I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Sunny, from the 2004 movie I, RobotAs somebody that saw the movie before reading the book, it came as a bit of a shock to find that the two have very little in common with each other – the movie seems to be mostly new material. But in a strange way, it is very much in keeping with the spirit of Asimov’s work, which is a collection of short stories exploring the philosophical implications of The 3 Laws of Robotics:

  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 any 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.

The book is a series of short stories, loosely connected by a plot (if you could call it that) involving the character of Dr. Susan Calvin, who does not appear as a character in the short stories until about a third of the way in.

Dr. Calvin’s passion is robots, and she cares about them much more than she cares for humans. I wonder if Asimov’s personality was similar to Dr. Calvin’s, because he describes robots with greater attention and more passion than he does his human characters. This could have been a failing, but the strength of the book lies in the sheer inventiveness of the philosophy and the scenarios which Asimov creates to present them, without which he could very easily be just another sci-fi hack who uses lots of techno-babble to confound the reader.

So, back to the movie, it’s a telling sign of the strength of the idea that Asimov came up with, and the brilliance in the way that he communicated it, that the writers for the movie were able to come up with something original and yet so faithful to source material.

One other thing that the book shows is that it’s possible to write a larger work by writing several smaller and loosely related works, then tying them together with a narrative later on.

Verdict: not one of my favourites, but compelling argument that the strength of idea can help an author rise above mediocrity.


Buy I, Robot, by Isaac Asmov

P.S. You may be wondering why I’m suddenly doing book reviews.

I’m sure that an important part of the writing process is reading, and seeing how other authors write, so my reviews will always have a slightly “authorly” bent to them, with an aim of looking at the writing styles and the motivations of the author. With any luck this will help me, and hopefully you as well, to discover what it takes to be a successful writer.