chapter  4
The relationship machine
Pages 23

Ray Bradbury’s (1971) novella ‘I Sing the Body Electric!’ describes an Electric Grandma. As a grandmother she exists within a web of familial relationships. Superficially the story is about a robot, but it is not about robots in the way that Asimov’s robot fiction is; that is, exploring likely implications of a plausible technology. Rather, its subject matter is the stuff human experience is made of-bereavement, loss and grief, familial love, wonder and curiosity. A celebration of the Human is insinuated in Bradbury’s title borrowing from Walt Whitman. ‘I sing the body electric’ is the first line of an 1855 poem in which Whitman praises the power and passion of human experience mediated by the body, asserting the interconnection of body and soul (‘electric’ in that context could mean thrilling or exciting). To call the Electric Grandma a robot is inaccurate. This automaton is not a realistic machine by any stretch of the imagination. She performs impossible feats to entertain the children. She is a magical creation thinly coated with allusions to technology. Scratch away the veneer, and we are left with rich imagery of myth, arcane mysteries, and exotic android automata of old.