Nyx Book Reviews

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Review: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Title: I, Robot
Author: Isaac Asimov
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4 Stars

245 pages
Published June 6th 2013
Bought

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Did you know this science-fiction classic by Isaac Asimov is a collection of short stories? No? Well, neither did I. Colour me surprised when I found out I, Robot is actually nine short stories with an introduction.

Most of these short stories star a recurring cast of characters including robopsychologist Susan Calvin and the comic duo of Powell and Donovan. They have been strung together by the introduction and some text throughout, but they generally stand on their own. The reader is invited to fill in the blanks, and in his own mind follow the development of a world that, ultimately, is completely run by robots.

Generally, I, Robot holds up very well. There are hardly any out-dated references, and in many ways the story feels timeless. What doesn’t feel timeless is the simplistic writing and the juvenile banter of Powell and Donovan. I found the writing to be too one-dimensional; something I would gladly blame on the time period, were it not that I have read some way better written books from the same decade.

An hour later, perhaps, Powell looked at his hand on the metal arm-chair and said with frozen calm, ‘Feel the wall, Mike.’
Donovan did, and said, ‘You can feel it shake, Greg.’

Let’s just keep calling each other by our name in dialogue, that feels so natural!

The content was interesting. Asimov explores, through a sort of ‘case study’ approach, the different ethical and practical consequences of being able to create robots with a conscience. He poses some very interesting points, especially in his later stories. Some of his assumptions haven’t worked out the way he might have expected. Asimov’s robots are able to understand human speech, and can respond in kind, yet scientists are baffled when a robot can do high-level calculations. The way robotics have developed in the last sixty years is the exact opposite – although we have advanced calculating machines, it has proven difficult to equip robots with the ability of natural human speech patterns. At the time Asimov is writing, this was still very unclear. So although robotics such as Asimov envisioned them haven’t happened (yet), I hardly blame the guy for that.

Especially the last few stories gain a complexity not fully explored in the first few, though entertaining they were. There are parallels to slavery and links to events happening in Asimov’s life (many of the stories are written in the aftermath of the Second World War). I really liked that, although he does raise some points worth thinking about, his stories are never as bleak or depressing as many other science-fiction tales are. I, Robot is humoristic and optimistic, with a sharp edge.

Blurb

In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

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  • http://www.lunar-rainbows.com/ Micheline

    Huh! I had NO clue that these were short stories either! I’ve seen the film based on this, and I really enjoyed it at the time, but then again, I’m a sucker for sci-fi and suspense, and much like you said above about the book, the film also makes you think. Even with Will Smith as the lead haha XD That being said, I’ve always wanted to read the original material, as you do, and reading your thoughts here has convinced me to pick this one up for myself. Excellent review Celine^^ x

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Ahh that movie xD I really enjoyed it when I watched it years ago. Though I think if I saw it again now I might think Will Smith in it would be a bit ridiculous, haha. Yay, I hope you enjoy it, Micheline 😀 xx

    • Rindis

      The general (not exactly substantiated) story I’ve heard was the movie was originally completely separate from Asimov’s works, but had just enough similarities for lawyers to get nervous and insist on getting the rights as ‘CYA’ measure, and names and a couple echoes made it in from there….

      Away from the movie, Asimov is almost always worth reading. Like a lot of early SF, you don’t generally read him for the prose or characters (but he has his moments), but because he tells an interesting story, and he generally leaves you something to think about.

      For short stories, I will always recommend “The Last Question”, for books, I recommend the Foundation trilogy (which starts as a short story collection).

      • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

        How interesting. I feel like the movie version of I, Robot and the book are about as similar as the World War Z book and adaptation are (basically, not at all).

        I should check out the Foundation trilogy soon.

  • http://www.spajonas.com/ S. J. Pajonas

    Oh good. I’m so glad you liked these! Yes, they are short stories. In the time that Asimov wrote these, the market was pretty exclusively only short fiction published in magazines for science fiction so I think this is a compilation of those. I never watched the movie (I couldn’t bring myself to do it being an Asimov purist) so I have no idea what people expect when they pick up his books! Yes, his dialogue is always like that. Kinda stiff and boring, but his concepts are pretty amazing for the time he was writing in. I highly recommend you check out Caves of Steel. There’s nothing better than Elijah and Daneel 🙂 Much better dialogue and a good mystery at that.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Haha, I would recommend you not to watch I, Robot the movie if you’re a purist – it only barely resembles Asimov’s world. Like, it copied the laws of robotics, and that’s basically it.

      As for the short fiction format, I never thought about the fact that the sci-fi market was so different in the fifties. It all makes sense now. I feel like short-stories are so much more prevalent still in sci-fi than in fantasy, even though the genres are related.

      I’ll check Caves of Steel out, thanks for the recommendation 😀

  • http://staybookish.net/ Hazel Ureta

    Haven’t heard about I, Robot before but I’m digging that cover! I’m not sure I’m one for such short stories, especially since I’m not a huge sci-fi fan but the book as a whole generally sounds interesting! Glad to hear you found it to your liking. 😀

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      I’ve known of the title from the film, but it was definitely that pretty cover that made me buy it 😀 As far as sci-fi goes, I, Robot is quite easy to get into. There isn’t much hard science in it, so the world building isn’t quite as dense as other sci-fi is

  • http://theereaderjunkie.wordpress.com Red Iza

    There was a time when I read a lot of classical sci-fi (Matheson, P.K. Dick, Bradbury, Sturgeon, Aldiss, etc) and I’d love to read Asimov’s books one day 🙂

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      This is a good place to start Asimov, I think. I’d love to read some more classic sci-fi authors, I feel like there is so much more to explore