• Well Red

From Robbie to Reason - why you should try I,Robot

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Title: I, Robot Author: Isaac Asimov First published (in the UK, in this format): 1967 Edition reviewed: 2018 Publisher: Harper Voyager Books

Rating: **** Genre: Sci-Fi Setting: Space and Earth from 1998 onwards Difficulty: Medium Length: Collection of short stories

Always spoiler free

Last year I choose this book as our set reading for my work’s book club. I needed a short book that was sci-fi or fantasy and it was the first thing that came to mind. Immediately after I regretted the choice, having only read it once when I was around ten years old, and realised that it probably wasn’t as accessible as I remembered. Then again, I devoured it in about one day.

The first thing to note is that I, Robot is NOTHING like the film with Will Smith. Just about the only thing they kept from the book is the Three Laws of Robotics and some kind of plot that features robots’ interaction with these laws. Before you read the book (or this review) please forget the film. As much as I like Will Smith, you’ll just be disappointed if you think they are similar.

I, Robot is a classic, one may say seminal, work of sci-fi. Case in point, the first story starts in 1998 and assumes this is the date that robots start taking over the world (I jest…mostly). Asimov ties his sometimes-disparate stories together with an overarching story: a reporter interviewing Susan Calvin the first ‘Robopsychologist’ from the world’s most successful robot building company. Susan is now heading towards the end of her life and regales the reporter with several stories about the development of robots and their (unique) interactions with the Three Laws of Robotics.

You can read the book as a series of jolly little stories that feature robots, but it’s when you explore the themes in each story where things get really interesting. If you like Black Mirror, you’ll probably enjoy I, Robot. The themes explored in the book, although now about 80 years old, still resonate today. My favourite is ‘Reason’ although most of my work’s book club preferred ‘Robbie’ (my least favourite, but probably the most accessible). Reason explores theology – which is why I say a lot of the themes are timeless.

I, Robot isn’t perfect - the stories can be a bit dry. I never connected with all the characters, so the feeling of jeopardy didn’t always come across in the life or death moments. Asimov’s way of writing is very ‘sci-fi’ by which I mean that he gives technical detail through pages of dialogue. As it is a sci-fi novel about robots…there is a lot of technical detail. If you aren’t used to this, it can be hard to get into the stories. But there is humour, emotion and drama laced through the stories, if you give them a chance.

The stories are clever though, and not bound to the 40’s period Asimov was writing within. I know Asimov is writing his imagined future, but you could easily see an author now writing something very similar. I constantly marvel at Asimov’s innate intelligence in creating these stories and tying them to important themes in life.

I, Robot has informed a lot of today’s sci-fi. If you read it and get a feeling of familiarity it’s probably because I, Robot has inspired many other creators. That’s why I would always recommend this book to someone who enjoys sci-fi, is getting into the genre or has an interest in themes discussed in shows like Black Mirror.

Well Red Reviews

Would I recommend this book? Yes

Favourite quote(s)?

“As he left, he turned, and said in a kindly tone, ‘But don’t feel badly. In the Master’s scheme of things there is room for all. You poor humans have your place and though it is humble, you will be rewarded if you fill it well.’”

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