TIK-TOK, by John Sladek
Victor Gollancz, 2001, 9.99, pp184
ISBN 0-575-07235-0

Argh! Robot on the rampage! Lock up your daughters! Round up a posse! Cut me a switch!

Well, no, as it happens, because the eponymous and robotic anti-hero Tik-tok is far too sneaky to get caught by a bunch of torch-wielding peasants. In fact a fault in his asimov circuits means he's so sneaky that he manages to run for president despite a record-breaking run of psychopathic murders, scams and schemes - almost all of which he gets clean away with.

This is some mighty prescient satire, given that it was first published in 1983. Tik-tok starts up a franchise of 'high-profit hospitals' in an apparent spirit of humanitarian capitalism - which the market then forces him to empty because "there are always deadbeats who let themselves go broke, who can't or won't pay." (page 147); in other words, for profit.

I wonder if Sladek knew whether to laugh or cry when right-wing economic theorists almost lifted his ideas wholesale in the '80s. In a further illustration of Sladek's clairvoyance, Tik-tok's bid to become president is only boosted when one or two of his 'mistakes' are made public. He responds with a show of contrition reminiscent of another recent US president similarly caught with his trousers (ahem) down, and is practically assured a place in the White House - "then to get my hands on the war stuff" he opines (page 183).

There's a lot of black humour to make you laugh out loud in Tik-tok, even if the plot does seem to meander rather too far into complete fantasy occasionally. Pretty much everybody gets it in the neck at some point and Sladek's relatively low publishing profile in the last decade or two almost begins to make sense - it was obviously a government plot to conceal the truth! Now let the truth be told...

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