I have three version of Evil Robot Monkey to offer for your consideration as one of the Hugo nominees for Short Story. It was originally published in the Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, vol. 2 edited by George Mann.
You may download a pdf of “Evil Robot Monkey“, illustrated by me. I do layout the way other people doodle and made this while I was waiting for the announcement to go live.
Or you could listen to me read it. Six minutes of science-fiction.
Evil Robot Monkey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Edited to add: Andrew Neely very kindly converted the audio to an M4B (iTunes audiobook) version.
Or, you can skip after the cut and read the story right here.
Evil Robot Monkey
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Sliding his hands over the clay, Sly relished the moisture oozing around his fingers. The clay matted down the hair on the back of his hands making them look almost human. He turned the potter’s wheel with his prehensile feet as he shaped the vase. Pinching the clay between his fingers he lifted the wall of the vase, spinning it higher.
Someone banged on the window of his pen. Sly jumped and then screamed as the vase collapsed under its own weight. He spun and hurled it at the picture window like feces. The clay spattered against the Plexiglas, sliding down the window.
In the courtyard beyond the glass, a group of school kids leapt back, laughing. One of them swung his arms aping Sly crudely. Sly bared his teeth, knowing these people would take it as a grin, but he meant it as a threat. Swinging down from his stool, he crossed his room in three long strides and pressed his dirty hand against the window. Still grinning, he wrote SSA. Outside, the letters would be reversed.
The student’s teacher flushed as red as a female in heat and called the children away from the window. She looked back once as she led them out of the courtyard, so Sly grabbed himself and showed her what he would do if she came into his pen.
Her naked face turned brighter red and she hurried away. When they were gone, Sly rested his head against the glass. The metal in his skull thunked against the window. It wouldn’t be long now, before a handler came to talk to him.
He just wanted to make pottery. He loped back to the wheel and sat down again with his back to the window. Kicking the wheel into movement, Sly dropped a new ball of clay in the center and tried to lose himself.
In the corner of his vision, the door to his room snicked open. Sly let the wheel spin to a halt, crumpling the latest vase.
Vern poked his head through. He signed, “You okay?”
Sly shook his head emphatically and pointed at the window.
“Sorry.” Vern’s hands danced. “We should have warned you that they were coming.”
“You should have told them that I was not an animal.”
Vern looked down in submission. “I did. They’re kids.”
“And I’m a chimp. I know.” Sly buried his fingers in the clay to silence his thoughts.
“It was Delilah. She thought you wouldn’t mind because the other chimps didn’t.”
Sly scowled and yanked his hands free. “I’m not like the other chimps.” He pointed to the implant in his head. “Maybe Delilah should have one of these. Seems like she needs help thinking.”
“I’m sorry.” Vern knelt in front of Sly, closer than anyone else would come when he wasn’t sedated. It would be so easy to reach out and snap his neck. “It was a lousy thing to do.”
Sly pushed the clay around on the wheel. Vern was better than the others. He seemed to understand the hellish limbo where Sly lived–too smart to be with other chimps, but too much of an animal to be with humans. Vern was the one who had brought Sly the potter’s wheel which, by the Earth and Trees, Sly loved. Sly looked up and raised his eyebrows. “So what did they think of my show?”
Vern covered his mouth, masking his smile. The man had manners. “The teacher was upset about the ‘evil robot monkey.'”
Sly threw his head back and hooted. Served her right.
“But Delilah thinks you should be disciplined.” Vern, still so close that Sly could reach out and break him, stayed very still. “She wants me to take the clay away since you used it for an anger display.”
Sly’s lips drew back in a grimace built of anger and fear. Rage threatened to blind him, but he held on, clutching the wheel. If he lost it with Vern–rational thought danced out of his reach. Panting, he spun the wheel trying to push his anger into the clay.
The wheel spun. Clay slid between his fingers. Soft. Firm and smooth. The smell of earth lived in his nostrils. He held the world in his hands. Turning, turning, the walls rose around a kernel of anger, subsuming it.
His heart slowed with the wheel and Sly blinked, becoming aware again as if he were slipping out of sleep. The vase on the wheel still seemed to dance with life. Its walls held the shape of the world within them. He passed a finger across the rim.
Vern’s eyes were moist. “Do you want me to put that in the kiln for you?”
“I have to take the clay. You understand that, don’t you.”
Sly nodded again staring at his vase. It was beautiful.
Vern scowled. “The woman makes me want to hurl feces.”
Sly snorted at the image, then sobered. “How long before I get it back?”
Vern picked up the bucket of clay next to the wheel. “I don’t know.” He stopped at the door and looked past Sly to the window. “I’m not cleaning your mess. Do you understand me?”
For a moment, rage crawled on his spine, but Vern did not meet his eyes and kept staring at the window. Sly turned.
The vase he had thrown lay on the floor in a pile of clay.
“I understand.” He waited until the door closed, then loped over and scooped the clay up. It was not much, but it was enough for now.
Sly sat down at his wheel and began to turn.
42 thoughts on “Evil Robot Monkey”
I love that you did a PDF. Thank you!
Sure! It’s a silly fun thing for me.
Is there anything you cannot do?
Congratulations on the Hugo nod.
There are lots of things I can’t do, I just avoid doing them. Ask me to do math sometime.
Excellent recording of an excellent story, Mary. Good work!
Most def a stellar story. A touching relationship ol’ Sly and Vern have.
And good on Vern for not cleaning up that mess.
Thank you! I sometimes think about giving them another story with more time on stage together because I’m fond of both characters.
Well written, Mary! A rare gift, to convey so much concept in so few words.
That was lovely, thank you.
Thanks for the story, Mary.
It’s very moving and I sure hope to hear more about Sly and Vern.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read any of your fiction before today, but I followed a link from sfsignal.com and I’m happy that I did. I read along as you read the story aloud and it has definitely been a highlight of my day.
I’ll be sure to check some of your other stories out very soon.
Thanks for licensing this under Creative Commons. A beautiful story and recording.
That was a really beautiful little story. Beautifully laid out, in PDF, and beautifully told. If I could vote for the Hugos, I’d vote for it. I do hope you win.
Thank you, Mary, for your beautiful story. Very graceful and touching.
I look forward to more from Sly and Vern . . . and, as always, from you.
Short and sweet 🙂
Wow – that was a really nice story. Thanks for sharing, and it will push me to check out your other stories.
Many thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it.
Great story. Elegantly economical – I’ve read novels that had less in them than this.
Very nice story. You really gave a wonderful glimpse into these characters without worrying with clunky exposition. It gave it all such a natural flow, and made me want to know more about them.
Also, Hi from NC.
Great story! Great Idea! Envy you for that idea.
Good luck with the Hugo… (SF writer myself can imagine how that must feel like)
I was confused about SSA. Thought Sly should have written: 22A.
i liked it alot. short but not a word wasted.
…mmm u got a nice voice too. sweet and crisp.
keep it up !
Many thanks! I’m glad you liked it.
I discovered this story through the Hugo nomination. I was blown away with how much you were able to express with such a concise story. Masterful!
I would definitely love to see more of Sly and Vern.
That was fantastic! Thank you for writing it.
Wow a really intricate story! And yes I would like to read more about Sly (and Vern) as well!
Thank you so much!
I loved the characterization. Having Vern use a bit of Sly’s language was brilliant. It is a great story with some depth. Thanks for sharing.
Would you mind me teaching this story as an aid to a writing course?
I would be delighted. If it would be useful, I also do virtual classrooomvisits via Skype or Google Chat.
Thanks! I’m not quite sure if my college(s) do virtual classrooms, but if I have a chance, I shall certainly see if I can work something out!
Hi I wanted to know what feeling or idea you had trying to express with your story.
It was a long time ago, but I think I was playing with two ideas. The frustration inherent in artistic creation and the sense of being caught between states.
I was amazed and pleased how short it was.
It was very enjoyable to read. Thank for sharing this!
‘Kiss Me Twice” led me to your free fiction website, then I read “Water to Wine,” then I randomly picked and read “Evil Robot Monkey” to see if you were really, truly, consistently (and impossibly) great at characterization and storytelling and never repeated yourself and, O Woman, you are God’s gift to 61-year-old readers like me who have pretty much read all the sci-fi that’s out there (yes, yes, am exaggerating) and found some of the new writers wanting. May you keep getting nominated and winning awards, may you have a zillion readers worldwide, may the stories keep flowing from your pen, er, keyboard, and may you never ever have writer’s block! Thank you very much for choosing to be writer out of all the possible professions open to a woman, and for being a writer of great caliber!
Good heavens! What a lovely message. Thank you so much for your kind words.
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