Saturday, May 9, 2009

Robot bartenders and liquor organs

The wonderful Make blog contains this piece about robot bartenders:

And separately:

"Gallegher Plus"

(May 31, 2004)

From the November 1943 issue of ASTOUNDING, this is one of the five 'Gallegher' stories by Henry Kuttner. (Although they were first published under the Lewis Padgett name, his wife C.L. Moore has said she had nothing to do with writing these stories; a bit unusual, as the two usually collaborated on most of what they wrote.)

These tales are very clever and well constructed, with a surreal sense of humour. I personally found them more amusing than hysterically funny, but of course we all have different ideas on what's hilarious or not. The basic premise is that a young man named Galloway Gallegher drinks pretty much nonstop. When completely sotted, his subconscious comes to the surface and takes over but, instead of being a monstrous Mr Hyde, this Gallegher Plus is an inventive supergenius who cobbles together astounding devices from materials at hand.

The next morning, crawling about poisoned by his hangover, the regular Gallegher is faced with a bizarre invention he has no memory of constructing and which he has to deal with. Since our hero has absolutely no technical knowledge, he is completely lost when faced with this unlikely gizmos. One such invention is the recurring sidekick in the series, a narcissistic robot called Joe. (Joe by the way is a delight, obsessed with his own mechanical beauty and filled with withering remarks about we repulsive meat creatures. "I'll get you a robe. Your ungainly body offends my aesthetic feelings," he informs his creator, fresh from the shower.

In this particular tale, Gallegher is suffering his usual morning hangover as he realizes that most of his backyard was vanished, the soil apparently vaporized by a goofy looking contraption he must have worked up the night before. Giving the matter some urgency, Gallegher finds he has promised to come up with inventions requested by three different people, all of whom advanced him large sums of money he no longer has. Faced with summonses to appear in court and harassing messages from his clients, Gallegher has to muddle through the situation and solve all his
problems at once.

What makes the stories funny is that the dayime Gallegher (who is usually partly sober) has no memory of what the soused Gallegher Plus was up to. He has to go about his business as if he knows what's going on, making him something like a detective trying to solve his own mystery. In this particular case, after much turmoil and tense moments, he finds out the answers to the demands from all three clients are right in front of him. And he also learns why the gizmo plays "St. James Infirmary" while it's functioning....

The story seems to be set in some indeterminate near future – there are references to things like taxiplanes and dashboard teledirectories, as well as a man being hard to reach because he's away on Callisto – but it's not really necessary. Except for a few inessential details, we might as well be in 1943 Manhattan from the way everyone talks and acts. A man in a derby playing pinball in a saloon.... that's really not a futuristic image.

What gives the Gallegher stories a slightly bizarro atmosphere is the nonjudgmental attitude of the characters (and the narrator) toward our hero's alcohol habit. For at least the past ten or fifteen years that I've noticed, popular entertainment has really been dead set against drinking and smoking. Watching the Thin Man movies from the 1930s (where Nick and Nora seldom put down their glasses) or reading detective stories from the 1940s (where Mike Shayne seems to function better with brandy than with any sleep), I'm amazed to recall that until fairly recently, getting drunk was considered fairly amusing. (Remember that guy on the Jackie Gleason show who sang a beautiful song while plastered?)

Gallegher carries this to an extreme, even for that more tolerant period. It`s not like he's cold hard sober most of the time and just becomes Gallegher Plus after two martinis. No, this boy is hitting the sauce constantly. He has set up a "liquor organ" by his couch which dispenses various combinations of booze through a tube. At one point, he goes with a shady character on an alphabetical barcrawl ("You start with A – absinthe – and then work along, brandy, Cointreau, daiquiri, egg flip..."). They have to fudge a bit here and there, and must start all over after realizing they skipped 'N'. Egads, I can only imagine synthetic livers are inexpensive and readily available in this era.

Aside from being an ingenious puzzle story, in which the hero has to figure out what his other self did, while pretending to be on top of things, "Gallegher Plus" is filled with amusing little touches. The vain robot Joe says he will allow people to watch him dance if they wish, but at the same time he has no problem with the idea of breaking a few heads ("I like blood. It`s a primary color.") Four Gallegher stories by Henry Kuttner appeared in ASTOUNDING in 1943, with a fifth in 1948. They were collected in an anthology with the puzzling title ROBOTS HAVE NO TAILS. Now, if someone would only gather his Hogben stories about the superpowered hillbillies into one book...

Above quote excerpted from this page.

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