible keepers who only wish to serve.

Longer Review [SPOILERS]: Originally published in 1948-49, The Humanoids is one of those books that it would be great to read if you didn't know much science, but sixty years after publication feels dated and fanciful. In the distant future, when mankind has mastered interstellar travel and colonized distant worlds and even had time for those worlds to fall into decay and then rebuild themselves, a hundred centuries in the future. At an observatory and military research post called Starmont on an unnamed world, a mysterious young girl appears, asking to speak with Dr Clay Forester, the project's head. After some exposition revealing a tense situation between near interstellar neighbors, it is revealed that the real cause of the tension is the imminent arrival of... the Humanoids.

The Humanoids wish only to serve. Built a century before by a scientist called Mansfield, they have gradually spread through inhabited space, conquering human worlds with soft power. Upon completing a treaty with the world on which Starmont rests, their invasion force arrives. They quickly subsume all resistance in the majority of the population with "euphroide," a powerful narcotic, "for the protection of man" (and woman), which renders people down to memoryless drooling imbeciles. A lucky few individuals are allowed to keep their minds, as the Humanoids judge them to be sufficiently happy without the drug. The Humanoids then disassemble and raze much of the world to the ground, and replace it with the gently-lighted, soft-cornered, unthreatening world of subjugated humanity.

Forester elects to attempt to fight, aligning himself with a small rag-tag band of misfits with various psychic powers. But he quickly finds that it is difficult to know who the real enemy is. As he suffers continual reversals in his battle to either destroy or, at least, damage, the command and control center of the Humanoids on planet Wing IV, Forester must in the end determine who his fight should really be against.

The language of the book is somewhat baffling. "Humanoid" would really be better written as "android" to be familiar to modern readers: they are centrally-controlled robots, operated from a distant world. As for the science, it falls down with "rhodomagnetics", which is, late in the book, presented as one of a trio of natural forces, along with "electromagnetism" (the correct one), and "psychophysics". It is only by harnessing all three that Dr Forester has any hope of defeating the Humanoids and their human allies. Of course, it is a nonsense, but a nonsense at the beginning of the atomic age, when so many new frontiers seemed possible. Some of the numbers are off as well - Andromeda galaxy is 2.2 million light years away, rather than one million. Our numbers have gotten better, since the 1940s.

In many ways, this book draws some terrifying parallels with the real world. Although it would be too easy and too glib to compare the Humanoids to Nazis, there are certainly echoes of the advances of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War (although there the similarity ends). What is more terrifying, particularly to the imagination, is the sudden deprivation of freewill brought by the Humanoids, solely on the basis of their determination of one's "unhappiness." Any naturally unhappy, melancholic person (such as myself) finds this unthinkable. But while the horror is not overt, it is archetypal, and seems to find its echo in many of the science fiction tales that were to follow in the 20th century, particularly the paranoia of the worlds of Philip K. Dick, films like Logan's Run and Soylent Green, and even television efforts like V, in the 1980s. It is almost surprising to find by the end of the book that no one is going to be eaten. Yet.

The ambiguity of the ending is troubling: has Forester lost, or have the Humanoids won (and I phrase the question that way deliberately)? I still can't quite answer. It makes me interested, with some trepidation, to read the sequel book just to see what Williamson decided to make of this little world, as soon as I find my copy.

Frustrating for the science (instantaneous teleportation across light years, power beamed the same distances, but without any reference to time, psychic mumbo-jumbo), but gets a positive mark for multiple instances of slide rule use (I love slide rules). Three and a half stars. ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Jul 4, 2015 |
This omnibus contains the classic 1947 science fiction “With Folded Hands” and its sequel the short novel “The Humanoids”, originally published in 1948 as “ … And With Searching Mind”. The collection is capped off with a short but significant afterword by Williamson about the works, “Me and My Humanoids”.

“With Folded Hands” is not only a classic science fiction story but, in its own way, a very memorable horror story about the ultimate paternalistic state, a smothering existence of passivity and futility run by the implacable, incorruptible humanoids – humanoids that efficiently discharge their mandate to “Serve and Obey and Guard Men from Harm”. Even suicide is not an escape route from this world. It can be read as a political and cautionary tale about utilitarian politics and making mere happiness the goal of all life. And, for those who might sneer at the outdated technological aspects that are the rationalizing instrumentality of this parable, I think it very possible that its centrally controlled, humanoid robots could be technologically updated to make the same point.

After detailing the trials and tribulations and revolt of Underhill, a seller of robots in “With Folded Hands”, “The Humanoids” starts out with an orphan girl mysteriously showing up at a top secret scientific project. (The desert landscape, the mentions of atomic war devastating several planets, and a sort of Mutually Assured Destruction, all bring the Cold War and its beginnings in the Manhattan Project and Hirsohima to mind.) Forester, leader of the project, is invited by a band of rather pathetic people to join a revolt against the humanoids coming soon to this world. Initially dismissive, Forester soon comes to learn the truth and horror of the humanoid rule and find out that one man in his project, the indolent but mathematically brilliant (and also one-time suitor of Forester’s wife) Ironsmith, seems to have been made some sort of deal with the humanoids to sell humanity out. Can Forester and a band of reputed psychics put an end to the humanoids – and will Ironsmith let them?

I think the intended message of the novel’s end is clear, but Williamson said it was interpreted ambiguously. He has some interesting things to say about how the humanoid-human conflict is not just about technology but the older conflict between those who compromise with a social order and its restrictions and are rewarded and those who don’t and are destroyed. He notes how this conflict was played out in his earlier life as a loner from rural New Mexico learning to live in greater society.

“With Folded Hands” is still worth reading. The sequel is largely unnecessary, but it is fast-moving and of an interest for its moody descriptions of alien worlds, Cold War feel, and as an example of editor John W. Campbell’s interest (which eventually led him to introduce Dianetics to the world) in stories of humans with innate psychic powers. Williamson’s afterword is necessary in confirming one’s take on the novel’s end. ( )
  RandyStafford | Jun 2, 2013 |
I have the 1982 GB edition. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Love the Robot Series by Azimov? You will love this book!

It is far, far in the future and many thousands of light years from Mother Earth. The first humans have populated other planets in other solar systems. It has been so long since this occurred, every group of humans evolved differently... different languages, customs, ... but they all met with the same conclusion: superiority complex which led to war and the extinction of humans from their planet. The Humanoids (robots) were created to change this tragic ending, they were created to protect man from any harm, to ensure their continual happiness and the way this has evolved is that the humanoids decide what protection and happiness is. This makes some people unhappy and they rebel against the choices of the humanoids and so the humanoids do what they must to ensure happiness and protection to all: they drug those deemed unhappy in order to protect them. In this way, there is an ordered society in which all have the same focus and are eternally protected by these robots.

A few people rebel against the loss of individuality; this is the story of a small group of people who rebel and attempt to stop this continual evasion. What they do, why and how....

Jack Williamson wrote this after WWII as a social commentary. What is it to be an individual? To what extent should "the good of the may over the good of the few" persist? No answer is given, simply a glimpse into each side of the argument. A brilliant example of Social Science Fiction. ( )
  PallanDavid | Jul 22, 2011 |
A dandy, if you like golden age scifi. Especially if the first scifi you ever read was Williamson's short story With Folded Hands. The SS is a subset of the novel length 'The Humanoids', which deals with Clay Forester's resistance to the overly benevolent Humanoids, intent on overly protecting and serving the humans. The Humanoids are controlled by a gigantic computer array using the fuzzy made up science of Rhodomagnetics, as opposed to electromagnetics. Rhodomagnetics supposedly is unconstrained by light speed and other physical constants, so a central computer basically controls the billions of Humanoid drones that have taken control of the known human colonies in the galaxy. There is a rebel group (isn't there always?) who have developed psychophysical powers and are attempting, not to destroy the relay station, but to simply reprogram the 'Prime Directive' a bit so that man has a chance to be mentally free of the Humanoids. I should mention that a main theme is that by barring humanity from studying the physical sciences, man will not be able to bend technology to suit his base needs of domination and destruction, as has always been the case. The ending is left up in the air a bit for the reader to decide how he wants to interpret Forester's thoughts about reality.

Honestly, I haven't read a lot of Williamson, but he was one of the first Grand Masters honored by the SF Writers Guild, or whatever it is precisely called, and what I have read has been among the best of the genre. Especially when compared to his peers who wrote in the 40's and 50's. The fuzzy made up science still makes sense in a fictional way, and it's not his fault that there still are room sized computers using paper tape input. In fact, the book begins by explaining how humanity has gone through waxing and waning phases of creativity and destruction so maybe Forester's world is at a technological level where they use such computers, even if they have rhodomagnetic, faster than light, planet destroying space missiles. It's a fun, thought provoking book, but the short story I read years ago had more of a sense of dread for mankind's future. ( )
  DirtPriest | Sep 10, 2010 |
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Williamson, Jackprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Emshwiller, EdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312852533, Paperback)

On the far planet Wing IV, a brilliant scientist creates the humanoids--sleek black androids programmed to serve humanity.

But are they perfect servants--or perfect masters?

Slowly the humanoids spread throughout the galaxy, threatening to stifle all human endeavor. Only a hidden group of rebels can stem the humanoid tide...if it's not already too late.

Fist published in Astounding Science Fiction during the magazine's heyday, The Humanoids--sceince fiction grand master Jack Williamson's finest novel--has endured for fifty years as a classic on the theme of natural versus artificial life.

Also included in this edition is the prelude novelette, "With Folded Hands," which was chosen for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:50 -0400)

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