With Folded Hands
Williamson’s remarkable writing career spanned nine decades, from
the 1920s to the mid-2000s. Many of the great figures of science
fiction (the ones who inspired the authors who inspired modern
authors) were themselves inspired by Williamson. In 1976, Williamson
was honoured as a SFWA Grandmaster, the second author to receive that
accolade. Rumour has it part of the motive was fear that if SFWA
delayed, Williamson might die of old age. He did in fact die—in
2006, thirty years later.
Williamson was seemingly inspired by post-war anxiety, he came to
realize that the story my young friends are reviewing had a very
was only when I looked back at the story much later on that I was
able to realize that the emotional reach of the story undoubtedly
derived from my own early childhood, when people were attempting to
protect me from all those hazardous things a kid is going to
encounter in the isolated frontier setting I grew up in. As a result,
I felt frustrated and over protected by people whom I couldn't hate
because I loved them. A sort of psychological trap. Specifically, the
first three years of my life were spent on a ranch at the top of the
Sierra Madre Mountains on the headwaters of the Yaqui River in
Sonora, Mexico. There were no neighbors close, and my mother was
afraid of all sorts of things: that I might be kidnapped or get lost,
that I would be bitten by a scorpion and die (something she'd heard
of happening to Mexican kids), or that I might be caught by a
mountain lion or a bear. The house we were living in was primitive,
with no door, only curtains, and when she'd see bulls fighting
outside, she couldn't see why invaders wouldn't just charge into the
house. She was terrified by this environment. My father built a crib
that became a psychological prison for me, particularly because my
mother apparently kept me in it too long, when I needed to get out
and crawl on the floor. I understand my mother's good intentions—the
floor was mud and there were scorpions crawling around, so she was
afraid of what might happen to me—but this experience produced in
me a deep seated distrust of benevolent protection. In retrospect,
I'm certain I projected my fears and suspicions of this kind of
conditioning, and these projections became the governing emotional
principle of "With Folded Hands" and The
this personal element is what made the story memorable enough for
inclusion in The
Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two. The Science Fiction Hall of
intended to “bestow (...) recognition on stories that were
published prior to 1966, and thus never had a chance to earn a
Nebula." It seemed to me obvious that Williamson had to be part
of this review series, and that of his short works, this was the one
I had to pick.
its merits be at all appealing to my readers or will those be
overshadowed by the ways in which it has aged?
the 2004 movie starring Will Smith was claimed to be based on Isaac
Asimov's Robot stories. After reading this story, I think it was
actually based on With
and that Asimov was marketable for movie execs. There are many
parallels, from the free replacement of old non-humanity-enslaving
models of robots to the silicone skin and the central brain
controlling everything. It even has the single creator of the robots
who was done in by his own directives.
found it odd that interplanetary travel was commonplace, but other
to have stayed at 1950s levels. Big magnetic relays and no integrated circuits
read stories with the same point before, that perfect safety makes life
very dull. Come to think of it, I believe they were Asimov Robot stories.
I am really struck by the similarity. And by the similarity of the story
of the discovery of a new force that makes fission and fusion easier which
reminded me of The
which was the book club book one year I was in WatSFic. Was there
borrowing going on with this, or were these all just popular topics
at the time?
has a Bad End that only science fiction and horror stories have, and
that the movie I,
not allowed to have. Now I'm curious why so many science fiction
stories have Bad Ends when most other fiction avoids them.
pretty sure James saw the "no talk of representation"
opening paragraph of my last review, and in response and presented me
with this story. I am trying not to take the bait and talk about how
annoyingly sexist the story is. Instead I will make the following
- I couldn't tell if the way women were described in the first few pages of the story was satire or sincere.
- The story got better as it went along (i.e. I found the part where themrobots slowly take over much more comforting than the description of the main character's home/family life pre-robot invasion)
- The first part of this story brought me the same amount of joy as I would have received from binge watching The Jetsons (a cartoon that depicted a future where cars could fly but married women couldn't work outside the home).
of other reasons why we might have been asked to review this story, I
suppose there's also the idea that the author was concerned about
robots becoming So Good At Things that people wouldn't be able to do
stuff anymore. Especially with computers, self driving cars,
smartphones, and The Internet, this is still a theme that scares some
(possibly old) people to this day.
the thought of some offloading some of the things I do to a robot
sounds like a Good Thing, rather than a Bad Thing to me. But I guess
it makes sense that people with regressive, traditionalist attitudes
towards familial roles (i.e. the author of this story) would be
afraid of the robots taking over.
maybe the whole story was satirical, and I just didn't pick up on it.
hard to say, really.
it aged well?
in that it has aged better than other stories that have attempted to
set a story in a near/alternate future. It eases in with vague
general terms on new technologies from an unsophisticated
because of sexism and a general mid-20th
century vibe. The wife is valued according to her physical
attractiveness, and hard work has spoiled her by making her ‘too
aggressive’. The ideal is a docile, physically appealing, girlish,
sexual, non-working woman. He thinks wistfully of when she was like
his young pre-pubescent daughter—that wouldn’t make it past an
editor now, or they might get complaints. The advertising pamphlet
for the mechanicals is aimed at women—apparently, the happiest
dreams of women involve 1) Not cooking, 2) Not working, 3) and No
story describes ingrained sexism very well, though I suspect it’s
unintentional. It’s always in the background but never the focus.
It is inherent in how the protagonist thinks and perceives almost
everyone, and it is inherent in the family’s character traits
assigned by the author.
a general post-WWII vibe with a perfect nuclear family—one mother,
one father, one daughter, one son. They have a house, a car, a
working father and a stay-at-home mother. I’m almost surprised
there was no dog to complete the perfect picture.
reminds me of…
media involving a sinister group with a hive mind.
seem to be very worried and unsettled by the idea of hive minds or
collectives. A few examples come to mind: zombies from The Walking
Dead, the Borg from Star Trek, the alien race from Ender’s Game,
the invading race from the Acorna series. Of course, hives as we know
them don’t really work like that. Bees, ants and man-o’-wars are
just colonies of animals that have specialized in ways that violate
Western beliefs around individuality.
just learned a bit about the history and present state of women in
advertising, the part with the pamphlet jumped out at me. The
pamphlet and the protagonist’s thoughts about his own wife were
reflective of how things were and are in advertising in our world.
Not terrible. But not good.
it’s the difference of almost 70 years of additional
robots-will-take-over-and-destroy-humanity stories, but I just can’t
wrap my head around the idea of robots showing up and everyone just
randomly letting them take over their houses, businesses, and jobs
within a day. Even the least genre-savvy person these days knows that
robots coming to take over the planet isn’t a good thing.
Underhill is an interesting choice of narrator. He has enough
knowledge of the current level of technology that he can give the
reader perspective into the drastic technological leap forward the
humanoids represent, as well as give us a perspective on how quickly
society is falling apart. While I found the games he plays with
himself and his sense of superiority annoying, but it also provides
useful worldbuilding to explain what is considered possible in this
world, and why the humanoids go outside of those parameters, without
having to resort to a complete infodump (it’s still an infodump,
but at least I’m busy disliking the point of view character while
if I ignore the garbage science and assume that the humanoids
integrated themselves slowly into society instead of overnight, the
themes hold up pretty well. Concerns about automation taking away
jobs and if we’ve made things “too safe” feel like they fit in
a modern context.
also liked that the story did include the idea of what is essentially
cloud computing and the internet of things. The humanoids are using a
server-client setup, and they’re replacing stand alone things with
equivalents that can only be run by the humanoids. While the science
is invented, the tech might just apply more today than it did when
this was written, since these days some people already have lights,
thermostats, and door locks (among other things) that are controlled
by the internet. Our future humanoid overlords are basically Google.
casual sexism in this piece was very aggravating, although not that
unexpected. Mr. Underhill seems to love his wife solely because she
is pretty and diets, while criticizing her for being “aggressive”
and seeming to believe that all her choices are foolish. It’s
disappointing that there’s no real characterization for her or the
children beyond the bare minimum that the plot requires to continue
Mr. Underhill’s story. For a story that spends so much time
focusing on what he has to lose, I would like to see it be more
interested in his family, instead of just his already failing
biggest issue with this is that it’s just too slow. It’s hard to
get invested in the plot when things take so long to get going,
because I’m bored long before getting to the interesting parts. I’d
like less build up and more actual story.