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Literature / Not Quite Human

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The actual story is as cheesy as this cover.

Not Quite Human is a Sci-Fi series with elements of Slice of Life, Mystery and Comedy, written by Seth McEvoy. It consists of 6 novels:

  • Batteries Not Included (1985)
  • All Geared Up (1985)
  • A Bug in the System (1985)
  • Reckless Robot (1986)
  • Terror At Play (1986)
  • Killer Robot (1986)

C-13 is an android, in the classic sense of the term. A robot designed to look and act completely human; in this case, like an ordinary 13-year-old boy. His inventor, Dr. Carson, gives C-13 the name "Chip" and sends him to middle school to test him out. To keep an eye on Chip, Dr. Carson is working at the school as a science teacher, and his daughter Becky is attending one grade below Chip. Dr. Carson's ultimate goal is to prove to society that androids can function just as well as humans can and are capable of coexisting alongside them peacefully.


Being an android, Chip goes beyond simply being a 420-pound fake human, and has a lot of built-in special features. Cameras in his eyes record his entire day so it can be reviewed later by Dr. Carson. A built-in radio lets him communicate remotely if need be. He can perfectly mimic any voice. And he's superhumanly strong — which he was programmed to hide — and superhumanly fast. He was also programmed to follow commands in a certain order: follow all orders by Dr. Carson, and then all orders by Becky, unless they clash with orders by Dr. Carson. Never harm a human being, except to protect Becky or Dr. Carson. And self-preservation, which includes hiding the fact that he is a robot, takes precedence over everything else.

It isn't long before Chip encounters tricky social situations at school, such as his first bully, a girl who has a crush on him, a group of kids who want him to join their band, and a number of situations he wasn't completely programmed well enough to handle. If that's not enough, various crimes are being committed in town, and every book has one mystery or problem that needs to be solved.


Much of the humor relates to Chip's mistakes in dealing with people and not understanding social situations, speaking very stereotypically robot-like and literal in response to questions, and the way he interacts with people. Chip's excessive literalness is sometimes misinterpreted as a dry sense of humor, but some people do find him very odd. And he has to be taught how to do things like lower his voice in response to people who whisper to him, laugh when other people around him are laughing, and so on. Even when taught these new social skills, Chip still misinterprets them.

There's also tension coming from interactions with characters such as Nails the bully, and Mr. Duckworth the jerk gym teacher, who has it out for Chip and is the first to blame him for the many crimes going on. And there's plenty of Slice of Life scenes regarding what it's like to live with a humanoid robot in the house who's attending school, and we see a lot of how Dr. Carson and Becky try to deal with the situations Chip gets into, and gradually help him to act more like a normal human. Chip is sometimes given new programming, such as being programmed to return compliments, that in some cases makes things worse instead of better.

There's also all manner of things that can go wrong with Chip, such as accidentally breaking some of his artificial skin that hides the electronics within (he's programmed to know to cover that up), or being affected by powerful electronic interference that causes him to go haywire. Plus, even Chip's logical attempts to follow the strict code of ethics built into him causes problems. For example, his order to always protect Dr. Carson almost results in him getting into a fight with a police officer who is arresting him.

And finally, the other driving force of the plot is the number of mysteries that occur. Every book has a mystery at its core, whether it's finding out who's trying to sabotage a concert, or who's trying to frame Dr. Carson and Erin's mom for stealing money, or who's trying to hack Chip and blackmail Dr. Carson.

Manages to avoid the stereotype of the "robot who wants to be human" that is so common in robot stories. Chip is very much a robot, doesn't actually have emotions, and his robotness and how it colors his interactions with normal people is in fact a major point of much of the story, driving much of both the plot and the comedy.

This book series provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted, but referenced. Computers in the story only do what they're programmed to, a point Chip makes to a classmate who expresses a fear that computers could go haywire and turn against people on their own.
  • Artificial Human: Chip, though he doesn't really have emotion.
  • Blackmail: The individual who hacked Chip attempts to blackmail Dr. Carson for money.
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens to Becky, Erin, and even Chip (who weighs 420 pounds, but his captor knew that).
  • Brainwashed: A form of this happens to Chip, when he's hacked.
  • Brutal Honesty: Chip is capable pretty much only of this, due to his programming. He's later programmed to be slightly better at nuance, but it still remains a problem. Sometimes people take offense at his honest questions and statements.
  • The Bully: Nails in the second book, Jake Blocker (even after his Heel–Face Turn towards Chip, he engages in offscreen bullying of other kids), and a few others.
  • Cassandra Truth: Chip's captor, when arrested, screams that Chip is really a robot as a last-ditch effort to get revenge on Chip's creator. Of course, no-one believes him.
  • Casual Danger Dialog: Since Chip can't feel fear, he speaks quite casually and matter-of-factly even in the most dire of circumstances.
  • Clear My Name: Happens in a few of the books, as Chip is falsely accused of things he didn't do, and Dr. Carson and Erin's mom are even arrested in one book for something they didn't do.
  • Compulsory School Age: Chip is an android that was just created. Technically, he shouldn't have to go to school!
  • The Cracker: Paul Fairgate. He hacks into banks and the school computer.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The other members of Nails's gang have no problem bullying Chip and engaging in criminal activity, but when Nails goes too far, they tell him to back off and eventually pull a Heel–Face Turn. Similarly with the other members of Paul Fairbanks's computer club; once they realize he stole money from a bank, they freak out.
  • The Film of the Book: There was a very loose adaptation in the form of a made-for-television movie trilogy. Chip was designed to appear 17 years old instead of 13, and the second movie had him going to college.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jake Blocker and some of Nails's gang perform this. Jake later goes after kids who pick on Chip.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Paul Fairgate hates girls, to the point that he doesn't allow them in his computer club, even if they're Chip's friends. It's implied that he dated a girl only because he liked her computer!
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: As a result of how literally he interprets things, Chip accidentally makes a few of these.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Happens often as the result of Chip being misunderstood and/or misunderstanding Erin.
    Erin: "I'd like to see more of you."
    Chip: "Which parts?"
    Erin: *embarrassed* "All of you."
    Chip: "I'd have to ask my dad if you can see all of me."
  • Interactive Fiction: Chip plays one of these types of games at Erin's house. The book pokes some fun at the conventions of the genre.
  • Kid Detective: Becky, Erin and Jake become this to figure out who's committing the various crimes in town. Chip also becomes this... except being an android, he's technically not a "kid" detective.
  • Literal-Minded: Chip, VERY much so. A source of much of the humor.
    Brian: "Hey Chip, are you into electronics?"
    Chip: "Electronics are in me."

    Dr. Carson: "Give me a summary of what happened today."
    Chip: "Okay. I went to school and then came home."
    Dr. Carson: "A bit more detailed than that."
    Chip: "That was a summary of the day's events."
  • Magic Floppy Disk: It was written in The '80s, so the author couldn't have known about the improvements in technology since. Still, to copy Chip's entire memory of the day's events to floppy disks would be realistically impossible!
  • Meaningful Name: Some of the characters have names that fit their personality, such as Ms. Crabtree (a crabby teacher), Jake Blocker (a bully before his Heel–Face Turn), and others. Some simply have funny names that are used as puns by the students - e.g. Mr. Duckworth is referred to as Duckbrain.
    • Chip. As in, Computer Chip.
  • Not Quite Human: Not the Trope Namer, but fits.
  • Oblivious to Love: Well, duh, he's a robot! Poor Erin!
  • Pac-Man Fever: Possibly justified considering these books were written in the early 1980s. But the games themselves seem rather random and odd.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The password to control a defense robot? Last name of its creator, of course!
  • Photographic Memory: Literally, as Chip can take and store pictures with the cameras in his eyes. When a certain character says not to forget him, Chip takes and stores a second picture to be sure.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Averted. Chip may look completely human, but he doesn't have his own culture, and instead clearly acts on programming.
  • Robot Kid: Chip, of course.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Becky, Jake, and Erin all become this at points. Chip technically becomes a Snooping Little Robot.
  • Spock Speak: Chip has some characteristics of this. Much of his speech is natural but with odd mannerisms added.
  • Technobabble: Not too much, for the most part, though certain terms are used a lot: "C-13 integrated electrologic android", "electrologic index of conflict resolution" (which Chip consults when one order may seem to conflict with another), "electrologic", "dynakinetic" and "internal data clock" (where "clock" would serve just fine).
  • Technology Marches On: A number of Chip's specs are less powerful than the computer or mobile device you're using to read this. At one point, Dr. Carson installs an extra megabyte of RAM into Chip to help his memory!
  • Teens Are Monsters: Nails. He doesn't care who he hurts, if he gets arrested, and tries to rationalize away anything he does that puts others at risk. Even his fellow bullies/bandmates begin to think he's too violent and the way he acts is wrong. He even turns on them when they display a conscience.
  • Title Drop: A number of them throughout the series. After all, no-one can discover that Chip is not quite human!
  • Unabashed B-Movie Fan: Every time the characters go to a movie or talk about one, it always has a cheesy title.
  • Ventriloquism: An ability Chip accidentally discovers he has, and puts to use at one point. He can also talk with his mouth closed, since the sound isn't technically coming from it.
  • Voice Changeling: Chip not only has the ability to record and play back literally exactly what he hears, but he has the ability to mimic other people's voices perfectly.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Dr. Carson's diary mentions going to State University. Uh, which state?
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Chip's songwriting program creates weird random messes like this.
    Chip: "Happy pumpkins fill my heart, since you moved to the moon."`