Super Toys Last All Summer Long Essay Titles
1. Compare the story “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” with the movie Artificial Intelligence. Do they use the same symbols? Do they have the same themes? Explain why or why not.
Adapting literature for the big screen is a risky process, and can yield great results as well as a poor, butchered, dubbed-down version of an otherwise major work. Fortunately, Stanley Kubrick ‘s Artificial Intelligence movie has proved, by its extended use of dystopia and its focus on the human/machine relationships, to be a worthy extension of Brian Aldiss’ short stories, going deeper than what the author originally anticipated. To fully grasp the nature of the changes between the story and the film requires a good knowledge of the concept of dystopia, a careful examination of its applications in this particular story, and a general overview of the human/machine relationships.
Dystopia is a word meaning: “1: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives 2: ANTI-UTOPIA” . This concept has shaped the whole genre of science fiction, and can be found at varying degrees in a myriad of different applications.
Typically, a dystopia focuses on one or more elements symptomatic of the greater dangers in store for mankind, whether they be an extreme environmental pollution, overpopulation issues, rising violence and crime activity in cities, large and coldly inhuman bureaucratic structures, or malevolent economic exploitation. In short, the rich get even richer while the poor fall well under the minimal conditions required to lead a decent life, especially in such a society of technological profusion.
In true dystopian mentality science, as well as arts, politics or philosophy, leads to the result of furthering the inequalities present in human society instead of serving the noble goal of bringing mankind together. However, there are many different angles of approach to these ideas, and the concept of dystopia must be further divided in two distinct types: conservative and radical. Note that not all conservative dystopias are necessarily science fiction, while a radical dystopia can hardly be conceived without a science fiction background.
Conservative dystopias address the fear of a breakdown in social order and established ways. They often deal with the disintegration of the family and the reduction of individual liberties by centralizing governments; as a result, the oppressed individual must seek refuge in nature or reminiscences of the past. Prime examples of conservative dystopias include George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Radical dystopias, on the other hand, deal with the dangers of rising pollution, superior technologies – such as robots or cloning -, nuclear power, economic and industrial exploitation, and advanced capitalism. The growing mechanization of life is a key theme in these stories, which often resort to cyborgs (CYBer-ORGanisms) or thinking supercomputers to embody this concept. Two of the most famous radical dystopias are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner.
Artificial Intelligence and Super-Toys Last All Summer Long differ somewhat in their expression of the concept of dystopia. While it presents some interesting elements of both types, Aldiss’ short story is definitely more conservative than radical. It is first and foremost the tale of an android boy who cannot be loved by his mother; the overpopulated world and the melting of the ice caps due to the greenhouse effect lie in background of the story, and could very well be replaced by any other plot device allowing the author to deal with the problems of childbirth control. There lies the real issue of the setting: in the diminishing of freedoms available to people, as represented by Monica who, in accordance with pure regression of women’s rights, is reduced to the role of mother, completely devoid of any substantial occupation and perfectly isolated from the world in her artificial garden. This garden generated by the Whologram also embodies the escape in nature and memories of days bygone of people living in an unbearable reality. And finally, the impossibility of her having a child leads to the creation of a mechanical android boy to replace the lack – something which, Aldiss says, can not be as easily done.
All these themes at the core of the story are true to conservative dystopias; however, they did not move from the written word to the big screen without permutation. The first enormous difference is that in Artificial Intelligence, the Swinton couple already has a child, Martin, who is in cryogenic storage until his terminal disease can be cured. Right from the start, David serves as a fill-up while Martin is away; thus the question central to Aldiss, “Can a mother love a robot child?” (and by extension, a child which is not her own) can easily shift to “Can a mother love a child while waiting after her own?”. In the movie, the Swintons – as well as the spectator – know from the beginning that David is not there to stay; thus the question of morality has a lesser weight than the conflict between organic and synthetic, between man and machine.
This conflict is yet another difference between the movie and the short story. In his techno-fable, Aldiss creates something of a balance between organic and mechanic, as Henry Swinton declares in his speech:
-There have been mechanicals on the market with mini-computers for brains – plastic things without life, super-toys – but we have at last found a way to link computer circuitry with synthetic flesh.
One can even picture the “dial on [Monica’s] wrist” as an epidermal watch, an implant which people have in their skin, as further evidence of a symbiosis between man and machine, whereas each one is clean-cut apart from the other in Kubrick’s movie, as the spectator learns in the “flesh fair” scene. It is there said that humans hate machines because they know that once their time on the Earth has come to an end, the machines are going to survive and continue evolution. There is no possibility, in Artificial Intelligence, to stand as a cross between “mecha” and “orga”. Even Gigolo Joe, a robot made to perform sexual activities, which is theoretically the most intimately human act possible, is damned like any other machine. Mechanization, while on paper such a great idea, turns out to be something clearly negative.
As noted earlier, radical dystopias make a major concern out of the growing mechanization of life, which in turn engenders massive pollution problems. Both of these themes, while mentioned in the story, are much more present in the movie. In Artificial Intelligence, the setting is not merely hinted at, but is shown right from the beginning. This alone indicates a deliberate choice in giving as much importance to the setting and the world in which the action takes place as the characters and their conflicts.
In truth, the movie is an even split between Aldiss’ three short stories Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, Super-Toys When Winter Comes, and Super-Toys in Other Seasons. As such, the issues that Kubrick introduces in the first 45 minutes of the movie (which is the part based on Super-Toys Last All Summer Long) do not necessarily carry on with even weight as the movie progresses, but rather subside to allow him to raise other questions true to a radical dystopia. In this regard, the whole “flesh fair” scene where “mechas” are being destroyed for the enjoyment of people is both a warning regarding superior technologies – that is, humans will not always use them for the right purpose – and a reminiscence of past humanity crimes, a neo-racism that merely shifted from skin color to body texture and internal composition.
This scene thus addresses both conservative and radical dystopic themes, something which Aldiss’ story did not really do.
The theme of relationships between humans and machines was, in Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, very important. Aldiss showed in his story a reverse side of the classic question “Can a machine love?”, asking rather “What if a machine could love? Could any human reply with equal feelings?”. An important notion to help understand this question is the concept of simulacrum, as coined by French theorist Jean Baudrillard. A simulacrum is an operational double of a given reality, a perfect descriptive machine which gives all the traces of reality and disrupts its possibilities of change due to the unforeseeable surprises of life. The popular video game The Sims, for example, attempts at being a simulacrum of domestic, everyday, ordinary life.
Baudrillard continues on saying: “The simulacrum is never what hides the truth, – it is reality that hides there is none – the simulacrum is true.”. This idea of the copy being truer than the original follows the same train of thought as the story writing classic “Reality is stranger than fiction”. David’s love is perfect in the sense that it is programmed and embedded in him, thus unwavering, unalterable. He is not subject to having an emotional crisis, shouting to his mother “I hate you!” as a normal child would do if she denies him dessert, for instance. This love is symbolized in the story by the rose David picks up – his love is perfect, as artificial as the rose from the artificial Whologramic garden. It is only fitting that in the story, David could not find any words to express this perfect “feeling” in his letters, for his love exceeds human standards and thus can not be qualified by their words. Again, the movie goes even further along this idea with the character of Gigolo Joe, who is the perfect lover, better than reality itself.
Finally, it is easy to see Kubrick’s intellect in Artificial Intelligence, and how it ties in perfectly and adds to Brian Aldiss’ themes and story. As he had shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick was interested in the human/machine relationships. In the latter part of this movie, a ship controlled by the supercomputer HAL is en route to Jupiter, with two crew members aboard. The interesting phenomenon that occurs is that the computer – limited to a voice and a bright red spot that never alters, thus only a voice, really – is obviously much more human than the crew members aboard. Kubrick directed them to play as neutral as possible, including when Dave receives a message from his parents wishing him a happy birthday; he is frigid like a statue, and there is never the slightest change of emotion in his eyes or voice. And by contrast, HAL’s tone becomes hesitating when he speaks in personal terms; pride can be perceived when he claims he is the most powerful supercomputer; he even tells Dave that he is “afraid”!
In Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is a reversal of the conventional roles: machines are humanized and the humans, mechanized. Both are straying from their path, getting away from their nature because of external circumstances and pressures: the humans in their need of machines for their everyday life, and the machines because they are created by humans who more and more try to make them in their likeness. This last theme can only be seen in a very concrete, first-degree and imperfect way in Aldiss’ short story, because of the (debatable) cybernetic implants in humans or the fact that Teddy plays the role of counsellor to David; but, as Henry Swinton himself tells the reader, Teddy is part of the “mini-computers for brains – plastic things without life, super-toys”. The fact that at one point he simply repeats the same advice twice – until, it can be gathered, David chooses to respond – goes to show how approximate and far from being “humanized” he really is.
This theme is much more developed in the movie, right from the beginning when Monica, confused about David, puts him in a closet to have him out of her way, suspending all moral judgements and feelings unique to human nature, much as a machine would analyse the possibilities and settle for the quickest answer, and all through Gigolo Joe’s character, who sticks to David with friendship and sincere affection, traits which a cold, calculating machine would have never heard of.
Clearly, Stanley Kubrick’s ideas positively influenced and enhanced Brian Aldiss’ Super-Toys Last All Summer Long. Given the different types of dystopia on which each one focused and their slightly differing views on the machines/humans relationships, it may not be a perfect adaptation. However, both the short story and Artificial Intelligence are a warning to those of us that wish to play God and create minds in our own likeness, a reminder to stop the madness before we come to this.
– Brian ALDISS, Super-Toys Last All Summer Long
– Jean BAUDRILLARD, “Simulacra and Simulations”, in Jean Baudrillard: Selected.
Writings, ed. Mark Poster, Polity: Blackwell, 1988.pp.166-184
– Harold BERGER, Science-fiction and the New Dark Age, Popular Press, Bowling Green
– EDGUY, “Until We Rise Again” in Vain Glory Opera, Century Media Records, 1996
– Douglas KELLNER & Michael RYAN, Politics and Ideology in Contemporary Hollywood
– Stanley KUBRICK, Steven SPIELBERG, Artificial Intelligence
– Stanley KUBRICK, 2001: A Space Odyssey
– Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1999
The inspiration behind Kubrick's ongoing AI project, a tale of humanity and of the aching loneliness in an overpopulated future.
Though Brian Aldiss bristles at being pigeonholed as a sci-fi writer, the British author has won every major science fiction award. He has also sparked director Stanley Kubrick's imagination with the short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long." First published in Harper's Bazaar in 1969 and later anthologized, this tale of humanity in an age of intelligent machines and of the aching loneliness endemic in an overpopulated future is the inspiration behind Kubrick's ongoing AI project. Aldiss's story offers richly suggestive details that one hopes will make the cinematic cut. But just in case they don't, read the original.
In Mrs. Swinton's garden, it was always summer. The lovely almond trees stood about it in perpetual leaf. Monica Swinton plucked a saffron-colored rose and showed it to David.
"Isn't it lovely?" she said.
David looked up at her and grinned without replying. Seizing the flower, he ran with it across the lawn and disappeared behind the kennel where the mowervator crouched, ready to cut or sweep or roll when the moment dictated. She stood alone on her impeccable plastic gravel path.
She had tried to love him.
When she made up her mind to follow the boy, she found him in the courtyard floating the rose in his paddling pool. He stood in the pool engrossed, still wearing his sandals.
"David, darling, do you have to be so awful? Come in at once and change your shoes and socks."
He went with her without protest into the house, his dark head bobbing at the level of her waist. At the age of three, he showed no fear of the ultrasonic dryer in the kitchen. But before his mother could reach for a pair of slippers, he wriggled away and was gone into the silence of the house.
He would probably be looking for Teddy.
Monica Swinton, twenty-nine, of graceful shape and lambent eye, went and sat in her living room, arranging her limbs with taste. She began by sitting and thinking; soon she was just sitting. Time waited on her shoulder with the maniac slowth it reserves for children, the insane, and wives whose husbands are away improving the world. Almost by reflex, she reached out and changed the wavelength of her windows. The garden faded; in its place, the city center rose by her left hand, full of crowding people, blowboats, and buildings (but she kept the sound down). She remained alone. An overcrowded world is the ideal place in which to be lonely.
The directors of Synthank were eating an enormous luncheon to celebrate the launching of their new product. Some of them wore the plastic face-masks popular at the time. All were elegantly slender, despite the rich food and drink they were putting away. Their wives were elegantly slender, despite the food and drink they too were putting away. An earlier and less sophisti- cated generation would have regarded them as beautiful people, apart from their eyes.
Henry Swinton, Managing Director of Synthank, was about to make a speech.
"I'm sorry your wife couldn't be with us to hear you," his neighbor said.
"Monica prefers to stay at home thinking beautiful thoughts," said Swinton, maintaining a smile.
"One would expect such a beautiful woman to have beautiful thoughts," said the neighbor.
Take your mind off my wife, you bastard, thought Swinton, still smiling.
He rose to make his speech amid applause.
After a couple of jokes, he said, "Today marks a real breakthrough for the company. It is now almost ten years since we put our first synthetic life-forms on the world market. You all know what a success they have been, particularly the miniature dinosaurs. But none of them had intelligence.
"It seems like a paradox that in this day and age we can create life but not intelligence. Our first selling line, the Crosswell Tape, sells best of all, and is the most stupid of all." Everyone laughed.
"Though three-quarters of the overcrowded world are starving, we are lucky here to have more than enough, thanks to population control. Obesity's our problem, not malnutrition. I guess there's nobody round this table who doesn't have a Crosswell working for him in the small intestine, a perfectly safe parasite tape-worm that enables its host to eat up to fifty percent more food and still keep his or her figure. Right?" General nods of agreement.
"Our miniature dinosaurs are almost equally stupid. Today, we launch an intelligent synthetic life-form - a full-size serving-man.
"Not only does he have intelligence, he has a controlled amount of intelligence. We believe people would be afraid of a being with a human brain. Our serving-man has a small computer in his cranium.
"There have been mechanicals on the market with mini-computers for brains - plastic things without life, super-toys - but we have at last found a way to link computer circuitry with synthetic flesh."
David sat by the long window of his nursery, wrestling with paper and pencil. Finally, he stopped writing and began to roll the pencil up and down the slope of the desk-lid.
"Teddy!" he said.
Teddy lay on the bed against the wall, under a book with moving pictures and a giant plastic soldier. The speech-pattern of his master's voice activated him and he sat up.
"Teddy, I can't think what to say!"
Climbing off the bed, the bear walked stiffly over to cling to the boy's leg. David lifted him and set him on the desk.
"What have you said so far?"
"I've said -" He picked up his letter and stared hard at it. "I've said, 'Dear Mummy, I hope you're well just now. I love you....'"
There was a long silence, until the bear said, "That sounds fine. Go downstairs and give it to her."
Another long silence.
"It isn't quite right. She won't understand."
Inside the bear, a small computer worked through its program of possibilities. "Why not do it again in crayon?"
When David did not answer, the bear repeated his suggestion. "Why not do it again in crayon?"
David was staring out of the window. "Teddy, you know what I was thinking? How do you tell what are real things from what aren't real things?"
The bear shuffled its alternatives. "Real things are good."
"I wonder if time is good.
I don't think Mummy likes time very much. The other day, lots of days ago, she said that time went by her. Is time real, Teddy?"
"Clocks tell the time. Clocks are real. Mummy has clocks so she must like them. She has a clock on her wrist next to her dial."
David started to draw a jumbo jet on the back of his letter. "You and I are real, Teddy, aren't we?"
The bear's eyes regarded the boy unflinchingly. "You and I are real, David." It specialized in comfort.
Monica walked slowly about the house. It was almost time for the afternoon post to come over the wire. She punched the Post Office number on the dial on her wrist but nothing came through. A few minutes more.
She could take up her painting. Or she could dial her friends. Or she could wait till Henry came home. Or she could go up and play with David....
She walked out into the hall and to the bottom of the stairs.
No answer. She called again and a third time.
"Teddy!" she called, in sharper tones.
"Yes, Mummy!" After a moment's pause, Teddy's head of golden fur appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Is David in his room, Teddy?"
"David went into the garden, Mummy."
"Come down here, Teddy!"
She stood impassively, watching the little furry figure as it climbed down from step to step on its stubby limbs. When it reached the bottom, she picked it up and carried it into the living room. It lay unmoving in her arms, staring up at her. She could feel just the slightest vibration from its motor.
"Stand there, Teddy. I want to talk to you." She set him down on a tabletop, and he stood as she requested, arms set forward and open in the eternal gesture of embrace.
"Teddy, did David tell you to tell me he had gone into the garden?"
The circuits of the bear's brain were too simple for artifice. "Yes, Mummy."
"So you lied to me."
"Stop calling me Mummy! Why is David avoiding me? He's not afraid of me, is he?"
"No. He loves you."
"Why can't we communicate?"
The answer stopped her dead. Why waste time talking to this machine? Why not simply go upstairs and scoop David into her arms and talk to him, as a loving mother should to a loving son? She heard the sheer weight of silence in the house, with a different quality of silence pouring out of every room. On the upper landing, something was moving very silently - David, trying to hide away from her....
He was nearing the end of his speech now. The guests were attentive; so was the Press, lining two walls of the banqueting chamber, recording Henry's words and occasionally photographing him.
"Our serving-man will be, in many senses, a product of the computer. Without computers, we could never have worked through the sophisticated biochemics that go into synthetic flesh. The serving-man will also be an extension of the computer - for he will contain a computer in his own head, a microminiaturized computer capable of dealing with almost any situation he may encounter in the home. With reservations, of course." Laughter at this; many of those present knew the heated debate that had engulfed the Synthank boardroom before the decision had finally been taken to leave the serving-man neuter under his flawless uniform.
"Amid all the triumphs of our civilization - yes, and amid the crushing problems of overpopulation too - it is sad to reflect how many millions of people suffer from increasing loneliness and isolation. Our serving-man will be a boon to them; he will always answer, and the most vapid conversation cannot bore him.
"For the future, we plan more models, male and female - some of them without the limitations of this first one, I promise you! - of more advanced design, true bio-electronic beings.
"Not only will they possess their own computer, capable of individual programming; they will be linked to the World Data Network. Thus everyone will be able to enjoy the equivalent of an Einstein in their own homes. Personal isolation will then be banished forever!"
He sat down to enthusiastic applause. Even the synthetic serving-man, sitting at the table dressed in an unostentatious suit, applauded with gusto.
Dragging his satchel, David crept round the side of the house. He climbed on to the ornamental seat under the living-room window and peeped cautiously in.
His mother stood in the middle of the room. Her face was blank; its lack of expression scared him. He watched fascinated. He did not move; she did not move. Time might have stopped, as it had stopped in the garden.
At last she turned and left the room. After waiting a moment, David tapped on the window. Teddy looked round, saw him, tumbled off the table, and came over to the window. Fumbling with his paws, he eventually got it open.
They looked at each other.
"I'm no good, Teddy. Let's run away!"
"You're a very good boy. Your Mummy loves you."
Slowly, he shook his head. "If she loved me, then why can't I talk to her?"
"You're being silly, David. Mummy's lonely. That's why she had you."
"She's got Daddy. I've got nobody 'cept you, and I'm lonely."
Teddy gave him a friendly cuff over the head. "If you feel so bad, you'd better go to the psychiatrist again."
"I hate that old psychiatrist - he makes me feel I'm not real." He started to run across the lawn. The bear toppled out of the window and followed as fast as its stubby legs would allow.
Monica Swinton was up in the nursery. She called to her son once and then stood there, undecided. All was silent.
Crayons lay on his desk. Obeying a sudden impulse, she went over to the desk and opened it. Dozens of pieces of paper lay inside. Many of them were written in crayon in David's clumsy writing, with each letter picked out in a color different from the letter preceding it. None of the messages was finished.
"My dear Mummy, How are you really, do you love me as much -"
"Dear Mummy, I love you and Daddy and the sun is shining -"
"Dear dear Mummy, Teddy's helping me write to you. I love you and Teddy -"
"Darling Mummy, I'm your one and only son and I love you so much that some times -"
"Dear Mummy, you're really my Mummy and I hate Teddy -"
"Darling Mummy, guess how much I love -"
"Dear Mummy, I'm your little boy not Teddy and I love you but Teddy -"
"Dear Mummy, this is a letter to you just to say how much how ever so much -"
Monica dropped the pieces of paper and burst out crying. In their gay inaccurate colors, the letters fanned out and settled on the floor.
Henry Swinton caught the express home in high spirits, and occasionally said a word to the synthetic serving-man he was taking home with him. The serving-man answered politely and punctually, although his answers were not always entirely relevant by human standards.
The Swintons lived in one of the ritziest city-blocks, half a kilometer above the ground. Embedded in other apartments, their apartment had no windows to the outside; nobody wanted to see the overcrowded external world. Henry unlocked the door with his retina pattern-scanner and walked in, followed by the serving-man.
At once, Henry was sur-rounded by the friendly illusion of gardens set in eternal summer. It was amazing what Whologram could do to create huge mirages in small spaces. Behind its roses and wisteria stood their house; the deception was complete: a Georgian mansion appeared to welcome him.
"How do you like it?" he asked the serving-man.
"Roses occasionally suffer from black spot."
"These roses are guaranteed free from any imperfections."
"It is always advisable to purchase goods with guarantees, even if they cost slightly more."
"Thanks for the information," Henry said dryly. Synthetic life-forms were less than ten years old, the old android mechanicals less than sixteen; the faults of their systems were still being ironed out, year by year.
He opened the door and called to Monica.
She came out of the sitting-room immediately and flung her arms round him, kissing him ardently on cheek and lips. Henry was amazed.
Pulling back to look at her face, he saw how she seemed to generate light and beauty. It was months since he had seen her so excited. Instinctively, he clasped her tighter.
"Darling, what's happened?"
"Henry, Henry - oh, my darling, I was in despair ... but I've just dialed the afternoon post and - you'll never believe it! Oh, it's wonderful!"
"For heaven's sake, woman, what's wonderful?"
He caught a glimpse of the heading on the photostat in her hand, still moist from the wall-receiver: Ministry of Population. He felt the color drain from his face in sudden shock and hope.
"Monica ... oh ... Don't tell me our number's come up!"
"Yes, my darling, yes, we've won this week's parenthood lottery! We can go ahead and conceive a child at once!"
He let out a yell of joy. They danced round the room. Pressure of population was such that reproduction had to be strict, controlled. Childbirth required government permission. For this moment, they had waited four years. Incoherently they cried their delight.
They paused at last, gasping, and stood in the middle of the room to laugh at each other's happiness. When she had come down from the nursery, Monica had de-opaqued the windows, so that they now revealed the vista of garden beyond. Artificial sunlight was growing long and golden across the lawn - and David and Teddy were staring through the window at them.
Seeing their faces, Henry and his wife grew serious.
"What do we do about them?" Henry asked.
"Teddy's no trouble. He works well."
"Is David malfunctioning?"
"His verbal communication-center is still giving trouble. I think he'll have to go back to the factory again."
"Okay. We'll see how he does before the baby's born. Which reminds me - I have a surprise for you: help just when help is needed! Come into the hall and see what I've got."
As the two adults disappeared from the room, boy and bear sat down beneath the standard roses.
"Teddy - I suppose Mummy and Daddy are real, aren't they?"
Teddy said, "You ask such silly questions, David. Nobody knows what 'real' really means. Let's go indoors."
"First I'm going to have another rose!" Plucking a bright pink flower, he carried it with him into the house. It could lie on the pillow as he went to sleep. Its beauty and softness reminded him of Mummy.