Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids – artificial men and women – have been a common element.
When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for “the other.” When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thusly, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at Marvin the Paranoid Android.
Marvin the Paranoid Android is a major character in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy which contains 5 novels and a novelette.
He was first introduced in the radio plays of the same name, but the books are most often treated as canon, so we’ll look there most closely.
Marvin was an early prototype robot from Sirius Cybernetic’s Genuine People Personality (GPP) products, which included more than just androids. Marvin was accidentally made too intelligent, however, and while others of his model were able to become well-adjusted servants, Marvin became a depressive almost instantly.
Being roughly 50,000 times as intelligent as the most intelligent human, he realized the futility and absurdity of existence instantly, and from then forward was in a constant state of general mopeyness until the moment of his “death” many quadrillions of years later. He would have committed suicide instantly, if there had been any point to it at all.
Because of his long-life, and the extraordinary amount of time-travel involved, it’s impossible to know everything that Marvin was involved in, but it seems that much of his existence was spent waiting. His very first memories are of being placed in a dark room for 6 months with no companionship save for a rat, which crawled into Marvin’s left leg and died.
The corpse remained there for over 50 million years, as he couldn’t be bothered to clean it out (it eventually disappeared when his leg burned off in the heart of a sun). It was also during this time that he discovered his faulty circuits, which caused intense pain down his left side. Marvin saw this as just another part of the futility of existence, and so never had them repaired.
Most of his adventures in the stories, of course, happen around the protagonists, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. He is first introduced as the general maintenance robot aboard the Heart of Gold, where Zaphod has him working on menial tasks, far below his vast intellect (not that he cares).
How Zaphod acquired him is not fully explained, but it’s assumed that he was in the ship when Zaphod stole it.
Despite his seeming resentment of the other members of the crew of the Heart of Gold, he continues to run into them across time and space, and often saves their lives. Due to time travel, Marvin’s life progresses much faster than that of his friends. The first time it happens, they are all (except for Marvin) transported to the end of the universe. When they arrive, they find that Marvin has been waiting there for them for over 570 billion years. When they leave, they take the extraordinarily well-aged android with them.
Later, after making him fly another stolen ship into the heart of a sun, thus saving the rest of the crew, he turns up in a pile of scrap metal in a merchant’s hold. The merchant fashions one of the other scraps into a new leg to replace the one lost in the sun. The merchant took Marvin to Squornshellous Zeta, where the android accidentally killed thousands of people when interfacing with a bridge caused it to commit suicide taking the people with it. This also left him stranded with his new leg stuck in the swamp. This time he was only left alone for 1.5 million years, however.
After losing track of the protagonists for an amount of time which he describes as thirty-seven times the age of the entire universe, making him the oldest thing that ever was or ever will exist in the universe, he is finally let to die.
Arthur finds him at the viewing site for “God’s last message to his creation.” All of his parts have since been replaced several times with the exception of his brain, and the faulty pain circuits.
When Arthur lifts him up to view the message (which reads “sorry for the inconvenience”), he accepts it as a personal apology and, for the first time in his many quadrillions of years, is satisfied. He then promptly ceases to function.
Marvin’s own conflict in the story is internal. He seems to be indestructible through sheer apathy, and perhaps embodies a nihilistic existence better than any other literary character.
Despite his name, he is not truly paranoid, nor is he depressed. He’s an emotional outsider, who, until his final moments, honestly believes, in a way that no human ever could, that there is no objective, no point, no reason for being at all.
His need to overcome this outlook is central to his being, but he does not, cannot realize that. The amount of time that he has to ‘live’ with this outlook is intended to be incomprehensible, and makes his final epiphany that much sweeter, but also that much more tragic.
Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be D.A.R.Y.L. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.