Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Lonely Robot

A lone (and lonely) robot wandered through my youth, and I found myself fascinated by his journeys through a landscape bereft of humans. I also find myself at times identifying with his solitary sojourn. The Lonely Robot was the creation of artist Mel Hunter (27 July 1927 - 20 Feb 2004) and his long walkabout was chronicled on the covers of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF). It began in 1955 (left) when readers saw the sleek metallic form watering a single rose in a wasteland, an image lifted for a popular Disney film decades later. We don't know how the world of the Lonely Robot got into the state it was, but the radioactive glimmer on the city in the background is certainly suggestive.

Hunter was a very popular artist, mostly self-taught after escaping an abusive childhood and fleeing to NYC. His interest in space, science, aviation and astronomical subjects made him a natural for the science fiction magazines at the time. His clean lines and angular shapes have a very "retro" look to them these days, the future as imagined by a technophile. Even the robot looks as if he escaped from the laboratory of a B-movie Mad Scientist in the Fifties. In addition to SF magazines, Hunter also produced illustrations for mainstream magazines, science publications, the aviation industry, and observatories and academic organizations.

As the Lonely Robot journeyed through the world that used to belong to humans, we see him engage in some very human activities, such as pitching a baseball, driving a dune buggy, and playing with some wind-up toys. In a poignant moment, we see him donning a Santa Claus suit against the backdrop of a ruined city with a copy of A Christmas Carol on the ground and a single bright star high in the sky. All the paintings have a sense of humor to them, but the most effective and understated image showed the Lonely Robot standing at the corner of an intersection in a ruined town, hands on hips, gazing upward at a pedestrian signal that refuses to change from Wait to Walk. Obviously, no scofflaw is our Lonely Robot. My favorite illustration, however, the one that resonated with my own situation, and maybe some anxieties, is the one to the right. The bookcase extending from a dune suggests a library that has lost its outer shell or perhaps a bookstore. Or, maybe, since all the covers of the F&SF issues stacked on the ground were familiar to me, perhaps they were mine and he was sitting in what was left of my room. Maybe.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ralph

    I enjoyed this post. I entered SF through used paperbacks and hardcovers from the library. I am only now beginning to look at the world of the digest sized magazines, which means that I am meeting some new authors and illustrators as well. I found your discussion of Mel Hunter's Lonely Robot really interesting, I found the illustrations you provided quite evocative and it encouraged me to look for other covers with this character. I will be looking to add at least a couple to my collection in the future.