- The Good: Approachable and scholarly science fiction about robots
- The Bad: Asimov didn’t approve of the book’s title
- The Literary: Short stories from one of the greatest science fiction writers
Granted an interview with the chief robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., the reporter and narrator eagerly captures this first-hand account of the rise of the machines. Dr. Calvin’s career chiefly concerns aberrant behavior in robots and how it is linked to what is happening in their positronic brain.
I, Robot and Asimov’s other robot works revolutionized the science fiction genre and still influence pop culture and modern robotics. Themes of robots, morality, and humanity arise from the nine distinct short stories and novelettes that round off this groundbreaking collection. The individual stories and their first publications are listed below:
- “Robbie” (1940, revised 1950)
- “Runaround” (1942), (novelette)
- “Reason” (1941)
- “Catch That Rabbit” (1944)
- “Liar!” (1941)
- “Little Lost Robot” (1947) (novelette)
- “Escape!” (1945)
- “Evidence” (1946) (novelette)
- “The Evitable Conflict” (1950) (novelette)
I’d argue that the most famous and lasting contribution are the three laws of robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three simple directives, Asimov formulated the boundaries of possibility for robots in these stories—and also for many subsequent works. By formulating the laws that govern robot behavior, Asimov opened many possibilities. I love that the stories focus on the philosophical implications of artificial intelligences, even one in which humanity is rendered obsolete. Don’t expect hordes of killer robots here; this is an erudite exploration of how technology will surpass us.
The stories aren’t all serious, and some are surprisingly funny at times because of the apt observations of humanity, the robots cutely running amok and outsmarting the humans, or even the recurring human characters of Powell and Donovan, who play off each other hilariously.
I’m surprised how well these stories hold up, nearly 75 years after publication. I’m still waiting for my Robbie! Highly recommended as one of the most influential science fiction works of the twentieth century!