Red Dwarf: The Uncanny Valley
Rimmer opened his eyes.
‘You know what the uncanny valley is, Lister?’
‘Something to do with your mum?’
Rimmer swung his legs off his bunk and sat with his head in his hands
‘I looked it up’, Holly interjected helpfully from the cabin comm. screen, ‘In the bumper book of memes for boys, when Rimmer started to go a bit peculiar.’
(‘Started?' muttered Lister, and ‘A bit?’)
‘Two weeks ago. It's a simple theory: something that is nothing like a person isn't disturbing to look at. And of course the human body itself isn't disturbing.’
Rimmer, frowning mournfully into the infinite distance, didn't look entirely convinced on this point.
‘But in between, those things that are almost but not quite human - like clowns and puppets - are disturbing,’ said Holly.
‘And there you have it’, said Rimmer, ‘In the proverbial nutshell. That's my problem - the uncanny valley.’
‘Let me get this right’, said Lister. ‘You are disturbed because this ship is full of entities that are not-quite-human. Like AIs and mechanoids and cat-men - and holograms f'rinstance?’
‘no, no, no,
Rimmer was struggling with the urge to flee the conversation, but Holly was right - something so strange had happened to him in the past couple of weeks - and it had disturbed him so much that he needed to share.
So he shared.
‘I'm talking about the, the... things Holly comes up with when he tries to give me the feeling that I'm, you know, not totally alone in a one-man universe, pulling my own plonker.’
‘You aren't totally alone, Rimmer, man.’
‘Ha!’ Rimmer closed his eyes, with an expression of infinite self-pity. ‘You don't know what it's like to be all alone in the universe.’
An observation which Lister, with extreme fortitude, allowed to pass unremarked.
‘Hang on’, said Lister, after a second or two of reflection, ‘Go back a couple of sentences. What do you mean “the things Holly comes up with when he tries to give me the feeling”?’
The tone of his voice added several more ???'s and a couple of !!'s to the question
‘What feeling? What have you been getting him to do?’
‘I've never had much need for human contact,’ said Rimmer, ‘My family had no time for all that hippy touchy-feely stuff, thank god. My mother preferred as she said to “leave the scut-work to scutters”. You know - scut work - changing nappies, wiping noses, kissing her children.’
‘Kissing?’ said Lister incredulously.
‘Hugging? said Lister.
‘Well, not so much hugging as “carrying”’. Until I learned to walk and wipe my own nose.’
‘This explains a lot, Rimmer.’
‘But even self-sufficient warrior types, like me or General Patton, unwittingly receive a certain amount of,’ Rimmer blushed deeply and incongruously, ‘Gratification, from day to day interaction with other people: casual touch which might go unremarked under normal circumstances, which you might overlook, until it's gone for ever, and you know you'll never feel anything again that isn't simulated by a computer.’
Lister started to have some inkling of what that might feel like and struggled to think of a harsh or flippant remark which would disguise the pang of pity which momentarily flooded him. He swallowed robustly.
‘So you, er, you spoke to Holly about, er, all this? And he tried to rectify the problem? By producing a human simulation for you to, er, interact with?’
(In the darkness in my bunk) Rimmer thought; then he pulled himself together.
‘Oh, Holly did what he could,’ drawled Rimmer. ‘Which wasn't much,’ he added bitterly.
‘Simulating a single human personality takes 60% of my spare processing capacity,’ said Holly defensively. ‘If I simulated two I'd have to shut down vital systems, and nobody wants that do they?’
‘So what he could manage,’ Rimmer cleared his throat, ‘Wasn't so much a simulation of human touch as...’
'Inflatable Rita?' said Lister in as neutral a tone as possible 'A mechanoid sexbot?'
‘More like clowns and puppets,’ said Rimmer. ’Glove puppets.’
Both Lister and Rimmer suppressed the images that came to mind unbidden. Lister never wanted to think of Basil Brush in that context ever again.
‘Then when that didn't suit me, he tried to reconstruct more realistic human company for me, by ransacking my memory or my imagination. Or,’ Rimmer shuddered violently, ‘My subconscious.’
‘What was that like’? asked Lister, prurient curiosity overcoming empathy.
‘Don't,’ said Rimmer, ‘Ask. Don't ask, ever.’
One day, and in another story, we may explore the dark fractured forms which battened onto Rimmer, for a few moments which seemed like lifetimes in hell, the night that Holly dredged his subconscious for sexual imagery. The worst thing was that some of it was pure smegging gold. But he could never think of it again. Well, not too often and not for long.
to be cont'd