Author: Isaac Asimov // First published: 1950 // Genre: Science Fiction
This edition: 245 pages, published in April 2013 by HarperVoyager // Get it @TheBookDepository
Read in June 2015
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
THE CLASSIC COLLECTION OF ROBOT STORIES FROM THE MASTER OF THE GENRE.
Earth is ruled by master-machines but the Three Laws of Robotics have been designed to endure humans maintain the upper hand:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey 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.
But what happens when a rogue robot’s idea of what is good for society contravenes the Three Laws?
You may not know this about me, but I, Robot is one of my favourite movies (yes, that movie), the kind of movies I can watch on repeat when I’m feeling down (also on that list: Wanted, The Mummy 1 & 2, The Italian Job, and a couple others). Anyway… Back in 2004 when I first saw the movie in the theatre, I had no idea that it was based on a book. As for many other movies, I learnt that fact later in life. It took me a while to track down this book, but I finally did. The gorgeous HarperVoyager edition kind of swayed me to be honest, I had to have it.
The stories collected in I, Robot (we’re talking about the book now) were serialised in 1949 and 1950. Having read the whole thing, it seems clear to me that they are all parts of a greater whole, but I don’t know if it should be classified as a short story collection or not…
All the stories do have something in common: it’s basically the history of robotics, starting from the first non-talking robot who was a nurse, and going towards much advanced models in the future. All stories are more or less told from the point of view of Dr Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist who has witnessed it all and gives an account of it to a journalist.
I liked some stories more than others, but in general, and in my opinion, each story had a different approach to robotics, the question of “Creation”, the ethical issues of some situations, what makes one human, the difference between humans and machines… All in all, I found it fascinating. It was written in the 1950s, but these issues still feel relevant today. I mean, come on, the rise of the machines? Skynet, anyone? And to think that scientists somewhere in the world are developing drones that can think for themselves without the input of a person… It’s like they never saw Terminator or something. That’s some scary shit right there.
As for the movie adaptation, I was clearly anticipating something completely different: they would have taken the general idea of the book and made their own thing based on it. And that is quite true, there is no Detective Spooner in the book who has a grudge against robots. But from the introduction, I recognised a few names: Susan Calvin, Alfred Lanning, Lawrence Robertson. They are active characters in the book and were transposed to the screen basically in the same capacity as in the book. Just because of that, I was happy. It then became clear to me that even if they didn’t take a specific story to base their screenplay on, they definitely took inspiration from most of them and built their own thing around that. The issue of the robot who is “unique” and does not respond to the Three Laws as any other robot, the “Brain” which was very reminiscent of Viki to me, etc.
The movie is a loose and “free” adaptation of the source material, but that’s okay. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had nothing to do with the original short story, and I didn’t care one bit, because the movie was really good. Adaptation is not about copy and paste from the original material, it’s taking it and making it relevant on the screen.
This was my first time reading Asimov. I will say that I struggled a little bit with the language in some instances, and the stories tend to drag a little long to finally have the resolution in the very last page; but I guess that’s how short stories work, because I noticed the same thing reading Sherlock Holmes stories, and sometimes I find it annoying: I want to know more about the how and why.
But overall, I found the stories, and the messages behind them to be fascinating and I therefore give a 4/5 to this book.