What sci-fi short story: replicating robots, rusting before total ruin.
December 30, 2023 2:21 AM   Subscribe

A friend asked me for help finding a story told to them by someone who read it. The story as remembered: a female protagonist makes robots. Robots replicate (at 1/2 size?), bringing ruin to everyone around. Eventually there is rain, halting the problem by bringing the robots to rest. Final words may be a variation of "next time I'll make them stainless steel".

So, science fiction. Possibly in a collection as when asked the story-teller said perhaps it was from:

- Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem (1977).
- Mathenauts edited by Rudy Rucker (1987).

I have been told the story is in neither.

I assume it's a short story. I assume an English version. I assume it was not published in the last 5 years, probably before the last 10 years, and quite possible before the 1990's.
posted by tychotesla to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
This is very close to a season-long story arc in the Stargate TV show, for which the following is probably off in a few details but nevertheless a massive spoiler:

A young girl, who I think was quarantined due to some illness, made the first replicator(s) as a pet/companion. They replicated, spread, and ended up becoming a galaxy-spanning threat to all technology-using societies. Eventually a few make it to earth, where they end up in the ocean, start consuming a nuclear submarine to replicate... and then rust, because the saltwater and steel are a bad mix.

Not quite a match for your request, but perhaps close enough to have mutated in the retelling?
posted by metaBugs at 2:46 AM on December 30, 2023

This totally sounds like Lem, even before I got to the Read More. I read them in the original alas. My first thought was Fables for Robots, but I just scanned my Polish ebook for rain and no hits. My other guess would be a Pirx tale, but honestly Lem wrote so much that they all blur together.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:54 AM on December 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

If you don't get an ID here you should ask over at Sci-Fi Stack Exchange. The sci-fi aficionados who hang out there have impressive identification skills.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:03 AM on December 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Reminds me a bit of Mechasm, a 1970s novel by John Sladek, including reproducing robots, female engineer, and the deadpan style of that button line. It's definitely not the end of the novel but maybe a scene in it? Or a short story by him, he recycled bits.
posted by mark k at 8:18 AM on December 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

Ha, I was put in mind of Mechasm as well. To add a data point for your friend, it was first published under the title The Reproductive System.
posted by ejs at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. Mechasm is a distinct possibility. And when looking for the synopsis I found someone else on the sci-fi stack exchange (here) had asked a similar question, and received the answer of Mechasm or The Microbotic Revolution.

I'm not sure about the endings, but it seems very probable that one or the other is the correct answer. I'll leave this question up for another day just in case.

(metaBugs: in a little serendipity this story-telling happened in Vancouver, so while I'm sure SG1 isn't the answer it was a fun little detail to bring up with them.)
posted by tychotesla at 1:33 AM on December 31, 2023 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It was The Microbotic Revolution. Thanks for your help and time, all.
posted by tychotesla at 4:10 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]

This was a great little story - I remember it from when it came out. It's available on the Internet Archive.
posted by Philbo at 10:11 AM on January 5

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