Weeding Womb

My Pal Clunky

My Pal Clunky by Ron Goulart. A study in how not to do reader identification. It's about a down-on-his-luck actor who gets a second chance at stardom. Seems his old show ('My Pal Clunky') about his misadventures with Clunky, his robotic dog, is being revived by an old fan who's now a TV exec. But Clunky (which the main character had built specifically for the show) was sold a couple of years ago to raise money to live on, and now there's just one week until his meeting with network execs; a meeting which Clunky is expected to attend.

Now comes the problems. Every character is unlikable. The main character is the closest to likable and only because he's a pitiful flop. Throughout the story you're screaming at him, hoping he'll tell someone, anyone, to f-off - they all deserve it and he never does anything worse than whining pathetically.

Within minutes of getting the TV offer, his ex-wife quickly appears and offers to find Clunky for him. Turns out she's been spying on him in hopes he'd come into money and could pay off - with interest - his back alimony. She's cold, which could be expected of an ex-wife; but she's a also a petty, mercenary, hateable lawyer. Five lines of dialogue in and I wanted the main character to tell her to shove the alimony (and her hopes of getting it) where the sun don't shine. But he didn't.

There's a couple of paper-thin bit parts (the main character's old agent, and a doctor) who, along with Clunky and the ex-wife, insult the main character's weight and pallor.

And that brings me to Clunky himself, found soon after through a chain of several buyers. He's exceedingly smart, and has engineered his own purchase - he now owns himself. The way he did this was completely unethical and utterly impossible. How did he do this? He rigged a roulette wheel to pay off consistently for a human stooge who then bought him from the casino owner. I know how casinos work, and no unknown schmuck can walk into a casino and win millions on a roulette wheel. As soon as he started winning big on every spin, the casino's enforcers would come along and keep him from playing the wheel anymore.

But anyway.... He quickly cuts himself in for half the gross on the new show, then (at the meeting a week later) blackmails his way into getting the show back on the air. In five pages he admits to committing at least three illegal acts. And he's so proud of it (and even pettier than the ex-wife) in such an annoying way that you want to beat his cybernetic brain into pulp.

He also commits a smug character's cardinal sin - he insults the reader. You see, the main character doesn't figure out (after a look at one prominent statue of Clunky) that Clunky is now his own master, and the annoying dog-bot insults his old owner because of it. But here's the problem: I hadn't figured it out either, and was insulted along with the main character.

There's a kind of character I call 'delightfully unethical' - he's the sort of character that does nasty things, but you can't really hate him for it. He doesn't flaunt his unethical acts, and generally acts fairly pleasant. While in Real Life (TM) I'd loathe a person like that, in fiction I'm willing to suspend disbelief and cut the characters some moral slack. Not here - they're all either bit parts or childish and annoying.

There was one nice bit of social commentary - where names of prominent people, be they doctors or mobsters, have been franchised out. The old one dies or retires and a new person buys the franchise and takes over. But this was mired amongst the least likable cast I've ever seen.

The Archon

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