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The Complete Roderick
John Sladek
Victor Gollancz, 611 pages

The Complete Roderick
John Sladek
John Sladek was born in 1937 in the USA but lived in London, UK, from the mid-60s to 1986. His work began to appear during SF's New Wave period when Michael Moorcock was the editor of New Worlds magazine. Tik-Tok (1983) won the British SF Association Award. By 1989, he was back in Minnesota, earning his living as a technical writer. Besides SF, John Sladek explored other genres such as in his collaboration with Thomas M Disch on the thriller Black Alice (1968), a spoof Gothic novel written as Cassandra Knye, and a pair of "Golden Age" detective crime novels, Black Aura (1974) and Invisible Green (1977). He died March 10, 2000, of hereditary lung disease.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tik-Tok

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stephen M. Davis

Unfortunately, The Complete Roderick is a work that will forever carry with it a sign with the words "What might have been" printed on it.

Roderick is an evolving robot: he evolves from an AI construct to a legless but mobile box with sensory apparatus, and finally, near the end of the first novel in this two-volume compilation, to something with a body and a reasonable facsimile of a head, though a head painted black, which causes quite a bit of confusion amongst some of Roderick's neighbors.

This is the story of a robot who enters the world as a blank slate, and who finds himself unaccepted by the human society around him: he is abused by his original owners, completely misunderstood by his teachers, and victimized through a kind of bizarre race prejudice by an assortment of very strange people.

The Complete Roderick is openly satirical, but unfortunately, the author does not really provide any grounding at all in the real world, where everyone is not in fact completely self-serving, or just plain stupid. I simply had too difficult a time imagining that no one in Roderick's world is able to recognize that a mechanical contraption with no head is not actually a human being, even with the understanding that the work is meant to be viewed allegorically.

There are some truly funny moments in The Complete Roderick, especially when Roderick is sent off to a private Catholic school after public school has failed him. The school principal is far more concerned with determining if Roderick might be a good addition to the basketball team than with any matters of academics, and Roderick's naive and bewildering questions of Father Warren concerning various points of theology and ontology are pitched at just the right level to cause the conscientious father to find himself in over his head. There is even a nun so aged that she has been released from all duties except the polishing of the hall floor, a task she performs with a vigor that has unfortunate consequences.

I think the reader will find, as I did, that what is quite funny for thirty or so pages in any one spot becomes a real drag over the span of hundreds of pages. The bitter sense of man's stupidity towards man, and society's unstoppable, relentless swirling around some metaphorical sewage drain are both unrelenting in The Complete Roderick, and weigh down the work of a writer who had considerable talent with words and dialogue.

Copyright © 2002 Stephen M. Davis

Steve Davis teaches at the University of New Orleans as an Instructor of English. He enjoys chess, strong black coffee, and books by authors who care enough to work at their craft.

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