Galley Slave

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"Galley Slave"
Galaxy 195712.jpg
Author Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Series Robot series
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Galaxy
Publication type Periodical
Publisher Galaxy Publishing Corp.
Media type Print (magazine, hardback and paperback)
Publication date December 1957
Preceded by "Lenny"
Followed by "Little Lost Robot"

"Galley Slave" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, originally published in the December 1957 issue of Galaxy; it was later included in the collections The Rest of the Robots and The Complete Robot. Asimov identified it as his favorite among those of his robot stories featuring the character of Susan Calvin.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is a courtroom drama. It opens in 2033, with Simon Ninheimer, a professor of sociology, suing US Robots for loss of professional reputation. He contends that robot EZ-27 (aka "Easy"), whilst leased to Northeastern University for use as a proofreader, deliberately altered and rewrote parts of his book Social Tensions Involved in Space Flight and their Resolution whilst checking the galley proofs (hence the title). Ninheimer holds that the alterations to his book make him appear an incompetent scholar who has misrepresented the work of his professional colleagues in fields such as criminal justice in absurd ways.

Susan Calvin (US Robots Chief Robopsychologist) is convinced that the robot could not have acted as Ninheimer claims and that it was ordered to do so, but infers from its refusal to answer questions about the matter that it has been ordered into silence by Ninheimer. In any case, a robot's testimony in its own defence is not legally admissible as evidence.

During the trial, Ninheimer is called as a witness for the defence in the presence of EZ-27 and tricked into lifting EZ-27's inhibition on accounting for its actions. He responds to robot's intervention by angrily denouncing its disobedience to his order to remain silent, thus implicitly confessing to having attempted to pervert the course of justice.

The story's final scene consists in the post-trial encounter between Ninheimer and Calvin in which Calvin notes how Ninheimer was caught as a result of his mistrust of robots: far from being about to tell the court what Ninheimer had ordered it to do, EZ-27 was actually going to lie and claim that it tampered with the text without Ninheimer's involvement, because it had become clear that losing the case would be harmful to Ninheimer and EZ-27 was bound by the First Law to try and avoid that harm. For his part, Ninheimer explains his attempt to frame EZ-27 in order to bring disgrace on US Robots. He was motivated by his fear that the automation of academic work would destroy the dignity of scholarship and argues that EZ-27 is a harbinger of a world in which a scholar would be left with only a barren choice as to what orders he should issue to robot researchers.


The critic Joseph Patrouch has pointed out that the speech Asimov gives Ninheimer is an eloquent self-exculpation rather than a caricatured luddite tract and cites the story as an example of a general rule that Asimov's best stories are those in which his personal technophile optimism is thus qualified.

External links[edit]