Think about what sci-fi would look like without the term “robot” in it. Think of all the properties that would be vastly different, or gone altogether.
No C-3PO, and maybe no R2-D2 either.
No Terminators, which probably means no breakthrough role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
No Optimus Prime, no Autobots. No new Bumblebee movie this weekend.
Will Robinson died because nobody was there to warn him of danger.
Virtually no career track for Isaac Asimov, as presently constituted. The dude wrote an entire library of robot stories.
Not to say someone else wouldn’t have eventually come up with the idea of man-shaped machine that could think for itself, and give it a name that would become universal around the world, but we’re going off of what did happen in our timeline.
The writer responsible for this massive genre cornerstone was none other than Czech author Karel Čapek, pronounced “kuh-RELL CHAP-eck,” who died on Christmas of 1938. Here is his Wikipedia article, and a picture of him.
The term “robot” comes from a Czech word for “labor,” which was a central theme of the play he wrote, Rossum’s Universal Robots, set in a future where the robots performed manual tasks for humans, then eventually rose up and took over, and achieved sentience bit by bit.
The play is about 60 pages long, and I meant to have read it before doing this post, but work and life have taken my focus and it fell down the list of priorities. Nevertheless, as we humans like to celebrate round numbers of anniversaries, I wanted to give his legend a boost on his 80th.
Personally I’m grateful for his work. Transformers and Terminator both came out in 1984, the year I was born, and they’ve had a massive influence on my creative work throughout my whole life. Robots have always been my thing and I’m sure I’ll write a lot of stories about them in different ways.
Between Stan Lee and Karel Čapek, I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about what kind of mark I want to leave on the creative world during my time. It will be a lot harder than it was in their day; competition is stronger and more plentiful, and it’s hard to stand out. Will I ever revolutionize sci-fi and fantasy like these men did? It is my hope, and can only happen if I work at it.
I do have the great fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants in my time. Thanks for your stories, Karel Čapek. Keep resting in peace, and Merry Christmas to you all.
Now get back to work.