The Steam-Driven Boy (1972) by John Sladek

‘If we remove him from the past, we have to make sure no one notices the big jagged hole in history we’ll leave.’

I reviewed John Sladek’s 1983 BSFA-winning novel Tik-Tok back in December 2015. I enjoyed the story, describing it as “a darkly humorous satire that casts a wry eye on such topics as art, celebrity, power, politics and slavery.” THE STEAM-DRIVEN BOY is a humourous short story that pokes fun at Asimov’s “Robot” novels. It’s another story taken from the fine 1972 collection Nova 2.

Brief Summary

In his short introduction, Harry Harrison calls this ‘the final and definitive time-travel story.’ Three time-patrolmen hatch a plot to remove the current president Ernie Barnes by going back in time to the president’s childhood and replacing him with ‘an artificial kid.’ A sixties-flavoured time-travel caper ensues.

My Thoughts

The Steam-driven Boy can be read as a parody of an Asimov robot story, but not on the same level as the author’s excellent 1983-novel Tik-Tok. It’s a very short story at only seven pages. It’s pretty bonkers to be honest, but I liked that about it. It made me think of Kurt Vonnegut. You can tell Sladek had fun writing it. It involves time travel, kidnapping, body-swapping, and more. There’s almost too much going on to really follow the narrative and I had to re-read some parts. I’m still not sure what happened in the end.


Sunday February 16th 2020


It’s time to choose the next story for my Short Story Tarot Challenge. After a quick shuffle of the deck, I draw the Ace of Swords. This card represents thinking with logic rather than emotions. It can be the sign of a first thought or impulse from the mind.

The story paired with this card is THE ERGOT SHOW (1972) by Brian Aldiss. Coincidentally, this is another story taken from Nova 2. I’ve read some of Brian Aldiss’s short stories before in his 1970 collection The Moment of Eclipse. So I am looking forward to reading this one.

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

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