In September 2005 I spent a weekend at the annual conference of the Women's Engineering Society. On the journeys to and from the conference I took the opportunity to re-read some of Isaac Asimov's robot stories. One of these was Satisfaction Guaranteed, a story about a prototype domestic robot called Tony. The housewife employed to field-test the robot falls in love with it. This set me thinking about the idea of the robot lover; one which occurs sporadically in science fiction. Generally, a robot lover is considered to be a good thing for a man (obedient and efficient at housework) but not for a woman (too cold – an idea encapsulated in the lyrics of Dee D. Jackson's 1978 chart single from which my story takes its title).
As an electrical engineering graduate who has worked with computers, my view is that the outcome is all in the programming. I consider that a sufficiently advanced humanoid robot programmed to be a pleasing companion to a human being might move very easily into the role of lover, and might indeed perform it extremely well.
All unconventional lovers – and many conventional ones – have their critics, and sometimes the criticism boils over into a fanatical desire to see the relationship brought to an end. I had the makings of a storyline.
The setting of Automatic Lover is a combination of science fiction cliché (flitting about the Solar System in space ships) and early twenty-first century life (telecommunications, social mores and slang). I make no apologies for this. Mine is a small-scale story about people and it would be lost in an epic backdrop. I have made efforts to be realistic about the technology I describe, but it is for others to judge whether I have remembered enough from undergraduate studies at Southampton University to be able to bluff convincingly. Above all, this story does not take itself too seriously, so if you think something is a joke then it probably is. It has even become infected with my eleven-year-old daughter Sophie's sense of humour (why else 'Uranusbase'?).
I also see Automatic Lover as an ode to women engineers and the contribution they can make to society. It is possibly in addition an ode to the power of oxytocin.