Flashback Friday: “Best Buddies . . .”

So.  You’re an only child.  You’re desperate for a friend, someone who you can have fun with, get into trouble with,  share your troubles with.  Congrats!  You live a future where you don’t have to struggle to make a friend–a factory can build one for you!

Do you remember?

My Robot Buddy by Alfred Slote (Avon Camelot, c1975)

Jack’s desire for a friend and a brother leads his parents to getting him a robot buddy, Danny.  It’s not an inexpensive investment, but given that Jack is growing up far from lots of other kids, his parents finally relent and decide to get him  one for his birthday. Danny can do everything Jack can do, except–strangely enough–bend his knees.  Jack and Danny are best of friends, but with nefarious robot snatchers in town, no robot buddy is safe!

Now I want you think for a moment about science fiction for young readers.  Stuff for second and third grade readers that’s simple enough for them to work through, but entertaining enough and still true science fiction.  Can you come up with many titles?  Chances are not.  Most of them are probably humorous stories with aliens or extremely wacky inventions rather than future-set stories.  I read this book when I was a kid.  I re-read this book a dozen times.  I looked for it as an adult. I was hooked in by the premise–it got me looking for more stories about artificial intelligence.  It was one of the early stories that made me so excited about science fiction in the first place.  I mean look at this amazing idea of creating something that looks like a person but is still a robot.   We’ve come a long way since this book was written, and we’re closer than ever to the reality this book envisions as far as robots mimicking humans.

I’m not about to tell you it’s the most brilliant thing ever written.  But to find something written for that age that isn’t complete mush or silliness and has managed to last for decades on the shelves of the children’s floor means it’s something special.  I read it to my son when he was five years old and plan to read it to my daughter this year (she’s obsessed with robots.

If you remember this title, did you know that Jack and Danny had a series of adventures?  It seems there were four in all.

C.O.L.A.R. : A Tale of Outer Space (1981)

In which the whole Jameson family lands on a planet after running out of fuel to find a band of rebel robots (if I’m remembering it properly).  It’s up to Danny to rescue them!  This one actually addresses the rights of robots, and whether robots should be working in the service of humans.  A group of AI robots has decided it is done with life with humans.  But since this is a young reader book, issues are not heavily discussed.

Omega Station(1986)  

I’m not entirely sure whether this was meant as the third or fourth book (I’ve read conflicting reviews and haven’t the books to refer to to confirm).  In this story, Jack and Danny wind up on a space station confronting an evil mad scientist.

The Trouble on Janus(1985)

 I remember this one being a lot of fun.  The boys are off to a planet where the young ruler (who looks remarkably like Danny) is being threatened by those who wish to take the throne.  A game of mistaken identity and conspiracy leads to an exciting conclusion for all involved.

There’s another title that I’ve seen included in the series.  And it does have a main character named Jack–but I see no mention of Danny, nor does the story seem to follow their narrative.  I can’t be sure of course without rereading.

My Trip To Alpha I (1978) 

This involves a boy named Jack who goes to visit his aunt, only to find that things are not quite right with his aunt and scheming villains may be involved.  Inventive and fun–but I don’t know that it’s part of the same series.  The premise in this one is that when humans “travel ” to another planet.  They often do so via data upload–having their entire mind uploaded into a robotic copy on the other end for the duration of their stay.

Just a shout out for the author, Alfred Slote who did an awfully huge service of helping get this gal into science fiction.  I loved all these books, as well as his book Clone Catcher (1982)Which gave me quite a bit to think about in my early years of reading about the implications of cloning.

People may knock these books as not being “literary” or complex enough for their  tastes, but in my opinion, they are exactly right for the audience they’re intended to reach.  That said, time marches on, and these books are becoming “past SF” the way so many older titles are.  As technology catches up and/or surpasses that of the books we’ll need new books that reach the same audiences and spark the same sort of excitement these stories first did in me.

Comments Welcome!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 5, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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