Rust by Joseph E. Kelleam

You can read “Rust” here.

“Rust” by Joseph E. Kelleam is about the last three robots on Earth, and I found it to be quite a moving little story. Humans are already gone or extinct. There’s a tiny, but growing sub-genre about the last robots on Earth. “Rust” was published in the October 1939 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, well before Clifford Simak’s 1952 classic City. That collection of stories featured interconnecting narratives that described life on Earth after humans told by intelligent robots and dogs. Then there was the 2006 film Wall-E about a lonely little robot left on Earth. Most recently on Netflix, there was “Three Robots” as part of the show Love, Death + Robots based on a John Scalzi short story. And I’m sure there’s more.

I’ve loved all these last robots on Earth stories. It’s a shame that “Rust” isn’t a well-anthologized classic. Joseph E. Kelleam is a forgotten writer who published just a handful of stories and short novels. “Rust” was his first published story. It was reprinted in the 1953 anthology, The Robot and the Man edited by Martin Greenberg, and in 1979 in The Great Science Fiction Stories 1 (1939) edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg. Both of these books are long out of print. Follow the link above to read a scan of the original magazine publication at the Internet Archive.

I have always loved stories about robots, and this little tale about X-120, G-3a, and L-1716 pushed a number of emotional buttons. I have to wonder about that. They weren’t cute little bots, but huge hulking killing machines over twelve feet tall. But it doesn’t take much to like a robot, just watch this video of real robots from 2020 dancing to understand what I mean.

James Wallace Harris, 12/31/20

3 thoughts on ““Rust” by Joseph E. Kelleam

  1. I’ll have to track this one down! Seems intriguing…. Re-robot stories: I found Asimov’s “Bicentennial Man” (1977) (the novella version) evocative and emotionally engaging (not something that I can say for all his robot tales).

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  2. Many thanks for writing about this story and posting the story here, James! I loved “Rust” when I first read it at the age of eleven or so in the anthology Gates to Tomorrow: An Introduction to Science Fiction (ed. Andre Norton and Ernestine Donaldy). I discovered it again more recently in the Asimov/Greenberg anthology which you mentioned (which I came across second-hand).

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  3. I wrote a story about robots (well, organic androids) carrying on after the death of the human race. It’s called “The Happiest Place On Earth” and the androids are the animatronic characters in a theme park.

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