fellowship retro geek

Guest Post: Misha Shares Robot Wisdoms

Please welcome my guest blogger, Misha Burnett!  Tell him what you collect, or what social totem people associate to you, or what things you’ve learned from robots.  But also, be sure to send some rawr-love his way, preferably in the way of buying his book! (It’s worth it, the book is great.*) http://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/

IMG_0228I have a lot of toy robots in my house. Now, I don’t think of them as a collection, really, because I don’t think of myself as a collector. I didn’t ever set out to build a collection of toy robots, it just kind of happened, with little or no effort on my part.

I got my first one shortly after I separated from my (now ex-)wife. I was at Big Lots, picking up cleaning supplies and sundries for the studio apartment that I had moved into, and I found myself in the toy aisle. I saw a robot very similar to one that I’d had as a child—classic design, walks forward a few steps, then doors on its chest open and guns pop out, the torso spins around while making machine gun sounds, then the guns retract and it starts walking again.

There’s a million of them out there, so it wasn’t surprising that I found one. Anyway, it was just a few bucks, and I was feeling low and wanted to buy myself a treat, so I got it.

From such inconsequential meetings dynasties are begun.IMG_0234

I liked having it up on my bookshelf, it was a fun bit of goofy color in an otherwise pretty bleak place. I didn’t deliberately decide to go out and get a lot more, but when I was out shopping I’d look through the toy section. I didn’t want the big, name brand stuff, I liked the cheap Pacific Rim knockoffs, the kind of stuff that ends up getting tossed in a big bin with a garish cardboard sign reading “Great Deal$!!!”

I didn’t even specialize in robots at first, I have monsters and spacemen of all kinds. But when other people saw the group of toys sitting on my bookshelf it was easier to describe it as a “Toy Robot Collection” than a “Miscellaneous Science Fiction Toy Collection”.

And so I got a collector jacket.

Now, the thing about having a collector jacket is that it makes things easier for everybody else on occasions when people need to buy you something. It’s Misha’s birthday? Look, here’s a card with a robot on it! Done, no agonizing over the choice required.

IMG_0229This is not to say that I don’t appreciate it, I do. That’s not my point. My point is that a simple iconic theme—a totem, if you will—is a convenient shorthand for use in a social interaction. For a friend of mine it’s Hello Kitty. When I see things with that simple colorful and creepy face on it, I think of her and I’ll snap a cell phone picture and send it to her. I don’t know how she ended up with that particular image as a totem, I suspect it just kind of happened, just like me and the robots.

This having been said, I believe that what we do without meaning to can often say more about us than what we plan to do. I may have not set out to be “the guy who collects toy robots”, but there is definitely something about toy robots that resonates with soul on a primal level.

There are certain, shall we say, fictional robotic virtues that I seek to inculcate into my daily life.

Loyalty. Good or bad, robots are known for following orders. (Except when they go berserk and destroy their creators, but that is almost always the result of a design flaw, so the designers had it coming. I mean, hello, ever heard of QA?) Organic henchmen can be bribed, seduced, or intimidated—not robots. You give a robot an order and that settles the matter. Forget the wad of cash, don’t bother unbuttoning your blouse, if you want to get past Ol’ Sparky, you’re going to have to take him out.IMG_0232

Precision. 15/32 is not ½. Whether you’re designing an atom gun or just talking about a hockey game, precision matters. Sure, approximations can save time, but there is an element of precision to even using approximations correctly. Know your mission critical tolerances and keep within them. Would Darth Vader have been pleased if the Death Star almost blew up Alderaan? I don’t think so.

Determination. Robots don’t give up. You can knock them down, strip off their synthetic flesh coating, blow off limbs, they don’t stop. They don’t care about the odds, they don’t worry about the obstacles, they just keep going, no matter what. Robots do know the meaning of the word surrender, it’s what those organic things do whenever things get a little difficult. Robots don’t try, they do.

IMG_0230Reason. A is A, regardless of how you feel about A. Facts are facts, and you have to deal with the real. A robot will always choose an ugly truth over a beautiful lie. This is not to suggest that robots are always right—logic will inevitably yield inaccurate conclusions if it begins with inaccurate premises—but they always make sense. Robots do things for a reason, not just because it “feels right”.

Stoicism. Alert philosophy geeks will realize that I am using the term in the popular rather than the classical meaning. Deal with it. Robots don’t get hung up on the physical. Yeah, they need power and oil and regular service pack updates to their operating systems, but they definitely recharge to operate rather than operate to recharge. Care for the body, certainly, it’s the tool you have to get the job done. But don’t pamper it and don’t let it slow you down—cowbot up and soldier on!

Do I live up to these ideals on a daily basis? Not hardly. But it gives me something to shoot for, and having my little plastic Unstoppable Robot Army O’Doom on the shelf watching over me reminds me to pick myself up and keep going, no matter how many times I fall.


* Seemingly required subnote to reviews:  I was not paid, co-erced, nor threatened with robot warfare.  I just genuinely liked Catskinner’s Book by Misha Burnett.  I also like Misha.  Simple as that.

Go on then, visit his blog and check out his awesomeness.  If I were you, I’d start here:



  1. I wish I could justify my Hello Kitty or Domo Kun obsession in such an acceptable and eloquent way, but I think I am just an adult kid making up for lost time :-).


  2. I’ve had a thing for robots as well from Denjin Zaboga, Kikaida (I can still sing the theme song in Japanese, although I have no idea what I’m singing), Raideen to R2D2, Bladerunner, and even Wall-E. Thank you for analyzing why robots are so appealing. I also think that robots are appealing when you need someone who will not leave you for emotional reasons. They will help you fight your battles and never say, “I’m over this relationship.” I guess I was a pretty lonely kid.


    1. There’s a lot of that going around. I think for a shy kid, the idea of having a friend who will stick with you no matter what is very appealing, and if he happens to be twenty feet tall and made out of steel, so much the better.


  3. 1) I love Big Lots, 2) Your robot collection is impressive, 3) I had never thought of social totems before… but now I am aware, and noticing how many of my friends have such things. Like Rara and dinosaurs. Fascinating!


  4. I have remote control vehicles. It all started with a red remote control pick up truck. Now I have a whole bookcase of things: both earth bound and flying. Not the expensive gasoline or nitro powered ones just battery operated. I drive them like a little old lady and crash the flying ones but I love to watch kids play with them. They never quite believe I really have them until they see them.


  5. I don’t know… something about all those unfeeling, uncaring, eyes staring down at you from the shelf – it seems a bit creepy. My vinyl collection seems infinitely less scary – and handy in a pinch to decapitate the undead should the situation ever arise. My totem? A turntable, a record, anything dance music related? Nope – a soccer (football) ball. Soccer is life, the rest is just details. 😀


  6. I collect elephants & unicorns but have stopped before they overtake the entire place. I like elephants because they are so constant & family-oriented. Unicorns remind me of rainbows & fantasy & fun. Most people think of me more by the dog w/computer Avatar I chose to honor my best friend Bandit (who quietly went to sleep shortly before I started blogging).


    1. I like elephants–they always remind me of Robert Heinlein’s “The Man Who Traveled In Elephants”, which is one of the sweetest stories I’ve ever read. I like unicorns, too, but not the cute fuzzy kind. Unicorns are monsters, fergoodnessake, they are supposed to be scary!


  7. I love robots!! Huge Asimov fan. I think I read ‘Robot Dreams’ at least every other month. Not much of a collector now but I love looking at other peoples collections. When I was young I collected books and I was very attached to them. Now I don’t care that much. I love what I ‘own’ but I can easily give that up.

    Sometimes I dream of living out of a suitcase. Just a few dresses, some clean undies, a pipe and a notebook. To never do the dishes again. 😀


    1. Eh, living out of a suitcase gets old really fast. After a misspent youth, I have in my old age finally achieved boredom and I like it. The address on my driver’s licence and my checks and the place I actually live are all the same now–I consider that a triumph.


  8. My point is that a simple iconic theme—a totem, if you will—is a convenient shorthand for use in a social interaction.

    Oh, I know this all too well. A while back, friends and family figured out that I like penguins, and then I couldn’t get away from them. Penguin t-shirts, stuffed penguins, a penguin cookie jar.

    I embraced it at the time, as you have with the robots, but I’m glad now that the penguified phase of my life is in the rearview.



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