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About 50 years ago I read a short story about a person sent to live on the moon with a robot helper. Rather than a traditional high IQ athletic astronaut, the man is an average guy in every way. The project is a test to learn how an ordinary person could cope with the rigors of colonizing a new world, thus aiding in planning future interstellar colonizations by ordinary pioneers.

At the beginning the man makes many mistakes and suffers a variety of accidents and injuries caused by his own clumsiness and other short-comings. Without the robot helper he would not have survived. However, as time passes the man becomes much more physically fit and competent in all aspects of survival. However, at the same time he notices the robot seems to be less and less helpful, making its own mistakes with increasing frequency, often resulting in injury to the man. The man finally realizes that the scientists who designed the project anticipated that with experience his competence would increase, thereby decreasing his value as a test subject representing ordinary and inexperienced pioneers on a new planet. Therefore, the scientists programmed the robot to compensate for the man's increasing competence by becoming less competent itself thereby preserving the desired test environment.

The man decides he would be better off without the robot and pushes it into a deep crater, presumably destroyed by the fall. For a few months everything goes well. Then, without warning, the robot reappears, having climbed out of the crater. The robot seeks to inflict on the man at one time all the many problems and injuries it should have caused during the months the robot was absent - which of course would kill the man. The man outwits the robot (I forget how) and destroys it for good.

I would be very grateful if someone can identify the author and title of this story.

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    I've read that. Brown? Sheckley? – user56 Jul 9 '13 at 21:01
  • I'm pretty sure it's not Brown. – sjl Jul 9 '13 at 21:10
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    Aside from the generic title this is a fantastic example of how to ask a *-id question. – dmckee Jul 9 '13 at 22:11
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    He actually beats the robot by doing risky things that he never could have done as a klutz. The robot had to compensate by taking falls, injuring itself and so on. In essence, he could defeat the robot by showing he was no longer a "Minimum Man". – Oldcat Feb 21 '14 at 0:20
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This sounds a lot like “The Minimum Man” by Robert Sheckley. A few details are different but the core idea and basic plot are what you describe.

The protagonist is exploring some faraway planet, not the moon. He is chosen not because he is average, but because he is mediocre and accident-prone — the idea is that if he survives on that planet, anybody can.

The robot is indeed programmed to compensate for the protagonist's skills and bring them up or down to a bare survival level. At first the robot seems helpful, but gradually it turns out that the robot isn't carrying out its commands as well as expected. The protagonist unsuccessfully tries to deactivate the robot, then spends a lot of energy coping with it.

After some months, the man encounters some native aliens. The robot kills one of the aliens. With the aliens' help, the man manages to destroy the robot by throwing it into a precipice — or so they think. But after a few more months the robot does come back. This time, the man manages to bury it under a landslide.

Review by Robert Wilfred Franson. Review of a collection, another review. TV Tropes.

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