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Toys in SF

Entry updated 16 January 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Extrapolations of children's Toys are encountered from time to time in science fiction, often to sinister effect. The ironic reversal of innocence that makes malign Children in SF such an effective trope extends to their dangerous, untrustworthy or subversive playthings.

The toys dumped into the twentieth century via Time Travel in Henry Kuttner's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (February 1943 Astounding) give their new child owners a Far Future education in patterns of thought incomprehensible to contemporary adults. Also from the future is the "Bild-a-Man Set #3" of William Tenn's "Child's Play" (March 1947 Astounding), allowing the assembly of a synthetic adult human with comically unfortunate consequences; a roughly similar Biological construction kit heightens the pathos of a dying child in Bob Shaw's melancholy "Dark Night in Toyland" (November/December 1988 Interzone). In "War Game" (December 1959 Galaxy) by Philip K Dick, a complex military simulation – whose toy soldiers repeatedly attack a toy citadel – rouses the suspicions of Earth officials vetting dangerous offworld imports, but proves to be mere camouflage for the accompanying Monopoly-like Board Game which instils a disastrous view of Economics. Talking teddy-bears in Harry Harrison's "I Always Do What Teddy Says" (June 1965 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) are psychological conditioning devices. Among Superman's regular foes is the Toyman, whose Automata and other childish devices are all designed to facilitate crime (see also Darkwing Duck). Unpleasant, biting dolls attack the eponymous heroine in one scene of Barbarella (1968). Autonomous action-figure toys become deadly when fitted with military-grade AI in the Universal Pictures film Small Soldiers (1998), directed by Joe Dante.

Seeming toys in The Devil-Doll (1936) are actually Miniaturized people. Sentient Robot toys are overwhelmed in battle by newer, shinier Christmas replacements in Gene Wolfe's grim fable "War Beneath the Tree" (December 1979 Omni). More genially, an incomprehensibly defective educational toy masquerades as a secret space drive in James H Schmitz's The Witches of Karres (December 1949 Astounding; exp 1966). [DRL]

see also: Education in SF.

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