A darkly comic fantasy about a learning machine named Roderick, and his unusual upbringing. Wrested from his creators at far too early an age, Roderick finds himself habitually used and abused by everyone he encounters, but manages to take it all in stride. The tone of the story makes it stand out in a genre full of artificial intelligences, but the most endearing facet of the book is Roderick himself, who unlike many fictional robots, is very limited by his knowledge-base. Like a mechanical Forrest Gump, Roderick does what he's told because he doesn't have any better ideas, and doesn't know enough to be able to pass moral judgments on those who are giving the orders. The author slyly uses this device to poke fun at some of the sillier aspects of 20th Century America, allowing us to see the effect our culture's messages have on one who accepts everything at face value. At the same time, Sladek clearly has little compassion for human foibles; the people Roderick encounters often represent the worst humanity has to offer, although most of them are very familiar types nonetheless. Even Ma and Pa Wood, who care for Roderick more than anyone, don't seem to really understand him. The story might have been a lot funnier if the reader didn't feel so bad for poor Roderick. As it is, he remains a tragicomic figure, and the novel is slightly less successful for this duality. So while not a masterpiece, this is still a very entertaining book. A sequel, Roderick at Random, has less to offer in the way of interesting ideas, and is not really essential.