RoboDoc is the story of Jerry Kindall, a high school senior and the best video game player anyone had ever seen, his girlfriend Sarah, who gives Jerry a Christmas present of her pregnancy, Jerry’s first job, his hard-nosed ex-Marine boss Hank, and Max, the robot he brings to a level of success unimagined by any and all involved. Jerry and Sarah make the difficult choice of having their baby. Although they are not ready for the physical and emotional hardships that decision entails, they take on the challenge. Jerry, Sarah, and Max grow and mature until Max’s success triggers greed in those around them, and potential mortal danger to them all. Set in the development laboratory of a medical technology company and the surrounding San Diego neighborhoods, spotlights the best of America’s youth and its innovation.
“Hey, the bell only rang five minutes ago and the science building is all the way across campus,” he said.
He slid up onto the tailgate next to her. When he leaned to put his arm around her, she yelled, “Don’t touch me! Stay back.”
He dropped his arm. “What’s wrong? Our last Christmas break in high school starts today. No classes for two weeks. Presents for everybody. You’re supposed to be happy.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” she said in disgust. “I’m three weeks late for my period, so I took the test today. I’m pregnant.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No. You promised you’d be careful. You did it. Beast!”
“I was. We were,” he stammered.
“What’ll I tell my father? He’s gonna kill me,” she said.
“You’re pregnant,” he said, stunned.
“Not so loud. Everyone can hear you.” She put her hand over his mouth.
“What’ll I do? I’m scared. What’ll I tell mom? What’ll I do?”
He wrapped his arms around her. She stopped shaking, put her head on his shoulder and started crying. He held her until he felt her go limp. “Just don’t tell anybody, Sarah. Don’t tell your mother. Don’t tell your friends, nobody. Don’t say a thing to anyone. We’ll figure it all out by the time school starts again.”
“I can’t,” she sobbed. “I can’t, I mean, I’ll try.”
“This is all going to be all right. Don’t worry,” he said.
“I am worried. I’m scared. What’ll I do?”
“OK then, be worried. Be scared. It’s natural. Just don’t tell anybody. Don’t act nervous. Act like you’re having a great Christmas,” he said. “Really. Who knows what next Christmas will be like?”
Sarah stared to cry again.
“Remember, don’t tell anyone until we figure out what to do.”
“I’ll try. I’ll try my very hardest.”
“You’ll do fine, I know you will,” he said. Then he hugged her again.
* * * * *
The day after Christmas Jerry’s dad somehow managed to hear the doorbell over the sounds of the video game blasting from the family room. He opened the door just as the sound of the loudest explosion yet echoed through the house.
“Hi Sarah,” he said. “Come on in.”
The two walked into the family room. “Jerry,” his dad said. “You’ve got company. I’ll be in the shop if you need anything.”
“Hang on a second,” Jerry said without turning his head. The action on the 54 inch wall mounted monitor continued for a few seconds before it paused. A second or two later the screen went dark. Satisfied, Jerry swiveled his chair around.
“It’s you. I didn’t expect you so early,” he said. “This is the upgrade to GI Sweeper. Got it for Christmas.”
He wrinkled his brow. “Are you feeling OK? You look a little pale.”
“A little sick this morning, but I didn’t throw up.”
Jerry jumped up from his chair. He moved to Sarah’s side, took her hand, and led her to the leather couch. “Here, sit down.” He put his arm around her and gave her a hug.
“I’ve decided what to do,” she said.
Jerry sat quietly, waiting.
“I’ve really thought about this. I’m not too good at school, so I decided a career isn’t for me. I haven’t got any special talents. All I know is that I really like kids.So, I decided that what I’m here on earth for is to be a mother.”
Jerry stared into her eyes.
“I’m going to have my baby, Jerry.”
Jerry’s head dropped. He put his hand over his forehead. He gazed down at his lap. Neither spoke for several moments.
“I’m going to have my baby. I’m going to raise it, care for it, and turn it into a wonderful person. I’m going to do it whether you’re around or not. It’s my baby. I’m going to take care of it.”
“It’s our baby,” Jerry whispered.
It was Sarah’s turn to stare.
“I’ve thought a lot too,” Jerry said. “I decided that it was your choice. I’m glad you made it. I decided that if you were going to have it, then I would be right there with you, all the way, no matter what. I’ll be there to take care of you and the baby. That’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Sarah hugged him. She cried. When she could finally talk, she asked “What’s going to happen?”
Jerry whispered into her ear. “I don’t know. All I know is that a zillion others have gone through it and lived happily ever after. We will too.”
The two of them stopped in front of what Jerry thought might just pass for a very large beer keg; round, silver, and flared at the base like bell bottom pants. Protruding from each side was one of its four arms. Equally spaced around the top were twelve high-speed combination color, black-and-white, and infrared television cameras. The whole assembly sat on a chassis sporting a pair of caterpillar treads. Three different antennas poked up out of the top.
“Nice,” Jerry whispered under his breath.
“Don’t let it fool you,” Hank said. “There’s really not much to it. Disposable you know. Your truck has much more in the way of mechanical stuff than RoboDoc. It’s a simple machine. Except for the electronics, of course. They’re really something.”
“Sir, I figure the first thing is to make it move,” Jerry said.
“Right on, Boot. There are four wheels under that belly. Two steer, two are fixed. You get to decide which two are which.”
“Wheels, sir? I just see tracks.”
“Wheels for smooth surfaces. He’ll do thirty on a road,” Hank said. “The tracks are for rough terrain.”
“Day, night, bright, dim, he can see in any condition. In any direction. Binocular vision too. All you have to do is pick which cameras to use.”
“Can he recognize where he’s going, sir?”
“Good question, Boot,” Hank laughed. “There’s basic daylight road capability already installed. Night, especially night off-road, well, we’ve got to teach him that.”
“Does he know any evasive moves? Any moves at all?” Jerry paused a moment before adding, “Sir.”
“Now then, Boot. You’re the video game expert. You’ve got all the moves down pat. All you have to do is teach them all to him.”
Jerry shifted his gaze from RoboDoc to the man sitting in the wheelchair beside him.
“You got ‘em,” Hank said. “You teach ‘em.”
“Sir, I crashed a zillion times learning some of those moves. What if RoboDoc crashes and breaks?” Jerry asked.
“Start slow, but RoboDoc’s tough. I doubt you’ll break him. If you do, it’ll give the lads up front something to work on to improve him.”
“I see, sir.”
“Besides, you’ll have everything worked out on the simulator first,” Hank said.
“Right, sir. I forgot.”
“If it simulates right and crashes in the field, or the other way around, well, the guys up front need to know that too,” Hank said.
Jerry went up and touched RoboDoc’s arm, and then the shiny body. “It’s cold, sir.”
“Of course it is, Boot. You haven’t given it life yet.”
“It’ll be your second life this year, eh, Boot?”
- What does the title “RoboDoc” suggest to you? When does Max appear in the story as a baby, and how does he mature? Is the prospect of having robots become doctors a good thing or not? Why?
- Throughout the novel, Jerry, Sarah and Max must face life changing decisions at different stages of their individual maturation. How does each character’s response evolve as the story progresses? Are the characters able to understand the relative importance of each decision when t occurs?
- Few high school boys ever try to support the girls they impregnate, and fewer still succeed. Jerry does. What elements in his character and background compel him to make the effort? As the pregnancy progresses, what elements reinforce his resolve?
- The character of Sarah undergoes dramatic changes in the novel. She goes from her first appearance as a frightened, pregnant teen-age girl, to a secure bride-to-be and mother-to-be. Why do you think she originally choose to have intercourse with Jerry? Do you think she fell in love with him then, or at any time in the story? When did she consciously realize he was the right boy for her?
- Jerry is forced to work in a strict military like environment all night, yet must change into a high school environment tempered by romance during the day. How does he manage that? Do the other characters relate to his plight? If so, how?
- Hank fills many rolls in the novel; disciplinarian, teacher, counselor, protector, savior mentor. What essential elements of his character remain steadfast during all these rolls? Is his identity influenced by those around him? In what ways does Hank represent the typical R&D first line supervisor?
- Jerry realizes early in his job that he is, in a very important way, giving “life” to his infant robot. How does that realization affect his relationship with Sarah? Does she understand and relate to his relationship with Max?
- A family’s religion can affect teenagers in a variety of ways. How did her family’s religion affect Sarah? How did it affect Jerry? How did it affect Sarah and Jerry’s relationship?
- What is the significance of removing Max’s programming after every shift? Did Hank choose to do it too soon? When confronted, did he reveal his order too soon? Did this activity make Jerry and Hank good or bad employees?
- Max’s unexpected success has a significant impact on all the authorities within the company, and by the company’s customer, the US military. The affects include greed, technical admiration, protectionism, and exploitation. Which characters were affected in which ways, and why?