You and Your Robots – Alone

Horace Leonard “H.L.” Gold ( April 26, 1914 – February 21, 1996) discovered Science Fiction in 1927 when he was only 13 years old. It was a life-long love and he grew up to write for pulp magazines and comic books, including DC Comics. World War II interrupted his writing career when he was drafted in 1944 even though he was “Canadian, flatfooted, overage, and had a newborn child”. Horace returned to writing after the War and “scripted for comic books and radio programs”.

In 1949, Horace had an idea. He approached the Italian company, World Editions, with an idea for a new Science Fiction magazine. World Editions liked his idea and, in 1950, they launched Galaxy Science Fiction with H.L. Gold as editor. Horace wanted his magazine to take the focus off “technology, hardware, and pulp adventures”. And he absolutely despised thinly disguised redressed plots like the Western set in outer space with aliens and astronauts standing in for Native Americans and white settlers.  Horace was more interested in “soft sciences” like sociology and psychology. He wanted the stories in his new magazine to focus “not on the adventurer, the inventor, the engineer, the scientist, but on the average citizen”. Horace paid well, 3¢ a word compared to the usual 1¢, and was able to get some of the top writers of the day to write stories. Many of those early Galaxy stories went on to have lasting fame and reputations in the SciFi genre, stories like “The Fireman” by Ray Bradbury (later expanded into Fahrenheit 451), The Puppet Masters  by Robert A. Heinlein, The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, Time Quarry by Clifford D. Simak, “Coming Attraction” by Fritz Leiber, “To Serve Man” by Damon Knight, The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, “Surface Tension” by James Blish, “Baby is Three” by Theodore Sturgeon, and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. The very first Hugo Awards were given out in 1953 and Galaxy took two of them: Galaxy shared the first Hugo Award for Best Magazine with Astounding and Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man won the first Hugo for Best Novel.

H.L. Gold continued as editor until 1961. His dream child, Galaxy Science Fiction, was one of the leading SciFi magazine from its very beginning and it had a huge effect on the genre. Galaxy survived a paper shortage during the Korean War, internal sabotage when the American office disagreed with the Italian headquarters, and the eventual end of the SciFi magazine boom. But eventually, declining circulation and the publisher’s financial problems saw the end of the magazine. The July 1980 issue was the last.

The short story “Manners of the Age” by Horace Brown Fyfe was published in the March 1952 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, during the height of Galaxy’s popularity. While many of the authors who wrote for Galaxy went on to lasting importance (legendary author Robert A. Heinlein had a short story, “The Year of the Jackpot” in the very same issue as Fyfe), H.B. Fyfe did not. I’m a long time SciFi fan but I do not know Fyfe at all and I could find very little information about him. He was born on September 30, 1918 in Jersey City, New Jersey and died on November 17, 1997. Fyfe’s first published short story was “Locked Out” in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1940. He won a Bronze Star for bravery during World War II. Fyfe had a popular series of stories grouped under the name “Bureau of Slick Trades” that appeared from 1948 to 1952. Apparently, H.B. Fyfe was a rather prolific author after he returned from WWII. But “most of his works have long been out of print and hard to find”.

Fyfe’s “Manners of the Age” is very much in the style that H.L. Gold favored. The story deals with the interactions of average humans on a future and vastly different Earth. “Manners of the Age” is set on a future Earth where most of the population have long since literally left for greener pastures. There are very few humans left and they live extremely isolated lives. Each of them is the undisputed ruler of their own individual little kingdom and their only subjects are their personal robots. The hero of the story is Robert. Robert fills his time playing tennis with his tennis robot (of course, the robot is programmed to let Robert win). Occasionally, Robert turns on his television and channel surfs, looking for other humans who are also channel surfing. Robert’s only human interaction is during these short sessions when he talks with another human through his television. At one point, he estimates that it has been at least ten years since he last saw another human face to face. Robert simply can not understand how people dealt with all the other people in the old days:

“Must have been awful before the population declined. Imagine having people all around you, having to listen to them, see them, and argue to make them do what you wanted.”

Eventually, though, Robert’s interest is pricked by a new television acquaintance: Marcia-Joan. He has never talked with anyone like her before. His only other real television acquaintances are old and wrinkly Henry and Jack who will not even show his face. Robert is so fascinated by Marcia-Jean that he is motivated to pay her an actual physical visit. But Robert encounters lots of problems in making a visit, from the ancient roads that are so seldom traveled that the robots don’t bother to repair them to the problem of how to actually interact with another, real, live person – especially a female person.

I actually just read an article the other day that was bemoaning the problems that today’s young people have with face to face interactions. The article supposed that today’s generation are so connected by their smart phones and computers that they are losing the skills to make real life person to person connections. In other words, people text each other while sitting at the same table but don’t actually talk to each other face to face. The article worried that they are forgetting how to talk with and interact with other people. The citizens of the future Earth in “Manners of the Age” have long, long ago forgotten how to talk with, listen to, and interact with real people. They only know how to order around their robot servants. Poor Robert does not have an easy visit. But poor, poor Marcia-Joan has an even worse visitor.

“Manners of the Age” by H.B. Fyfe is a very short story. It is only about 5,000 words and can be easily read in less than an hour. The story is FREE in the Public Domain and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive and from Feedbooks. You can also download the story from Project Gutenberg or read it online there. LibriVox has an audio version, read by Mark Nelson, that runs nearly 38 minutes. “Manners of the Age” is the fifth story in the LibriVox Short Science Fiction Collection 038.

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