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Literature / Segregationist

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First published in Abbottempo 4 (December 1967 issue), by Isaac Asimov, about a human wanting robot replacements and their surgeon, who is against the mongrelization of humanity. Shades of his more famous "The Bicentennial Man" can be seen in this story.

A surgeon and medical engineer (med-eng) are preparing a Senator for their heart transplant operation. When the surgeon learns that the patient has decided to get a metal replacement, he decides to try convincing the patient against it.

The Senator and surgeon discuss the merits of metallic versus plastic ("It is a fibrous cyber-heart.") replacements. Unable to change his mind, the surgeon retreats and prepares for the operation. The med-eng reveals that they've seen the same thing with robots choosing plastic/fibrous replacements over metallic options.

The surgeon dislikes the idea of mixing organic and robotic, insisting that each should remain as they were made. The engineer responds that they're being "segregationist", an attitude the surgeon accepts, revealing himself to the audience to be a robot.

"Segregationist" has been republished several times; The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (October 1968 issue), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), The Years Best Science Fiction, No. 2 (1969), Urania (issue #508, February 1969), Best SF: 1968 (1969), Sirius (issue #65, November 1981), The Complete Robot (1982), 101 Science Fiction Stories (1986), Robot Visions (1990), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and The Giant Book Of Science Fiction Stories (1992).

"Segregationist" contains examples of:

  • Androids Are People, Too: Despite the recent laws being passed that make Metallos (robots) citizens with rights equal to that of humans, prejudice remains. The titular character dislikes the mixing of the species, believing that humans should stay human and Metallos should stay Metallo. He calls the process mongrelization. The med-eng calls it out as "segregationist talk", which the (robot) surgeon is fine with.
    "Then let it be that." The surgeon said with calm emphasis, "I believe in being what one is. I wouldn't change a bit of my own structure for any reason. If some of it absolutely required replacement, I would have that replacement as close to the original in nature as could possibly be managed. I am myself; well pleased to be myself; and would not be anything else."
  • Artificial Hybrid: In this story, robots (Metallos) have been legally recognized as people and humans have begun getting replacement parts that are metallic in origin. The med-eng points out that the inverse is also happening; that Metallos are requesting fibrous/organic replacements where possible. The titular surgeon opposes such mongrelization.
    "There is nothing wrong with a Metallo as a Metallo. As you say, they are citizens. But you're not a Metallo. You're a human being. Why not stay a human being?"
  • Auto-Doc: The surgeon about to operate on the human senator is revealed as a Metallo; a robot with human rights. The medical engineer is implied to be one, too, but it isn't clearly stated either way.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: The titular character is opposed to the idea of merging the human and Metallo (robot) forms by giving metal replacements to humans and fibrous replacements to Metallos. They find the idea abhorrent, preferring to stay as close to their original creation as possible.
    "You'd get a hybrid," said the surgeon, with something that approached fierceness. "You'd get something that is not both, but neither. Isn't it logical to suppose an individual would be too proud of his structure and identity to want to dilute it with something alien? Would he want mongrelization?"
  • Insistent Terminology: The patient keeps calling one of the two heart transplant options "plastic", while the surgeon insists it is a fibrous cyber-heart. While the surgeon is more correct, the patient is making an emotional decision to insult the pseudo-organic option by lumping it into the same category as plastic bags, preferring the stronger titanium-alloy replacement.
  • Nameless Narrative: The surgeon, the nurse, the med-eng, and the Senator. None of the characters are given names, although the only one who is clearly human is the Senator; the rest of the characters might not even have names.
  • The Namesake: The main character is a surgeon who believes that combining Metallos (robots) and humans is against the natural order of things.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: This trope is discussed from a body-replacement perspective. The surgeon disapproves of a growing trend for humans to seek prosthetics that make them more robotic and robots seeking prosthetics that make them more human. He says that he considers transhumanism not as a desire to improve one's self, but as a rejection of one's natural state, and states that if he ever needs parts of his body replaced, he'll seek replacements as close to the originals as possible. It is only in the last paragraph that it is revealed that the doctor is a robot.
  • Robo Speak: The surgeon's lack of emotion is done very subtly in this story. When first being read, being quick without being impatient, ignoring nuances of expression, the infinite patience, and calm emphasis all imply self-control and tolerance. Once you get to the last paragraph, you discover that it's because the surgeon is a robot, so he can't do those things.
  • Tomato Surprise: The story doesn’t reveal that the titular character is a robot until the very last paragraph, as they put their hands into an oven so that they can glow red-hot for sterilization purposes.