Rossum's Universal Robots (R. U. R.)
- "My dear Miss Glory, Robots are not human. Mechanically, they are more perfect than us, they possess an amazing rational intelligence, but they do not have any soul."
War with the Newts
- "Great God of the Ants, thou hast let the victory prevail! I hereby name thee the Colonel."
The son of a Bohemian country doctor, Karel Čapek was born in January 1890 AD in Malé Svatoňovice, then part of Austria-Hungary, then Czechoslovakia, then the Nazi-occupied Slovak State, until finally becoming the Czech Republic in 1992. Karel, despite his father’s occupation, was a sickly boy, suffering all his life of a spinal ailment; perhaps his writing was compensation.
Karel became enamored with the visual arts as a teen, especially Cubism, but having little talent, turned to the study of philosophy in Prague, Berlin, and Paris for several years. In 1917, he began writing essays on controversial topics such as Czech nationalism, foreign totalitarianism, and rampant consumerism. Soon, however, he turned from essays to fiction. Almost all of Čapek's literary works are inquiries into philosophical conundrums; his first batch of short stories are concerned with man’s efforts to break the pattern of destiny and grasp “ultimate” values.
But it was Čapek's “black utopia” stories – showing how unchecked scientific discoveries and technological progress tempt mankind into disaster – that drew the most attention. Thus, in his play 'R.U.R.,' first performed in 1921, the creation of humanlike machines result in these “robots” (from the Czech word for “forced labor”) coming to dominate the human race and even threaten it with extinction.
Throughout the 1930s, Čapek produced an astounding range of writings: besides his dystopian stories he wrote detective stories, modern fairy tales, humorous gardening guides, reimagining of famous figures (such as Hamlet), and his great novel 'War with the Newts.' But when he turned his pen to anti-fascist plays, he made enemies and was placed on the Gestapo’s list of Czechs to be “interned” when Germany absorbed Czechoslovakia. He was perhaps fortunate to die in December 1938, only months before the Nazis invaded and ended Czech democracy.