“Hunting Machine” by Carol Emshwiller – Classics of Science Fiction

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Group Read 72: The Best Science Fiction Stories of 1957

“Hunting Machine” by Carol Emshwiller #04 of 20 (Read, Listen – @05:40)

“Hunting Machine” by Carol Emshwiller is a rather short, but effective anti-hunting story that was first published in the May 1957 issue of Science Fiction Stories. Ruthie and Joe McAlister are on a three-day hunting trip with a robotic hunting dog rented from the park service. The robot was set by the warden for three birds, two deer and one black bear. However, Joe tinkers with the governor on the robot so he can hunt a 1,500-pound brown bear.

Most of the story is satire about how in the future people bring all kinds of gadgets to make their time in the rugged wilderness as comfortable as staying at home. Because hunting with their automatic rifles and robot is like shooting fish in a barrel, Joe overrides the controls in the robot to make the bear put up a fight. We see some of the story from the robot’s and bear’s perspective, both of which are more in tune with nature. Humans come across as schmucks in this story.

I’ve read “Hunting Machine” before, but it hasn’t stuck in my mind. It’s too slight, too simple, and too obvious. I’m surprised by both T. E. Dikty and Asimov/Greenberg included it in their anthologies that collected the best SF shorts of 1957. That suggests it is liked more than I think it should be. It’s a nice enough little yarn, fine for a magazine, but lacks the punch needed to make it worthy of an anthology in my opinion.

W. M. Irwin felt the story was more than an anti-hunting story, about how sports and outdoor adventures are ruined by automation. I can buy that. I agree with Paul Fraser that the ending was anti-climactic. I wanted the bear to win, to destroy the robot and to kill and eat Ruthie and Joe. And second to that possible ending, I wanted the robot to kill Joe because he was within the new weight limit that Joe had illegally changed. But Carol Emshwiller kept the story lighthearted.

This story should have been published in a hunting magazine in 1957. I’m sure real hunters would have enjoyed the satire even more. I don’t think “Hunting Machine” adds much to our understanding of 1950s science fiction. The definitive 1950s hunting story with a science fiction theme is “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury, first published in Collier’s in 1952. It’s about hunting dinosaurs. Following that is “A Gun for Dinosaur” by L. Sprague de Camp, that first appeared in Galaxy in 1956. It’s another hunting story that plays off Hemingway’s classic Africa stories. Finally, there’s yet another classic dino hunt story, “Poor Litte Warrior!” from F&SF in 1958, where Brian Aldiss satirizes the first two.

I’m sure if I made a concentrated effort, I could track down more titles to define hunting as a sub-theme of science fiction. But my memory can’t dredge up any more from my brain, and I’m worn out on Googling.

James Wallace Harris

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