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Literature / Galley Slave

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First published in Galaxy Science Fiction (December 1957 issue), by Isaac Asimov, and republished in their UK (issue #59, February 1958), their French (issue #52, January 1959), and their Italian (issue #15, August 1959) branches. This novelette is a Courtroom Episode for the Robot Series, featuring US Robots being put on trial by a victim of their robots. Much of the events in the story is told through witness statements on the stand, slightly to egregiously modified from actual events, with the trial serving as a Framing Device because the testimony is mostly given in third-person.

In 2033, Director of Research, Alfred Lanning, had met with Professor Barnabas H. Goodfellow, of Northeastern University, to demonstrate EZ-27, a new robot model that would take care of mental drudgery, such as proofreading, grading papers, preparing reports, and other miscellany duties. He then presents the robot's abilities to a meeting of the university's department heads, who vote to lease the robot for an entire year.

During this year, Professor Simon Ninheimer, head of the Department of Sociology, began submitting his book, Social Tensions Involved in Space-Flight and Their Resolution, to Easy for review. However, when it was published, it contained egregious errors and outright misrepresentations of other sociology papers.

This motivated Professor Ninheimer to sue US Robots, claiming that his professional reputation has been irrevocably damaged.

"Galley Slave" has been republished several times; Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels (1960), Time Waits For Winthrop And Four Other Short Novels From Galaxy (1962), The Rest of the Robots (1964), L'ombra del 2000 (1965), 9 Science Fiction-Stories (1969), The Seven Deadly Sins Of Science Fiction (1980), The Complete Robot (1982), Urania (issue #932, November 1982), Robot Visions Collection (1990), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).

Not to be mistaken for Slave Galley, a boat rowed by a large group of slaves.

"Galley Slave" contains examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Simon Ninheimer, professor of sociology, attempts to invoke this trope when it comes to explaining why he "forgot" to give copies of his book to his colleague, Dr. Baker, and the university library.
    "Simple forgetfulness. I didn't give the library its copy, either." Ninheimer smiled cautiously. "Professors are notoriously absentminded."
  • Big "SHUT UP!": When EZ-27 attempts to explain the reason why it changed certain passages in Professor Ninheimer's book, the man shouts that it had been ordered to keep quiet, inadvertently revealing that he had been responsible for the hack rewriting of his book.
  • Courtroom Episode: Professor Ninheimer, of Northeastern University, is attempting to sue US Robotics (represented by Dr. Calvin, Director Lanning, and CEO Robertson). The judge for the case, Justice Shane, has allowed for a closed-door trial, without a jury. United States Robots and Mechanical Men is being sued for causing damage to Ninheimer's reputation.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The attorneys for Prosecution and Defense are only referred to by their courtroom roles, despite their sidebar conversations with the judge and clients.
  • Fictional Document:
    • Physical Chemistry of Electrolytes in Solution is the first book that EZ-27 proofreads on-screen.
    • Social Tensions Involved in Space-Flight and Their Resolution is Professor Simon Ninheimer's book, the one that he alleges has been destroyed by robot EZ-27's editing. It is named often enough to be referred to by the shortened title, Social Tensions.
    • Ninheimer's book involves a variety of references; Sociological Reviews (containing a paper from Suzuki on neurological effects in low gravity), Social Science Abstracts (a magazine in which Ninheimer is annotating for inclusion), as well as unnamed papers by Speidell and Ipatiev.
  • Frame-Up: Professor Ninheimer is a sociologist who has been writing a book for over eight years. When it finally gets published, the book is a travesty, and he claims that the robot used to proofread his work is responsible for the changes. Therefore, he is attempting to sue US Robots. However, he made the changes himself, and ordered the robot to keep silent about the issue.
  • In-Series Nickname: The robot in this work is given the model name/number of EZ-27, which is shortened to Easy.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: Professor Ninheimer reveals his motivation to Dr. Calvin at the end of the story; he had tried to frame robot EZ-27 because he believed that robots like EZ would obsolete the job of the scholar.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Published in 1958, this story revolves around the work of a galley slave for a university. By this time, Dr. Asimov had collaborated several times on creating university textbooks for publisher Walker And Wilkins, as well as being the sole author for several other nonfiction books on the subjects of physics and chemistry. The story goes into quite a bit of detail as the antagonist bringing a lawsuit against US Robotics is at risk of losing his reputation on the basis of the proofs created by EZ-27. Professor Ninheimer's rant at the end goes into detail about the joy of writing.
  • Robot Names: The titular character is an EZ-27, nicknamed "Easy".
  • Saying Too Much: Professor Ninheimer sues US Robotics, accusing EZ-27 of altering his work. When he is interrogated at the trial, EZ-27 begins to speak up, and Ninheimer blurts out "Damn you, you were instructed to keep your mouth shut about..." Oops. He had made the changes himself, then brought the case to make a point against automation. The real twist is that EZ-27 wasn't going to tell the truth anyway, since the First Law (manifested as a desire to protect Ninheimer's reputation) trumps the fact that it would be scrapped if it didn't speak out (Third Law), as well as the order to be quiet (Second Law). The only reason for US Robotics' lawyer to bring EZ-27 to the trial is in order to trick Ninheimer, who distrusts robots and is deliberately ignorant of how they worked, into making that slip, by providing the robot with a higher-level First Law trigger that trumped the initial one.
  • Secondary Character Title: The title refers to robot EZ-27, constructed to do proofreading, grading, and the other miscellany mental drudgery that occurs in universities.
  • Self-Serving Memory: The witness testimonies during the court case are all lies to one degree or another, with Alfred Lanning contributing as an "unbiased" account at the defendant's table. Aside from the attempted Frameup by Professor Ninheimer, Lanning reports that the accounts are merely whitewashed and overall reasonable recollections. It irks him, but attempting to correct their testimony would only serve to antagonize the judge.
  • Streisand Effect: In-Universe, when EZ-27 attempts to explain why it had rewritten portions of Social Tensions Involved in Space-Flight and Their Resolution, Professor Ninheimer (the author) starts yelling at it to stop talking, inadvertently revealing that he had given it instructions to hide crucial information.
  • Taking the Heat: After the court case is resolved, Dr. Calvin explains to Professor Ninheimer that, due to the Three Laws, Easy would've taken the blame itself in order to protect Professor Ninheimer, but the robot-hater had expected it to act like a human instead of like a robot.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: The story here hinges on how the antagonist attempts to abuse the First Law ("a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."), by ordering a robot to keep silent on how his book has been changed due to how it could cost him his job. When he then describes the harm that would be done to his reputation, the robot attempts to take all the blame for it, but the antagonist tries to get him to stop, which reveals his attempt at a Frameup.
  • Verbal Tic: Professor Ninheimer has a habit of pausing in his speech, included as an "-uh-" between words. The narrative explains that his hesitation causes people to believe that he takes considerable time evaluating the possibility of even impossible ideas.
  • Verbal Ticked: Professor Ninheimer normally hesitates in the middle of sentences, but when he begins ranting to Dr. Calvin after the court case about his fear of robots taking over for writers/artists, he drops the hesitation due to anger.
  • Video Phone: Ninheimer claims that the first he has heard of EZ-27's corrections was when he was called by Speidell, who is displayed on the 'plate, a word which is intended to be a shortened form of "visiplate".
    But Speidell had flashed off with a force that had the 'plate glowing with after-images for fifteen seconds.