Treasured Stories: “The Imitation People” (1968) – Part 2

« Maybe one day I’ll feel her cold embrace and kiss her interface; ’til then, I’ll leave her alone. » — Jeff Lynne, Yours Truly, 2095

Without further tergiversation — here’s the thrilling conclusion of our tale!

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Citizen Glutt swears by the misogynist’s playbook: talk *about* a woman in her presence, not *to* her; objectify her, allude to her sexual prowess, but in no way address the issue she brought up. “How close to a human can you build them, Simms? Hmmm?” Looks like Glutt is ready to place his order.

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Note the reborn Simms’ moment of hesitation: he doesn’t quite know himself the answer to Clarissa’s query. And ‘I know, Clarissa!‘ is a perfectly fitting ending; it perhaps means that he can now sense things the way Clarissa always could. Congratulations, you two; you’ve earned your happiness.

In case anyone’s wondering, why do I treasure this particular tale?

Let me count the ways and means: the cosmic adventures are treated as asides, ceding centre stage to Warren Simms’ and Clarissa’s slow-simmering pas de deux. Whatever surprise comes at the dénouement had been carefully and honestly foreshadowed and backgrounded, respecting the reader’s intelligence. Unsavoury implications of the robot/human relationship are brought up, then coyly cast aside, in a ‘we know, but we’re not going there‘ move.

For me, it’s mostly about Joe Gill’s sober, understated writing, though I can hardly envision anyone turning in more lushly complementary visuals than did Mr. Aparo. I’d be over the moon to say that The Imitation People was one bead on a long string of commensurate efforts, but nope, it’s just about a one-off. It was only preceded by Denny O’Neil and Pat Boyette‘s classic Children of Doom (read it here).

Thoughtful science-fiction* in American comics as always been poorly served: with meagre exceptions, it’s been a numbing, near-constant diet of space opera.

There was the anomaly of EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy… DC’s long-running, Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space were fun, but trifling in the end (the short length did not help), and while Warren Magazines came through on occasion, they vastly underperformed on that front. Western Publishing’s Starstream tackled some classic adaptations, but the results were a bit staid. Grandmasters Jack Kirby and Will Eisner, of course, could handily pull off the feat: the former’s OMAC was a wonder of anticipation (with an honourable mention to his 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the latter’s tense serial Life on Another Planet (also collected as Signal From Space) kept its focus on the human drama.

The 1980s saw things progress somewhat, thanks to Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake‘s efforts on Dalgoda, then Retief (adapting Keith Laumer), Don Simpson‘s Border Worlds and Matt Howarth‘s stellar Keif Llama Xenotech (a Keith Laumer homage… I sense a pattern), but this foothold was a precarious and marginal one. The mainstream evidently sees non-franchise, progressive science-fiction as a commercial non-starter… and who’s to say it’s wrong? It’s not as if it’s irrelevant, as the downloading of human consciousness is a long-running wet dream of our beloved technocrats.

Maybe we need a film version to get the ball rolling.

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« The perfect touch is cold and clean / she steals your soul / when kissing the machine » — Andy McCluskey

-RG

*I’ve always preferred the more encompassing alternate French term for science-fiction, ‘Anticipation’… but what can you do?

2 thoughts on “Treasured Stories: “The Imitation People” (1968) – Part 2

    • gasp65 May 9, 2020 / 19:58

      It’s distressing to me to witness how frequently and casually Joe Gill gets dismissed as “Charlton workhorse” or “mainstay” or some other variation of “prolific hack”, with nary a crumb of acknowledgement or appreciation of just how ingenious and moving his work often was. It’s all Ditko this and Aparo that, but poor Joe gets the short end of it. Thanks for seeing the full picture, Ben! I’m right chuffed (as the Brits would say) that you enjoyed it so, since you were essentially my intended audience. How’s that for service? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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