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Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review - I, Robot

Since I wanted to broaden the spectrum of sci-fi this month, I thought I should look at a piece from some guy called Isaac Asimov. Apparently, he was some big-time writer back in the day ,and yes, I’m being a little snarky. I haven’t read much of his work but I know I have had to been exposed to some of it. I guess the best example I can come up with is the really loose adaptation of I, Robot from 2004. I was curious on how much got adapted into that movie, so I sought to find the book and read it. 

I, Robot was released in 1950. It’s a collection of short stories that Asimov had written for American magazines. Unlike The Martian Chronicles, all of the short stories were woven together to revolve around an interview with Dr. Susan Calvin, a fictional character Asimov created. Since I'm talking about the book, also browse over the movie below.

I, Robot
Writer: Isaac Asimov

BRIEF BLURB: A reporter interviews Dr. Susan Calvin, former robopsychologist of the company U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. She tells him about her life’s work and the many situations she encountered with robots.

SYNOPSIS
The book starts off in the mid-21st century with the nameless interviewer trying to get something newsworthy from Dr. Susan Calvin, robopsychologist for U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men. The retiring doctor eventually decides to tell the reporter about her life’s work in robotics. She starts with telling him about how robots were once used on Earth as helpers. She centers on one story involving a girl and her pet robot named Robbie. She then talks about how the robots were basically kicked off the planet to be used for work in outer space. It’s here where she talks about Gregory Powell and Mike Donavan, two robot testers who had an assortment of adventures in testing different types of robots.

Susan then tells the reporter about her personal experiences with robots. She once had to investigate a robot that could actually read minds. Another experience had her and her associates investigate a group of robots that had a modified First Law meaning that it may not value human life. Another machine she had to investigate was a supercomputer that was tasked with building a spaceship. The most peculiar case was one where she had to investigate a lawyer and see if he himself is a robot. She finally tells him of her last case where she finds out that the Machines that oversee a lot of the world’s supply may one day take over.

OPINION
I thought that this was a pretty engaging read. Each chapter is essentially a full story and they can be read separately or all together. Asimov’s main idea was to look at the Three Laws of Robotics and delve into each facet of them throughout the book. He tried to bring up different questions on a lot of things. He also tries to look at humanity through these different robots and the stories reflected that. My favorite stories were “Little Robot Lost”, “Liar”, “Evidence”, and “The Inevitable Conflict”.

The dialogue was pretty good. It was crisp and wasn't full of a lot of made-up jargon. The book also had some pretty funny moments especially during Powell’s and Donavan’s adventures with the prototypes. I liked the characters that were presented. Powell and Donovan had a bit of an “Abbott and Costello” vibe to them. Susan Calvin herself may have been a bit of a cold shrew, but she was pretty cool. The character of Stephen Belefry was also pretty cool and kind of mysterious. You’ll find out what I’m talking about if you read it.

I can definitely see where the book has influenced a lot in science fiction in general. We see a lot of ideas from used in other places. We have robotic helpers in Star Wars, an android with a positronic brain in Star Trek, and a cyborg that is programmed to uphold three laws (technically four) in Robocop. Those are just the things I can immediately think of. I don’t have anything horrible to say about the book. I did get a little lost in the conversations. It was sometimes hard to tell who was talking. While all of the stories are well-written, some were better than others. I actually thought the first story, “Robbie”, was the weakest to me. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t get much out of that story.

The 2004 “Suggestion”
Since I’m here, I might as well talk about the 2004 movie starring Will Smith. I know I’ve have seen it more than once. I rented it on either VHS or DVD sometime after it was released. I also just saw it recently. In the movie, Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago detective who really hates robots. He’s called to investigate the murder of Alfred Lanning, the CEO of U.S Robotics. The suspect is a robot and that’s weird because robots aren’t programmed to kill. Spooner’s assisted by Dr. Susan Calvin and they find out something that could change everything about robotics.
Random Robot: Oh, I hope he doesn't delete my robot smut!

While the movie is a really loose adaptation, I thought it was okay. If anything, it’s influenced by Asimov’s ideas rather than being a true adaptation. It doesn’t use any of the stories in it and only cherry picks certain ideas and characters from the book. It looks like it also takes elements from another book in the Robot series, The Caves of Steel. That book (which I haven’t read yet) had a detective who was pretty similar to Smith’s character.

It’s pretty much an action piece and it succeeds at that aspect. The effects were pretty good for a movie done in 2004. While Smith’s character was okay, he was a bit grating at times. I did like the robotic character of Sonny who was voiced by Alan Tuydk. The story is your standard “who-dun-it” story. It does have a couple of twists, but then it also turns into your standard “evil A.I.” story. Overall, if you’re looking for a true adaptation, this isn’t it. It’s still a nice ride and you get to see Will Smith play action hero for two hours.

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In the end, I definitely recommend the book. It brings the thought, the laughs, and the tension. It’s also not that long of a read. As for the movie, I’m not recommending it if you’re looking for a true adaptation. If you’re looking for a decent sci-fi action movie, you’d be okay. Peace, God Bless, and hope no one brings on the robotic apocalypse. Here’s hoping they saw Battlestar Galactica or something.

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