Science Fiction Short Story: "The Velvet Glove" by Harry Harrison
When the reader first meets Jon Venex, he is seen opening a hotel room door. He’s paid extra for a large room—the largest in the hotel, fully three feet wide by five feet long. Even if weren’t this big, he doesn’t dare complain or ask for his money back. Jon Venex is a robot. He’s subject to curfew. He’s unemployed, taking only a few temporary jobs here and there as he can. Right now, he can work on a damaged leg motor to broaden his employment prospect. While waiting for it to cool down, he reads the paper, scans the help-wanted columns and turns to the comics. His favorite, though he’d never admit it, is “Ratty Robot,” about a stupid, clumsy robot who was forever getting into trouble.
“It was a repellent caricature, but could still be very funny,” author Harry Harrison writes.
After the passing of the Robot Equality Act, humans could no longer own robots. Robots, like Jon Venex, had to find jobs, but their lives—if one could call them that—were severely circumscribed by law, programming and custom. It didn’t stop some humans from hating robots. In fact, six robots had been “power-lined” in the city since the first of the year.
Jon Venex reads a notice of a job opening for Venex robots, his specialty! At first he seems to be turned away, but a note tells Venex robots are needed for a top secret company job. He’s to ask for a Mr. Coleman.
A robot in the warehouse warns him that Mr. Coleman hates robots and that he should address him as “sir” five times in one sentence if he can manage it.
Things get a whole lot worse before they get any better. One can’t help feeling for Jon, though, who is trying so hard just to get along and is bothering no one. He’s paying attention to what he’s going, mindful of friends.
This is an engaging little tale, obvious allegory notwithstanding. On the hand, it makes me nostalgic for the days when speculative fiction wasn’t afraid to say what was obvious, it does get a little obvious at times. This would have been published just before the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Dec. 1955-Dec.1956). There is also a nice tip of the hat to Isaac Asimov.
The story itself is nice but it is no stainless steel rat.
Title: “The Velvet Glove” first published in Fantastic Universe Nov. 1956
Author: Harry Harrison (1925-2012)
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© 2015 Denise Longrie
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