DWJ ReRead · Science Fiction · Short Story

“No One” by Diana Wynne Jones

unexpectedmagic“No One” is a typical Diana Wynne Jones story in the sense that it has a protagonist that sees themselves in a different way from how others see them, and then learn that they are/could be so much more. It also has that two-characters-that-can’t-stand-each-other-work-together trope that I love, especially when DWJ does it. Except that this time, the protagonist is a robot.

No One is the name of a specially ordered, custom android, tasked to care for a boy named Edward, and to do odd chores around the house. Unfortunately for No One (Edward calls him Nothing or Nuth) his programming seems to be ill-suited for the modern house his family lives in, and none of the other machines and appliances like him. They refuse to let him cook or wash or do any of the things he’s told to do. On top of that, the house seems to be haunted, and no one notices. No One messes up all the time, but he manages by self-programming and learning to do things differently. But when he accidentally (through the machinery of the unknown ghost) does something that would get him scrapped, he finds out the truth about the ghost – it’s an invisible House Control program to keep the house safe, that thinks that No One is usurping its job. Of course, the House Control’s name is Someone.

No One talks to Someone and tries to reason things out, and concocts a game for the two of them to play with Edward, their human charge. But before they can start, the house gets broken into and Edward is held hostage, so it is up to No One and all the other machines in the house to save the day.

The wordplay with the names No One and Someone is clever if not unexpected, and I know that I would’ve had so much fun with it as a kid. My favourite thing, though, is that even though the story would’ve stood on its own with just the wordplay, it still has all these other details to enjoy. I really liked that while the machines are still very much machines, there’s something special in the bond between No One and Edward, and the growing respect between No One and Someone. I like how the machines call humans “softbodies” and sulk or make mischief, but still seem very machine-like. When No One asks the clothes washer if it has plaited one of the humans’ stockings through the other clothes, it replies, “I always do. I like to watch the softbodies untangling it.” It also reveals to No One that it takes “real skill” to mismatch the socks every time. I like that after being questioned by some of the other machines, No One wonders if he’s more of a softbody or a hardbody. I just love how DWJ squishes all these ideas – rivalry/friendship, self-worth/identity – in something that can still be read as just a light, funny story. (Also, I want a No One of my own.)

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