I discovered that one of my coworkers is an avid reader like myself. We were discussing several books last week and the conversation ended up something like this (embellishments added for More Drama™):
“Did you like I, Robot?”
“I never read the book. The Will Smith movie was… eh.”
“You… you’ve never read the book? Are you serious?”
I directed my gaze toward the floor, the ceiling, the coffee mug stain on my desk — anything but him. He continued.
“You call yourself a sci-fi fan and you’ve never read I, Robot?”
“Um… well… oh, crap, it’s that time… that time where I have… a meeting. Yeah a meeting! We’ll talk laterseeyanowbyebye.”
I scurried away in shame.
The next day I came in and found a copy of I, Robot sitting on my desk with a little note stuck to it – Get an education.
So in between writing, composing music (more on that later) and dealing with network emergencies, I spent the last few days poring through the nine short stories that compose I, Robot.
For those who don’t know, like the old me, these stories were put out by Isaac Asimov from 1940 to 1950. They hit the magazine stands first, but were finally compiled in one convenient package by Gnome Press in 1950. A fun little narrative involving a recurring character stitches them together in a coherent manner. Each story centers around humans and robots and the moral and intellectual dilemmas presented by a world where these two must coexist. The stories follow a rough chronology, the first being about an early-generation robot playmate who can’t speak, all the way to the last story involving Machines (yes, the capital M is on purpose) that pretty much run the world and make all of the big decisions for humanity.
Technically, the writing in these stories isn’t amazing, but we always have to look at things in context. Asimov was a man of ideas. He was thinking about issues like these during a time of world war and frightening technological advances, and putting them in a format that had the attention of scientifically-inclined minds all over the country. Sure, there had been many stories about robots in the pulp books but they were usually pretty shallow. Asimov got his readers thinking about what went on underneath the sheet metal and in the positronic brains of these robots. When built to respect the Three Laws of Robotics, why did the robots sometimes act contrary to what their makers would expect?
If you’ve never read it, I advise you to do so. Even if you’re not a fan of science-fiction. The stories present interesting philosophical ideas for anyone willing to find them.