I, Robot

 I, Robot

Author: Isaac Asimov

Publisher: Spectra

Date Published: 1950

Pages: 224

Firstly, if you have watched the ‘I, Robot’ movie please forget about it when approaching the book. The two texts are not at all alike; except they both feature robots and a character called Susan Calvin (it’s expected that Hollywood will butcher movie adaptions of books, but I’m a little dissapointed because the source material was relatively straight forward).

‘I, Robot’, considered the grandaddy of science fiction literature, is actually a series of nine short stories revolving around the famous ‘Three Laws of Robotics’:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These nine stories are recounted to an anonymous journalist by the protagonist Dr Susan Calvin. Although Dr Calvin does not personally narrate all the stories, she acts as an introductory bridge to each tale.

The first story, ‘Robbi’, is a more emotional affair regarding a little girl Gloria and her pet/caretaker/robot Robbi. Later Asimov delves into stories dealing with the technical aspects and difficulties of the T’hree Laws of Robotics’ and the positronic brain. My favorite tales were ‘Robbi’ and those that involved ‘robopsychologist’ Dr Susan Calvin, especially ‘Liar’. Dr Calvin with her thin-lipped, cold ways is an unlikely yet brilliantly cast protagonist.

Asimov doesn’t place much emphasis on self identity, morality and civil rights issues when dealing with the artificial intelligence theme. This surprised me, given that the dilemma of ‘alive vs machine’ in robot fiction is very prevalent now – even the ‘I, Robot’ movie had the audacity to clumsily explore these themes. Asimov instead focuses on puzzle like scenarios based on the loop holes created by the practical application of the Three Laws, a system that on the surface seems foolproof, yet proves far from it. The final tale, ‘The Evitable Conflict’, summarises the economic future of planet Earth, where individual countries are abolished and huge continental regions are made. He predicts the merging of super powers uncannily; the formation of the European Union already validates his fictional claims.

Description is sparse and – particularly in the case of tales involving the two engineers, Powell and Donovan – is dominated by dialogue. (Unfortunately, Powell and Donovan were sometimes annoying and their bantering dialogue became repetitive very fast). The focus is on technology and economic factors on his robots, rather than lavish descriptions of landscapes and the characteristic ‘world building’ aspect of modern science fiction and fantasy. This style may alienate readers of current science fiction or at least shock them at first. The world that Asmiov has built remains tantalizingly unembellished in these short stories; (with exception to ‘The Evitable Conflict’) the social and political realities of Earth during the robot era are only mentioned passingly in the tales where they apply to the direct drama. It is up to the reader to explore the ‘Foundation’ and ‘Robot’ series for further elaboration, which I intend to do. The robots themselves are also left to the reader’s imagination.

Isaac Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ is extremely clever, and despite the focus on technology, he writes his characters with a sense of humanity and understanding. While reading the short stories it feels as if you are being exposed not only to a keen intellect, but a man who thinks of robots and future technology in a way previously unchartered. His style is very individual – a trait that always polarises readers, regardless of the genre – however I think that most people will gain from reading ‘I, Robot’, whether that is an understanding of science fiction history, robot history or entertainment by his intriguing puzzles.

♥♥♥♥ – 4/5

(This edition has truly heinous cover design and butt ugly font. I searched for another publishers’ version or the first edition, but could only find one with Will Smith plastered to the cover. No thanks. For the shallow out there (like me) you might have to search on Amazon for a better edition.)

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