One of my favorite science fiction short stories is The Handler by Damon Knight. It is a story that demonstrates how people perceive others and how we would like to be perceived.
The story starts with Pete, a good looking and popular man. He just finished a show, and strolls into the after party where he finds an adoring crowd that listens to his every word and laughs at his every joke. He has a loving girlfriend, Ruthie, and a buddy named George. The crowd can’t help but be attracted to his outgoing and interesting personality. But the mood quickly changes as Harry climbs out of the robotic Pete. Harry is a short unattractive and unassuming man. Once Harry is out and his robotic puppet is still, the party dies down and starts to breakup. Ruthie barely gives Harry the time of day and George encourages Harry to climb back into Pete to save the party. Harry does so and the party continues.
Damon Knight’s futuristic short story does not dazzle the reader with imaginative science fiction technology or a future world full of amazement. Rather, he writes about a brief futuristic moment in time that shows Knight’s perception of human behavior. He expresses how the crowd reacts to the handsomely popular Pete and how people only look skin deep when judging others. We don’t care or don’t have the capacity to really know somebody and we are driven by our stereotyping and prejudices when perceiving people like Harry. Was it right to shun Harry? No. But when we look at the Pete(s) of the world, we perceive his appealing looks and qualities as being superior.
Knight briefly displays Harry, an unattractive short man who operates Pete, to the reader. Knight shows us through Harry how we as people are unsure of ourselves and our insecurities have us put up false personas. Harry was the driving force behind the popular Pete, but with his lack of self-confidence in this society, he could not make himself to be like Pete. To Harry the easier path was to hide behind the robotic Pete or a false persona so that he can be accepted.
This powerful story tells you to look beyond your stereotyping and prejudices when accepting others and that we need to be confident in our own skin.