I, ROBOT- A NOVEL BY ISAAC ASIMOV
Recently I published a review of this book on my goodreads profile (here) and today it is time to review it here on my blog as well. So, what kind of novel is it? It is a science fiction novel, published in 1950 and one could say that is one very typical of Asimov's style. Famous three laws of robotics originated in this novel. Or should we credit the story it appears in as being the first? What story you might ask? Isn't this a novel? Well, this novel is actually a collection of 9 short stories. They were originally published in two American science fiction magazines. However, when he was putting them together for this edition, Asimov made some changes and those changes were for the better. Mainly, he added a framed narrative that functions quite well. So, yes I, Robot is written as a serious of stories featuring a group of individuals crucial for the development of robotics, but it still functions as a novel. I suppose these stories could be read separately, but they are supposed to be read together (if you are interested in this novel that is), and they function perfectly that way.
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HOW DID THESE SHORT STORIES SUCCESSFULLY EVOLVE INTO A NOVEL?
The novel is actually very easy to follow despite different protagonists. It is after all, a same group of people. The key person in this novel is Dr. Susan Calvin. Asimov thought of a great way to connect his stories in this novel, possible because Susan is such an important character, he decided to link them all to her. He presented these 9 short stories as Susan's reminiscences during an interview she gave to a reporter. I felt that a strong female character was really a great choice for a framed narrative and not only because it made sense for Susan (who is the protagonist of most stories) to connected the stories. I think it added something more to the stories. Besides, Susan there are two other notable characters and their names are Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan. They are engineers, not psychologist like Susan, but despite them being employed at 'practicalities' of robot development, the stories they star in present interesting moral dilemmas as well. They are at times quite comical and they do end up in dangerous situations, but their stories doesn't lack depth and in that sense they connect with Susan's perspective quite well.
As I said, this novel does feel like a novel, despite its short story origin. The narrative flows so effortlessly and every story adds new depth to the question of humanity. I do think it is as much about humans as about robots. What makes us human is a common question in Asimov's work....Moreover, I have a feeling that he puts forward a rather bold question: is humanity an answer to everything? Should it be? Can it be? If it can, how it can be? Should we want help? Do we need help? What are the challenges and the possible advantages of technological development? Asimov tackles all those questions and he does it not only eloquently but also wisely.
ONCE A FAN OF ASIMOV, ALWAYS A FAN OF ASIMOV
I should probably say that I'm a fan of Asimov. So, I was pretty certain that I will enjoy this novel and I did. I stayed up until 4 a.m to read this book. IT WAS SO WORTH IT! When you are a teenager and you read your way into the morning, you know it is a good book. When you are an adult who doesn't function well with a few hours of sleep and you still do that, then you know it is a great book. Fair enough? Or is it just me? Do you still stay up to read? I think it is a good sign, btw. It means our passion for literature is still intact. My history with science fiction books goes way back. It is interesting to see how the genre changes, but I still enjoy the classics of this genre. I probably always will.
THE SETTING AND THE CONCEPT OF FUTURE HISTORY IN ASIMOV'S I, ROBOT
Another thing that is worth mentioning is the setting and the time line. Some of those stories are set on our planet, some aren't, but they all connect to their time line very well. Despite the fact that the stories span over the period of about half an century, they all feel connected. Asimov, like Heinlein, is a master of future history genre. He has that impeccable attention to detail down. They both have. Everything connect in this stories- every chapter follows the next one naturally even if they are sometimes quite different in tone. For example, one story might be more philosophical, while other might be written as a crime story but they are all set in the same world. It all ties together nicely. As I said, this novel is focused on the development of robotics and the people who played a part in it. Asimov does a great job of inhaling life both in its characters and the story itself. This novel is everything that I love about SF: thought-provoking, intelligent and well written.
HOW THIS NOVEL MADE ME RETHINK OUR WORLD?
I would say that this novel is still relevant. It is fascinating how it doesn't feel dated at all. In fact, this novel made me wonder whether the robots governing our world wouldn't be a fine solution for the eternally unstable economic system of our planet that results in millions of death due to poverty annually? Or not. Perhaps a society ruled by robots wouldn't be such a good idea? Or would it? The whole thing made me think of one Heinlein's short story that deals with the subject of slavery. Apparently there are over 40 millions slaves in the world today. That's a really frighting number (basically two things that worry me the most about our human society- the presence of slavery and unstable economy that results in continuous warfare). Why does human kind always resorts to slavery and wars? Is it really in our nature? Or is it as Asimov says, that we're simply unable to comprehend the mechanics of this world? That they are too complex for our monkey brains? Do we need a super robot brain to figure it out? Perhaps our economy should be more precise, more controlled, more mathematical? But who could be trusted with such a delicate calculation? Who could be trusted with enforcing it?
Another interesting debate it inspired in my head was surprisingly connected to biology. Having read this novel, I thought a lot about the subject of biological programming. Perhaps predictably, I started thinking about social conditioning and upbringing. The old question of nature vs. nurture appeared again, but I saw it in a new light. What is exactly our true nature? What is the power of nurture? Watching those robots controlled by the 3 laws of robotics, I found myself wondering how much are all of us controlled by 100 laws of biology. I choose a random number, but if you think about it...there are laws of physics, laws of biology, laws of psychology, laws of society. Where do they end and where we do begin? What controls us? Or better to say...what doesn't? Where is that freedom of will we so often boast about? How often do we really demonstrate it? One thing is for sure, this novel gave me plenty of food for the thought.
SUSAN- THE MOTHER OF ROBOTS
Just one more thing. There was a female protagonist in this one that I found to be quite inspiring and easy to relate with. In the past, I had a feeling that Asimov is not as good with his female protagonists as he is with male ones, albeit he was pretty good with both, there still seemed to be a slight difference. However, here it was actually a female scientist that was (in my view) the most interesting and possibly the most well developed character. Can we say that a woman was essentially the mother of robots (in Asimov's world)? She didn't invent them, but she played an important part in their inclusion into the society. Mother of robots. It made me wonder, why did Asimov selected a female character? Did he liked the symbolism of it? There was one story that showed a very personal side to Dr. Susan and that was the one I liked the most.
To conclude, this is an exceptional SF novel. It uses the framed narrative very much to its advantage. It is filled with interesting exploration of morality in the context of future society. It is a true classic. If you are a fan of Asimov, you'll certainly enjoy it.