Super-Toys Last All Summer Long
|Original title||Supertoys Last All Summer Long|
|Publisher||St. Martin's Griffin; Third Printing edition|
|LC Class||PR6051.L3 S86 2001b|
"Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" is a short story by British science fiction author Brian Aldiss, first published in 1968. The story deals with humanity in an age of intelligent machines and of the aching loneliness endemic in an overpopulated future where child creation is controlled.
In a dystopian future where only 1/4th of the world's overcrowded population is fed and living comfortably, families must request permission to bear children. Monica Swinton lives with her husband Henry and her young son David, whom she struggles to bond with. She seeks help from Teddy, a robot toy companion of sorts, to try to understand why she feels unable to communicate with David, let alone feel compassion for him. David also questions Teddy about whether his mother truly loves him and wonders whether he is truly real. He attempts to write letters of his own to explain how he feels about his mother and the inner conflict he faces but all of his letters remain unfinished.
Meanwhile, the story jumps to Henry Swinton who is in a meeting with a company he is associated with known as Synthtank. They are discussing artificial life forms and bio-electronic beings for future developments. He discusses that the new AI under production will finally solve humanity's problems with experiencing personal isolation and loneliness.
Monica Swinton discovers David's unfinished letters that portray lines about love and a jealous contempt for Teddy who Monica always seemed to connect with more than David himself. Monica is horrified by the letters but overjoyed when Henry arrives home and she is able to share with him that the family has been chosen to give birth to a child by the Ministry of Population. It is then revealed that David is an artificial human, used as a replacement for a real child. Monica privately tells Henry that David is having verbal "malfunctioning" problems and must be sent back to the factory at once. The story ends with David thinking of the love and warmth of his mother, unaware of what's to happen next.
It was the literary basis for the first act of the feature film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This was originally an unrealised film project of the late Stanley Kubrick. It was posthumously developed and filmed by Steven Spielberg and released in 2001.
In the same year, the short story was re-published in the eponymous Aldiss short-story collection Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, along with the tie-in stories Super-Toys When Winter Comes and Super-Toys in Other Seasons. The collection also contained a number of stories not tied to the Super-Toys theme.
Monica Swinton: A troubled, lonely woman and less-than-compassionate mother, Monica struggles to understand her A.I. son David. Throughout the story, she seeks a way to communicate with him and understand him. While Monica may appear selfish in the beginning as it is admitted that she is unable to love David, she is simply unable to feel love for a child that is not truly her own. Monica enjoys gardening and experiencing only the beautiful and serene parts of life which suggests she in unable to cope with a reality that doesn't appear perfect. This may be why she is unable to love David, as she is unable to accept that he is not her own, born child. Monica seeks comfort and connection in Teddy, David's robot toy companion. It would appear that she cares for this logical, basic A.I. toy more than David, but her exact feelings for Teddy remain slightly up for questioning.
David Swinton: The A.I. son of Monica and Henry Swinton. David struggles to feel accepted and loved by his mother, and rightly so, as she is devoid of most feelings for him. David's personality is similar to that of an average 5- to 10-year-old boy, as he is curious, slightly mischievous, and very loving towards Monica. Although David sees Teddy as a companion, he is also jealous that he is treated more as a son than David himself is. It is difficult to say how much of David's "feelings" are programmed, but the questioning of his own reality defines the character as more than an average android.
Henry Swinton: The husband of Monica Swinton and father to David. Little is known about this character other than that he works for a company called "Synthtank" and helps to develop bio-electronic and bioengineered creations. His character appears somewhat distant from Monica, as she doesn't accompany him to the important meeting he attends in the story. However, little is known about his relationship with David and whether he shares the detachment issues Monica experiences.
Teddy: David's robot toy companion. He is unable to tell lies and helps to guide both David and Monica, despite not understanding either of their situations. His knowledge is limited and his personality is simplistic, but Monica finds Teddy easier to communicate with than David. This could be for a number of reasons, including the possibility that Monica is not used to dealing with a robot that acts human, and Teddy does not provide this feature. He only speaks when spoken to, and seeks to comfort always.
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"Super-Toys Last All Summer Long"'s most obvious[according to whom?] theme is artificial intelligence, but the attempt to overcome loneliness is perhaps this text's most prevalent, as both Monica Swinton and David deal with feelings of isolation and are unable to satisfy their needs for interaction. David's entire purpose in Monica's life is to give her the companionship a mother would usually find in her child, but she fails to find the means to love a child who is not truly hers. David deals with loneliness in the sense that the love he feels towards his mother is unrequited. Additionally, this theme ties in with one's need for self acceptance as David questions his own reality and existence.
Major overpopulation is another theme in this story as families must request to have children. This problem then creates starvation, as 3/4 of the world's population is malnourished and the other 1/4 is obese (presumably this 1/4 is the rich population, which includes Monica Swinton and her family).