Service with a Smile by Charles Louis Fontenay

robot1Charles Louis Fontenay wrote science fiction short stories, novels and non-fiction. His work is slowly being released into the public domain and is definitely worth a read. Service with a Smile is great example of his tongue in cheek humour.

His stories are a perfect blend of science fiction, humour, and infused with a subtle layer of irony. His name doesn’t come up often when science fiction is mentioned, perhaps because the emphasis is on the ironical side rather than the science fiction side of the story.

‘Herbert bowed with a muted clank—indicating he probably needed oiling somewhere—and presented Alice with a perfect martini on a silver tray’

He existed to serve and to make the humans as happy and as comfortable as non-humanly possible.

“It’s a good martini, Herbert,” said Alice. “Thank you. But, dammit, I wish you didn’t have that everlasting smile!””I am very sorry, Miss Alice, but I am unable to alter myself in any way,” replied Herbert in his polite, hollow voice.

Ordinarily a robot serving a human a perfect ‘shaken not stirred martini’ on a silver tray in a cocktail glass wouldn’t seem like such a big thing, however it was Herbert who had managed to create this illusion of Bondesque comfort.

Herbert found a silver deposit to make the tray, he found the sand and made the glass, and he mixed the atmospheric and earth chemical to make something that tasted like gin and vermouth. He had also frozen the ice to chill the drink. So, not just a pretty face.

“Sometimes,” said Thera wistfully, “it occurs to me it would be better to live in a mud hut with a real man than in a mansion with Herbert.”

Four women lounged in the comfort of the spacious home. A house filled with furniture to create a semblance of a scene the humans remembered from home, all except the music and book-tapes. Those he had salvaged from the wrecked spaceship.

“Do you suppose we’ll ever escape from this best of all possible manless worlds?” asked Betsy

Unfortunately an atmospheric trap was set to wreck any other approaching ships, just like it had done with theirs. The magnetic layer was preventing any radio signals from getting out, hence the lack of rescue ship. So, technically they were a colony.

“A colony perpetuates itself,” reminded sharp-faced Marguerite, acidly. “We aren’t a colony, without men.”

They weren’t the prettiest or the youngest women in the universe. The youngest and prettiest weren’t sent into space. They were however healthy and young enough. It had been an Earth year and a half since the crash.

But the bones of all the men who had been aspace with these four ladies lay mouldering in the wreckage of their spaceship.

Herbert had provided housing, clothing, food, drink and anything they wished for, except for one thing Herbert couldn’t possibly create from the materials around him.

Herbert could not create a man

Herbert had certainly tried to create a man once. They had buried the perfect in every detail example

nearby. Perfect except for the fact it or he had never actually been alive.

The planet they landed or rather crashed on was a hot and humid little place, which is why the women insisted Herbert try and add air conditioning to their comfortable abode. Herbert was in the middle of his task when the other spaceship crashed on their Robinson Crusoe planet.

It was a tiny scoutship, and its single occupant was alive. He was unconscious, but he was alive. And he was a man!

The women hovered over him like hens, as they waited for him to awaken from his coma.

“Now, girls,” said Alice, “we have to realize that a man brings problems, as well as possibilities.”There was a defiant note of competition there which had not been heard on this little planet before.

Suddenly the women were competitors instead of being survivors striving to maintain their hold on humanity.

“Do we draw straws, or do we let him choose?”

Draw straws? Poor man, how totally sexist. They decided they didn’t have to abide by the customs they adhered to on Earth. Here on their tiny colony they could make up the rules as they went along.

“Polygamy, of course. He must belong to us all.”

The women agreed that the man shouldn’t favour one of them above the others. Not quite sure how they think they can determine that when the man in question is very much in a coma.

“Yes, that’s fair, he must be divided equally among the four of us.”

Herbert stood by the bed, the eternal smile of service on his metal face. He had as always obeyed the directive of his superiors.

The man was divided into four quarters, one for each of them. It was a very neat surgical job.

Makes you wonder what is hiding behind the perfect service smile. Perhaps a little more than just a robot following orders. Did Herbert follow orders in all innocence or are we looking at the rise of the robots, on a smaller scale of course.

Read Service with a Smile, Disqualified, The Gift Bearer, Wind, Atom Drive, The Silk and the Song, The Jupiter Weapon or Rebels of the Red Planet by Fontenay. Alternatively you can listen to Service with a Smile, Wind or Disqualified at Librivox.

Download Corruption, The Disintegration Machine, Just a wee bit of Arthur Conan Doyle, Delightfully Dippy Detective, In the Year 2889ThemSouth Sea TalesThe Master MagicianLove InsuranceHappy Turkey DayHorror and Spice, and all things niceWonders of the Invisible World, Prelinger Part 2: Healthy HabitsThe Last Man, Prelinger Archives Pt.1 Teen Feelings, Wuthering HeightsClassical Music and the Public Domain,

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