Excerpt from “The Maker Dilemma”

This is the sequel to my previous science fiction short story The Robot Who Loved God. It’s about the same length as my previous tale and hopefully will successfully expand upon the concepts I introduced in the first story. In “The Robot Who Loved,” the prototype robot George was deactivated at the end of a week’s worth of tests. During that week, George was accidentally introduced to the concept of God, particularly the God of Israel, the God of his creator, Professor Noah Abramson.

Although George was considered a failed experiment by National Robotics Corporation CEO Richard Underwood who did not allow Abramson to reactivate him, a critical problem has been discovered that cannot be solved by human beings. Will George be able to find a solution to the problem of how to re-create a working Positronic brain when the finest human scientific minds cannot, and how will George’s apprehension of God affect the project?

Here’s a brief excerpt from the short story. I hope you’ll enjoy it enough to click the link at the bottom and read the whole thing.

Margie Vuong, as usual, was the first member of the Positronics team to enter the lab, today just after 4 a.m. She found George is his alcove in sleep mode, which she didn’t expect. Abramson had permitted the robot to forego “sleep” in order to work on the mystery of the non-reproducible Positronics brain, so she thought she’d find him still at it.

Most people thought Vuong was an insomniac, but ever since she was an undergrad, she found she needed relatively little sleep, and she enjoyed the quiet of the early morning hours when almost everyone else was still in bed. It left her alone with her thoughts which usually was the company she most enjoyed.

However last night, even when Margie wanted to sleep, she couldn’t. So she stayed awake and caught up on personal emails, read some recently published technical articles, and for several hours, binge watched the reboot of Firefly…entertaining, but not as good as the original.

This morning, Vuong regretted never having developed the taste any caffeinated beverages. Her ex-husband had tried to get her interested in his hobby of drinking coffee from beans he had roasted himself, but she didn’t find the smell or taste palatable.

Vuong had logged into her terminal and was checking emails when George spoke: “Good morning, Dr. Vuong. I hope you slept well.” The robot could monitor her vitals better than a Fitbit and knew damn well she barely slept at all.

Resisting the urge to snap back at the machine with some snarky remark, Vuong instead replied, “Good morning, George.”

“Dr. Vuong, I would like to ask a favor of you.” What favor could she possibly do for a robot and was it something she was willing to do?

“Since Professor Abramson has asked that there be no digital footprint of our investigation, I cannot send out a group-wide email or text informing the team of the conclusion to my investigation. When the team arrives, can you arrange for a meeting in the conference room with all senior members?” Each team lead had a small staff of technicians at their disposal, and it was clear George didn’t find their presence required to hear his announcement.

“Wait! What?” Had George actually solved the problem? Did he know why she and the Professor couldn’t create another working Positronic brain?

“I believe 9 a.m. should be an appropriate time for such a meeting, since Dr. Miller, the most tardy member of the group, typically arrives no later than 8:30.”

“Uh, sure George. Um…you really solved the problem of duplicating a Positronic brain?”

“I would prefer to announce my findings to the whole team, Dr. Vuong.”

“Care to give me a hint?” The one night when she let Abramson convince her to go home rather than stay late at the lab was the night when George found out where she and Noah had gone wrong. She wanted to hate George for that, but she wanted the answer even more.

“I don’t believe I know how to ‘hint,’ Dr. Vuong.”

In a moment of resentment, Margie counted all of the different ways she could insert an invasive program into a Positronic matrix. No, this wasn’t George being deliberately obstructive. The robot was just being transparent with the team as he was instructed to do. No withholding information from some team members and only revealing it to others.

It didn’t occur to Vuong that George was withholding a great deal of information from the team. It just had nothing to do with Positronic brains.

-from The Maker Dilemma

5 thoughts on “Excerpt from “The Maker Dilemma””

  1. I enjoyed the sequel very much, James. You will need to search the word ‘may’, and change it to ‘my’. Other cleaning up will have to do with detailing the dialog quotes, and perhaps changing your paragraph style to a more paper style of book, rather than a computer page spaced for easy reading, but not to worry, the errors are very few, and you will easily find them when you choose to allocate time.

    I would suggest tying the two tales together into a full novel…your detailing of the personal lives of your character’s has improved things immeasurably…Vuong is has a mean streak and a controlling impatience that is very deftly stated…it’s obvious that she prefers herself to anyone else, which I find interesting not understanding her character’s background. Underwood is nicely dislikeable in a totally understandable way, since I am on George’s side in these tales, and delight in Abramson getting his way..

    I was momentarily surprised at the introduction of a married gay couple, but since I am not against anyone’s personal choices so long as they follow civil law, and I allow, just as G-d does, everyone to make their own mistakes, I accepted the characters readily, and find them interesting and unique. That Underwood is a phobic about religion is understandable given his gender identity, and his presumed dislike of religious judgement of his choices. Perhaps having experienced Christianity was enough for Underwood to form those phobias. His partner sounds charming, and supportive.

    The varying levels of covenant responsibility echoed something I was thinking about…Cohenim and Levites having more responsibility and mitsvot than the other Israelites in a Temple centered society, then the level of responsibility and mitsvot for the Talmid Yeshua who is of the Nations, though not used in your descending level of laws for each group; the next level being the Noahides of the Nations, and finally, in your writings, yet another level of the The Three laws for the Robots. Very neat and tidily described…my mind just automatically added in what is required of Messianic Gentiles as each level of required obedience to commandments.

    I am enjoying the friendship building between the Professor and George, and the Professor’s subtle rebellion and deviance from Underwood’s desires, if only in providing relationship to George. I have ordered, the book, God, Robot, just to refresh my memory of robotics…it’s been a while since I read Asimov. I will have to dig in some boxes, and pull them out and dust them off. I will have to also get more into Freeman’s writings on Schneerson…the depth of the disciple/rabbi relationship for the Chassidic Schliach relationships is very great, and I have run across it elsewhere. Disciple relationships in the Chassidic community I understand are very deep.

    Kurt Vonnegut never came my way, but I find the story allusion interesting enough to pursue him as a new author…I am always in need of new reading material.

    The George and Grace partnership of names struck me, first from the conception of Grace as a religious matter for George, and a ‘female’ counterpart names Grace as an gift of G-d to the Believer George, and then as wondering if she would be ‘Gracie’, and whether George would enjoy any of the Burns’ shows. That it was accidentally done just proves how you can write one thing and find out that you have meant another without realizing it.

    I also noted your personal insights for stress management in heavy lifting…nice to know it works. I prefer digging gardens and the greenhouse, but it is the same idea. I found your step by step portrayal of lifting weights to be very precise….almost painfully so!

    I look forward to more of this adventure, even as I work on my own fictional writing that is so very different from yours, but with a great deal of Judaic, as well as Kingdom issues, since the book I am writing is stretching from just before the advent of the Man of Sin, and into Yeshua’s return, and how that looks for all concerned in the Kingdom.. Just a different kind of Sci-Fi, of course, and nowhere near of such progress as you are making. I am always chomping at the bit to get back to the writing I wish to do…I am very glad you have managed it. It is encouraging for me.

    I am fascinated with the development and growth of your characters…well done!

    1. @Questor: Yeah, typos are a pain. No matter how many times I read through a story, I always miss some. Corrected the one “may/my” I found. Anything else?

      A full novel would be interesting, but I’m a firm believer that before you start a story, you should know how it ends. I don’t know how I’d reasonably end this saga, especially since there’s no real way to develop George and his descendants to become full-fledged “theobots”.

      Having Underwood be gay was a bit of a fluke. It just popped into my head when I was writing something about his character in the first story. Decided to keep it in just to see what would happen. It’s not going to be a major plot point in most of the subsequent stories, although as a non-gendered robot who is studying Talmud, it would be interesting to see how George would conceptualize straight and gay couples.

      Anyway, glad you like the stories so far.

  2. Yes, indeed, I too enjoyed “it enough to click the link at the bottom and read the whole thing.” I’ll do it now…

    I like the statement about George not thinking “he” knows how to hint (while that might be questionable as he suggested Margie might have had a good night’s sleep when he could detect she hadn’t). I really like the statement that George “wasn’t being deliberately obstructive…” that answering one person without giving information or thinking to all, and at once, would be withholding or amount to lack of transparency. Even if he thinks she would be the worst person of the group to know what he knows before others, he’s following his given rules.

    [Obviously, I’ve read something into what’s shared above.]

    …okay, now.

  3. Rethink on the first of the two things I said I like: based on your answer [in the posting about “a reader” responding to your first installment, I think the second posting topic at your new site] about George not being able to change his tone of voice (while his tone does change to seem more human), maybe his statement about having gotten a good night’s sleep (to Dr. Vuong) really did involve no hinting. It’s just something he’s programmed to say in the morning. The speculation is fun.

    I noticed the doctor herself made a very similar observational speculation in the longer version (I think of this “Dilemma” story).

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