Arm of the Law
By Harry Harrison
Published by Librivox.org
Read by Phil Chenovert
Isaac Asimov was not the only author to write stories about robots even if he did set the template for most modern robot stories. Arm of the Law if the story of a robot police officer who shows up packed up in a crate one day in a small Outpost on Mars. It was a prototype model sent there for testing although why someone would choose to test such an expensive piece of equipment in a backwater town, seems odd to me.
Well, it’s not just a backwater town, but a crooked one as well with the local crime boss in charge and the chief of police on the take. So here comes the robotic cop, who our main character calls “Ned.” Ned, by the way bears no resemblance to “Robocop” or the Terminator, but he does has a blue uniform painted onto his indestructible metal body, so naturally the first job he is given is to sweep the floor and neaten up.
A week later the station is nearly clean enough to double as a hospital when a call for help comes in, reporting a shooting incident at a local business. The chief does not normally send his cops out to stop such things as the local boss, “China Joe,” frowns on police activity, but Ned volunteers to report on the incident and the chief inadvertently sends him to do so. Not too long after, Ned returns with the two culprits, neatly handcuffed and only slightly worse for wear – Ned even bandaged up one of the crook’s wounds. But when China Joe sends one of his boys down to investigate and chastise the cops for intruding on Joe’s territory with unauthorized gun violence, Ned recognizes him from his memory banks of “Wanted Memos” and promptly arrests him, which leads to Joe, himself, arriving with a squad of enforcers to “clean up” the police station.
It’s a fun short story and does not take long to read or listen to. I found it interesting that while Ned did not exactly follow’s Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, he was programmed with The Robotic Restriction Laws, which, while not quite the same thing (I don’t see R. Daneel Olivaw shooting a gun at any human) sounds pretty close. And it might be because it is a short story or more likely because Harry Harrison wrote it as a humorous tale, I found it more to my taste than more modern robotic cop stories like “Robocop” and “Chappie.” It shows you can write about a robotic police officer fighting crime and corruption without getting stuck in the grime and grit.
I’ve always thought Harrison’s stories tended to blow hot and cold, but this one is better than any of the “Bill the Galactic Hero: stories and at least as much fun as “The Technicolor Time Machine.”
I have said before that Phil Chenovert’s reading style is better suited to some stories than others, but it is ideal for this story. He captures the main character’s sarcastic cynicism perfectly and makes it so it is hard to imagine this story being read any other manner.
So, it’s only a short story and probably should have been the start of a series, but at least we have a recording of Phil Chenovert reading it.