Monday, September 30, 2013

Book review--"I, Robot"

by Isaac Asimov

In this collection of semi-connected short stories, Asimov sets out his now famous Three Laws of Robotics.  The robots of the stories run the gamut from the tyrannical to the emotionally conflicted, from the ability to read minds to robots acting as political leaders.

As I have mentioned before, I'm working on a novel that features a robot as a main character.  Therefore, I considered it imperative that I investigate this seminal work on robots in science fiction. That's the pretentious adjective I give this book for through this writing Asimov gave us the Three Laws of Robotics and thereby a proposed guide to robot behavior:

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 orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First or Second Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Yeah, I pretty much threw such dogma out the window for my book, but let's proceed with a review of I, Robot, the film version of which, as an aside, has little if anything to do with the book.

I am going to say something that will no doubt make me unpopular.

Asimov was not a great writer.  His characters were two dimensional (at best), his dialogue was pulpy, and he seemed to have little if any interest in anything resembling a literary technique, such as symbolism.
That said, the man had great ideas.  He was able to combine theories on scientific progress and ask the great question of "what if?"  What are the greater implications of such developments on society?  Will there one day really be, as Asimov muses, "robopsychologists?"  That is to say scientists who specialize in analyzing and...if need be...treating robot behavior?  Are the "positronic brains" Asimov postulates even possible?  If not, then why not?  Will technological developments such as robots lead to the instauration or the armageddon of society?

These kinds of questions are the very purpose of science fiction...even if the prose techniques may leave literary critics retching on the floor.

I can live with that.

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