The Copper Man is a novel written by Trevor Hasan the Ponderer, published in the Circle of Friends in the late Golden Age. It tells the story of a mechanical person, with a brain made of copper wires and a metal body run by Lektrik, and his journey to grasp humanity from the perspective of a man born with knowledge but not experiences. It is considered to be a groundbreaking work of fiction, which uses cutting edge science and futuristic technology to examine the human condition, and is still read in Technocracy schools to this day. It has been banned throughout the Tallet Empire.
The being, known as "Copper" awakes, with no memory, in a laboratory in Ironspire, and is told that he is the result of a successful experiment to create life. The researchers spend years working with him, teaching him things, performing tests, but soon, he becomes one of the researchers himself, working alongside them. As time goes on, the researchers begin to grow old and die, and Copper begins to question the nature of his existence: he is a man of copper, effectively immortal, devoid of true emotions, and will only live on while others around him die, rendering his attempts at meaningful relationships futile. He wishes to learn of humanity, to experience it, and perhaps even to become one of them, if only for a moment, to truly understand them.
Copper travels the world, desperately searching for meaning, traveling throughout the Eastern Block, where he meets many different people, including a group of merchants who talk to him of their craft and eventually betray him by trying to sell him, Knight of The Broken Kingdoms who teaches him of honor and passion, a farmer who tells him of the simple life and working the land, a Kushani trader who teaches him of family and duty, the king of a small nation of whom he becomes a guest who envies his ability to make decisions without emotional consequence, and finally a group of Catailians who speak . Eventually he is captured by the Tallet, who tell him that he is now the property of the Faceless Emperor, leading to a several page discussion of what it means to be human, to have purpose, and to have meaning.
The Tallet insists that he can never be human, because he is a man made of copper and tin, and that the struggle for meaning is, in itself, meaningless, because everyone dies eventually while the machine lives on: in a sense, all mortals are already dead. Copper rebukes that a human is worth more than this, that the simple act of existing has meaning, that passion, struggle, and accomplishment give meaning in their own, no matter how fleeting. The Tallet commander eventually claims that, because he is to live and Copper is to die, he has been shown correct. Copper reminds the commander that, in his own words, he is already dead, and therefore, without meaning. In the end, Copper is killed by the very humans he sought to emulate, but states that, through of his search for meaning, he has perhaps become more human than his executioners.
The implications and themes of The Copper Man are still talked about centuries after it was written. The ideas of humanity discussed from the outsider's perspective of a thinking machine, such as individuality, freedom, passion, morality, duty, and the search for meaning, are heavily debated throughout fiction and philosophy. Most importantly, many of the questions asked are never answered, only elaborated upon: Copper dies before he can answer them.
It has been posited that Copper may actually be inspired by the Princess, as Trevor was reportedly a friend of hers. The theme of an immortal being attempting to bridge the gap with a humanity they do not understand would certainly show a parallel. Interestingly enough, there are no references to Immortals until the very end, which may also imply the idea that Immortals take meaning away from humanity.
It may have also been a rebuttal of Tallet culture, and certainly becomes one at the end: the idea that a mechanical being searching for meaning is more human than a man who lives to serve a machine speaks volumes about the subtle differences between Tallet and Friendly culture. The fact that the Tallet Commander is not given a name is a dehumanization which has endless implications.
Finally, the last few words between the Tallet Commander and Copper bring forward the idea that meaning is only created by a search for meaning. The commander has already resigned to his role, and believes himself to be meaningless, and is thus, without meaning. The implication is that meaning is lost in nihilism.
- There I was, a part of the universe, reflecting inward upon itself. - Copper
- A human being is greater than the sum of its parts. - Engineer Redhead the Organizer
- It is not simply enough to learn it, when to experience it is to know the truest meaning. - Sir Francis
- What is a human, but one who speaks his own mind? Is there anything else which no other animal can do? - Farmer Aramand
- You never know the bane of a thing until you truly grasp it. - Chief How-Sing
- A human life is meaningless in a sea of time. - The Tallet Commander
- A life is precious, even the fleeting glimpse of that. Meaning is only found through impact on another. - Copper
- A human being is the sum of his parts: the food, training, and orders which have gone into him. - The Tallet Commander
- There I was, a human being, my last vision of the machine that had ended me. - Copper