and disturbing science fiction
al short story
by Kim Stanley Robinson
. Copyright 1983. First published in Universe 13
, collected in The Planet on the Table and Vinland the Dream
Teaser summary (no spoilers):
Tom Finn, travelling by bus around and across America with no destination in mind, arrives at “Dateland Restaurant, Post Office, and Curio Shop” in the Arizona desert. He wanders off into the desert along a disused road. He finds the abandoned foundations of a half built community out in the sands. As he sits, thinking and mulling over the life of Tom Finn, the stars change and he finds himself in a in a world that is not his own...
Full Summary (watch out, spoilers ahoy):
Tom Finn boards a bus in Chicago, with no intention of ever doing anything else apart from travel around and across America. Eventually he arrives at "Dateland Restaurant, Post Office, and Curio Shop" in the Arizona desert.
Finn goes into the curio shop, and surveys its contents - postcards, cactus growing kits, turquoise trinkets, candy, and stone eggs.
Unhappy, he wanders off into the desert along a disused road. He finds the abandoned foundations of a half built community out in the sands. He sits, thinking and mulling over the life of Tom Finn, then the stars change and he feels that something is very wrong.
He arrives back at Dateland only to find that his bus has left without him. Furthermore, Dateland seems to have been abandoned for years...
Finn waits by the roadside and after a while, once the sun has long since set, another bus arrives. He boards it. There is only one passenger aboard the bus, who is talking to the driver.
"Ah well. All of my typemates dead and gone for years now. And Westinghouse has no more parts for my type, they say."
"G.E. parts are just as good. But I know what you mean. All my typemates are gone too. Last century was the good one for simulacra."
Realization dawns - these "people" are really android
s - humanoid robot
s - and he is somewhere far in the future.
Okay, I know what you're probably thinking: "Some guy gets thrown into the future for some contrived reason, stumbles around a bit, then gets put back in deus ex machina style, seen it a million times before." Well, this is where the story separates from that idea. Trust me. Also, pipelinks are used extensively in the next section of the review.
Finn has a Chuang Tzu moment and begins to wonder if he is a human dreaming he is a robot or a robot that dreamt the life of Tom Finn.
Eventually Finn falls asleep, waking to find the bus is back at the abandoned "Dateland Restaurant, Post Office, and Curio Shop", though the robotic bus driver claims it is not the same place that he got on the bus. Finn gets off and enters the curio shop, still stocked with postcards, cactus growing kits, turquoise trinkets, candy, and stone eggs. He looks around for a while, and then begins to clear up the derelict shop.
Eventually two robots arrive at the shop. One of them buys a stone egg from Tom.
"You have to be careful with these,” he warned her. "They're lighter than they look . And fragile? They'd break like glass if you dropped one.”
The butterfly has awoken, and its dream of Chuang Tzu is slipping away.