One of my favorite science fiction books is Great Sky River by Gregory Benford. As an aside, I can’t believe my eyes but — on visiting Amazon — it seems this awesome tome is now out of print, with a secondhand paperback version showing as costing $84 (goodness only knows what all the old science fiction books on the shelves in my office are worth), but we digress…

Great Sky River is book three of Benford’s Galactic Center Saga (try saying that ten times quickly). The stage is set tens of thousands of years in the future when humankind has expanded out into the Milky Way galaxy. Unfortunately, as we approached the galactic center, we came into contact with a mechanoid civilization and problems arose between us. (Although the mechanoids — or mechs — were created by one or more biological species, this was so long ago in their past that they have no recollection of it and have no affinity to beings of a biological bent.)

The thrust of this saga depends on your point of view. I tend to view it as “Humanity’s last stand against the nasty mechanoids.” By comparison, Paul Witcover in Sci Fi Weekly described it as, “The epic tale of a star-spanning civilization of intelligent machines methodically working to exterminate a species of pestiferous vermin that calls itself humanity.”

In the case of Great Sky River, we follow one of the few remaining tribes of humans on a world called Snowglade. The mechs are slowly altering Snowglade’s climate to suit themselves — drying it out to protect their metal bodies from corrosion.

The reason I mention this here is that there’s a scene in the book where our heroes break into a mech factory searching for stuff they can use as food and suchlike. The humans enter a large room in which the mechs have installed biological legs that are fed by nutrients and that are powering some sort of machine (we later discover that some of the higher-level mechs regard this sort of thing as being a type of art form).

Be that as it may, this scene popped into my mind when my chum Jay Dowling sent me a link to an article on the UK-based science website, IFLScience: Bipedal Robot Becomes First Robot to Run 5K Race. In turn, the article to me to this video on YouTube.

I’m not sure why, but I find that seeing just these legs running on their own without an accompanying torso and arms and head to be somewhat disconcerting. Can you imaging walking home on a dark night, hearing something behind you, and turning to find these little rascals either (a) keeping pace with you or (b) barreling toward you at high speed? (I’m not sure which would frighten me more — that’s something I’ll have to kick around.)

I also wonder what any mechs — as depicted in Great Sky River — would think to see these legs walking around on their own. Would they have the equivalent of our sense of outrage if we were to see biological legs being employed to power a mechanism as described in the book? As always, your thoughts and feedback will be much appreciated.