Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > I, Robot

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
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's review
Feb 28, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, 2009, book-club
Read in April, 2009

It's 2057 and a journalist for the Interplanetary Press is interviewing robopsychologist Susan Calvin, just retired. Wanting to get the “human interest” angle, he pries stories from her that reveal the evolution of robotic technology, and the evolution of robots into machines with a higher order of thinking.

The first story is set in 1998, about a non-vocal robot called Robbie who was a nursemaid and best friend to a demanding little girl called Gloria. Her mother finds their relationship unnatural and convinces her husband to get rid of it, but Gloria won’t let go of the idea that Robbie just needs to be found. The question of robot emotions is clearly answered in this story, and there’s no doubt that Robbie is presented as a character in its own right, with its own clear and unique personality.

The other stories follow either Greg Powell and Mike Donovan on space stations, space ships or planets as they handle wayward robots with a mind of their own, or Dr Calvin herself as she investigates devious robots, a mind-reading robot, and a human politician who just might actually be a robot. Each story features the same characters and are connected, but each story can also stand alone. I would be hard pressed to say which was my favourite – they were all highly enjoyable and thought-provoking.

They’re also highly readable. I tend to expect science fiction to be hard to read and alienating, mostly because of its focus on science, technology – everything non-human, anyway, whereas I’m the kind of person who prefers stories with strong human or humanoid characters and that garner a real emotional response from me. While I, Robot loses a star for often using characters as devices in the plot, and are often portrayed stereotypically (the robots get more subtle personality and are creatively imagined), the novel is smoothly written, tightly paced, often humorous, and engrossing in its detective style.

Asimov is credited with setting the pace for all robot stories with his creation of the three Laws of robots:
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 the orders given 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 Laws.

The stories in I, Robot revolve around these three fundamental laws that are an intrinsic part of the robots’ positronic brains, and pose some very interesting questions. In a way, the robot is an analogy for our own economy: you create something to serve you, but you create it in such a way that it is superior to you, and acts independently of you. The robots and machines (super brains that run whole continents with the personality of a five-year-old) in these stories not only confront humans with their own inferiority, asking “why should we serve you when we are better than you?”, but also make humans almost redundant. Questions of robots as beings in their own right, with a soul, aren’t directly touched upon here, but certainly the robots in these stories show that the only thing holding them back from being completely unique in their own mind and emotions are the three Laws. They were, after all, made in “man’s” image, so to speak. Fascinating.

One thing that always strikes me about these older science fiction novels is how they show how quickly people thought our technology would advance. In just a hundred years from the time Asimov was writing, humans have conquered the solar system, mined the crap out of other planets, re-organised the structure of countries and governments, and created machines that are infallible. The excitement and expectations that came with the “atomic age” and the Cold War has definitely waned.

If you've seen the movie, you'll have a feel for the themes of this novel - or one of them, at least - but the story they used in the film isn't in this book. Both can be enjoyed in their own right, but the novel certainly makes you think more than the film did.
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Comments (showing 1-15)

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♠shane I'm interested to see what you think of this book. I was going to read it so I'm looking forward to your review.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) I've nearly finished it (it's short!) so I'll post soon. Have to say, though, that it's far, far better than I was expecting. Helps to start with low expectations doesn't it! I'm still easily scared off my a lot of sci-fi, so this was a welcome surprise :)

♠shane I got one that you might like in the sci-fi genre. I don't know if I already recommended it to you (It's one of my favorites) Check out The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It's fairly short and extremely well done in my opnion.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) The Stars My Destination? Will do. I had a bad experience with Neuromancer many years ago which put me off sci-fi, but I've been reading almost all the books that come up in the sci-fi/fantasy group and even though I still prefer fantasy, I'm starting to really like some sci-fi now.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) I just looked at what I wrote there and something clicked: I've seen this book on Goodreads a lot lately and every time I saw it I felt like it was missing an apostrophe, which really nags at me! Shouldn't it be "Star's"?? But then I haven't read it...

♠shane yes, it should, however I don't think that's how it's spelled on the cover so even though it's an error it's one that is on the actual book itself. So we shouldn't be changing it to be correct right? I don't know, I'm new to the librarian thing. One way or another this book snuck up on me, my sister gave it to me for my birthday (along with a fifth of really good whiskey) I enjoyed both thoroughly. I'm pretty sure you'll get a kick out of it at least. It's very revenge based like Count of Monte Cristo.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Yeah I checked the cover, thinking it might have been a Goodread's glitch, but it really doesn't have an apostrophe. So I left it. But it still bothers me.

Ooh, a revenge story like Monte Cristo?! Sounds like heaven! (I love Monte Cristo!) I'll definitely have to read it now! Is it in paperback?

(aaaaaand I'm so excited that I'm sounding like a twelve-year-old!)

♠shane You should have heard me after I read it. I absoloutly loved it. It has a very special spot on my bookshelf. It is in paperback. I'm a goodwill shopper (thrift store here in Oregon) I found a copy there just the other day for fifty cents. I also grabbed 20,000 leagues under the sea and farenheit 451 for fifty cents each there. You should be able to find it for cheap

message 7: by bsc (new) - rated it 4 stars

bsc Shannon wrote: "I just looked at what I wrote there and something clicked: I've seen this book on Goodreads a lot lately and every time I saw it I felt like it was missing an apostrophe, which really nags at me! S..."

I don't think it is missing an apostrophe. It may be missing an "are" but then it would lose some poeticness. You should read it though. It is much different and darker than most classic SF.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) It would have an apostrophe if it is "The Star is My Destination" - if it's "stars" plural then yes, the "are" is missing. I just Googled it - I didn't realise it was an old book. I might be able to find it at my local secondhand bookshops, they have some real gems.

Julie I think it's a rather dramatic way of putting it, and it's also a sentence fragment, but it's not missing an apostrophe. Think of it as "(I'm off to space,) the stars my destination." :)

Shannon (Giraffe Days) If I think of it as Ben put it, poetic - the way you put it - then I can just about sit quietly. I guess I'm just not poetic enough! These old sci-fi books often had interesting titles it seems.

message 3: by Werner (new) - added it

Werner Shannon, glad to hear you're experimenting more with reading science fiction! Like you, I don't get into stories that are just about soulless science and technology rather than about people. But there is actually a lot of science fiction with "strong human or humanoid characters" that evokes a really deep emotional response (as well as serious thought), and that's the kind of SF that I'm a fan of. :-)

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I got the DVD of this and watched it. I thought it was very good. My sister persuaded me to get it as most Sci Fi doesn't interest me except I used to read Arthur Clarke and Heinlein.

I, Robot

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Werner, I've read a few that have been great (and have just finished one that was excellent - Bright of the Sky - but I'm still hesitant when it comes to sci-fi. I was surprised how much I liked Snowcrash

Alice, I quite enjoyed the movie too. It was fun, and I love Alan Tudyk who did the robot.

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