I, robot is a collection of stories related to the fictional robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, and is set in the late 21st century. It is told as a dramatization of past events involving the inclusion of robots in human life, starting in the early 1990’s and throughout most of the 21st century; it is told by an unnamed reporter who interviews Dr. Calvin and publishes these stories as an hommage to her work and life.
Isaac Asimov’s collection of stories was originally published in 1950, and is part of a broader series, The Robots Series, though from what I hear ( I haven’t read the series) it is set thousands of years before the rest of the series, which converges with Asimov’s other great series, The Foundation series.
I grew up in a house full of science fiction books; Foundation, Battlefield Earth and others were all over my parents’ studio, and though I pretended to read some of the Foundation series when I was finishing elementary school, I’d be lying if I said I understood it or remember any of it. However, Asimov’s name and his huge oeuvre of more than 400 books has always stuck with me, and as an aspiring writer even in my childhood, I admired how prolific he had been. Bear in mind that at the time I knew nothing of his work, just the number of books alone was enough to amaze me.
Eventually I read some of his short stories, translated to Spanish, and I found I enjoyed them quite a lot, which was good since I had spent so much time admiring him without knowing what his work was actually like. What a relief.
So now I was somewhat excited to read I, robot, hoping to like it a lot, but at the same time weary that this would maybe mean that I’d have to also read the rest of the Foundation series.
Turns out I did enjoy this book; even though some things about it are worth pointing out for being sexist or to an extent boring, it was not a bad read at all. Let’s be honest here, whenever you crack up a book written in the 50’s you are bound to find at least some sexism or racism, no matter the genre or author.
And this was not an exception, beginning witht he very first story, Robbie’s “villain” is a housewife who behaves like the trope of the wife that has to be better than her husband, just because, and in so doing she refuses to listen to the voice of reason (the husband) and the suffering of her little daughter. Suffering caused by herself, I might add. At this point I just took a breath and sighed heavily and moved on, hoping above hope that the rest of the book wasn’t like this at all.
I was pleasantly surprised in that regard, since the main female character of the book, Dr. Susan Calvin, is actually a pretty fairly written character (obviously given the limitations of Asimov as a writer of female characters, as admitted by him at one point).
However, there is a certain thing that happens a lot in Asimov’s stories, in which the protagonists happen to be just the right amount of smart to solve the situations in front of them, so the stories are sort of plain. Let me rephrase that, most of the stories are sort of plain. I actually found the last three stories in the book, which featured Calvin more prominently than the rest, quite enthralling and fun.
The stories also serve as a timeline of Asimov’s early growth as a writer. The stories get more complex and literary. At first most of the action and solutions are happening in dialogue form with brief spasms of description, reminiscent of how old action heroes used to have to explicitly say what they were going to do, talking to themselves and to the reader directly. By the end of the book, though, this has changed drastically and the prose is therefore more enjoyable.
As a side note, I find it always funny when reading old science fiction and encountering phrases like “I took motion pictures of him”, or having all the characters smoking a lot, or the complete absence of something like the internet or smart phones. Not that it’s the author’s fault, though, it just amuses me how they failed to think of those things (even though they imagined their elements separately) as something as huge as it is today.
I am looking forward to the next book in the series, The Caves of Steel, which thankfully doesn’t have a movie cover. I think that that is one of the tackiest things editor’s can do to books in order to sell more, after a movie comes out: plaster the movie poster there as the cover. Alas, that was the only edition I found at the time.
Edition: Bantam Spectra, 2004
P.D, I need to clean my oven.