He Said/She Said Review: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Posted February 26, 2016 by Lori in Books, Reviews / 1 Comment Tags: ,

IRobotbyIsaacAsimov
He Said/She Said Review: I, Robot by Isaac AsimovI, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2004-06-01
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
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two-stars

The three 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 orders givein 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.

With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future--a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world--all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov's trademark.

Our pick for this month’s He Said/She Said review was I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Chosen by Jason. Because I would never choose to read something like this. And it surprised me a little because I’m still a little bitter that he made me read Brave New World all that time ago. But this is definitely more similar to the books Jason reads than I do. I tried to leave the negativity behind before picking this up. But still, my expectations before reading this were that Jason would enjoy it and find it really interesting and that I would struggle through it. Here are our feelings after reading…

games-she

I’ll be honest up front and admit that when Jason finally settled on I, Robot as our pick for the month, I was actually a little excited. I read mostly current young adult but I think it’s always a good idea to go back and read some of the classics every once in a while. Plus, this was a fairly short book made up of short stories about the progression of robots. And I knew about the Will Smith movie from a few years ago, though I never saw it. So I was kind of excited to read my first Asimov book. But that excitement died a very quick death once I started the book.

This book suffers from the same problem I have with so many of the classic sci-fi books. They’re just boring. For me, at least, I want action or adventure or great, interesting characters. But what I get from this book and so many others is just boring technical information that I don’t care about at all and one dimensional characters that are so predictable it actually hurts my brain. I keep going into books like this, ones that are considered classics and must reads of their genres, with high hopes. Thinking that since everyone loves them, they must be different and more interesting than the others. But every time I come to the same conclusion. They just don’t age well. They can’t compete with the more recent sci-fi entertainment that has so much more depth to it with more interesting moral questions on the line and much more complex characters. Not to mention, much less blatant sexism. I just assume that most people who’ve read this and others like it must have done so 30 years ago. Otherwise, I can no longer trust any of their opinions on anything.

Easily the worst part of this book for me was the sexism. Interestingly, the main character is a woman but her job is a robot psychologist. So she’s not programming or making robots or fixing them or controlling them. Those are man jobs. She allowed to be smart but she’s also ugly, emotionally unstable, and annoying (as described by the male characters). So basically, she’s successful in her field but also a total bitch and all alone. Because if she wasn’t, she’d obviously not be working out of the home. It’s just exactly how women in the 1950’s were viewed. Either they were at home taking care of their men and raising their children (a la the mom in the Robbie story and the pretty girl we only hear about that one of the other guys is marrying) or they’re complete bitches, control freaks, unlovable, and ugly who are hiding the fact that they’re overly emotional and easily breakable (a la Susan, who seems put together but everyone describes as a plain shrew). Excuse me while I go vomit.

I did enjoy learning about the Three Laws of Robotics. I did find those parts interesting. And the idea of robots taking over is addressed in a couple of the stories, which was what I thought the whole book was going to be about with that movie cover and tagline, but nobody seemed to be as worried about it as I thought they would be. We don’t actually get any view of the general population and their reactions to any of this, we stick with the same few experts throughout most of the stories. And with such a small view, it was hard to really feel any sort of real threat or worry over what was happening. That along with the fact that we’re told everything through observations and conversations instead of actually being shown anything meant there was very little emotion or urgency anywhere in the book. And made it extremely boring.

I don’t think I’d ever recommend I, Robot to anyone. Unless someone is specifically looking for a classic sci-fi book about robots. Or if someone was looking for original work that some of our more modern AI books and movies might be based on, I’d point them to this book. It was interesting to read this after reading books like Illuminae and watching movies like Blade Runner and being able to see where some of the inspiration for future works came from. But overall, it was boring and sexist and not something I will ever read again.

games-he
I found this one painful. I thought I had read the book, but it turns out that I had not. It was not hard to get through, and the book wasn’t really bad. This just wasn’t what I was expecting from an all-time classic. I found myself wondering if anyone who read this book for the first time in the last 20 years actually likes it? Or maybe they can if it is one of the first sci-fi books they read, and I just ruined my potential for appreciating it by waiting until I’d read/watched/played too many works in that genre. Whatever the case, some things hold up well over time… and I, Robot is not one of them. Apologies for my sacrilege.

The pseudo-scientific description of how robots work in the future is pretty amusing and very reminiscent of the Fallout series. Positronic brains. Robots that talk! Robots that do math! The book is also full of sexist moments — to be fair on this point, the female character is more or less the lead, but she is a smart, unattractive shrew whose intelligence is focused on understanding emotions yet she has a hard time controlling her own on a regular basis — and the husband-wife relationship of the first story is particularly 1950’s.

The book, of course, does address Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics. It addresses these largely through short stories that deal with how changes or challenges pose to the laws would affect robot behavior. Dreaming Einstein employed a similar technique to tease out implications of Einstein’s theory of relativity. If you put yourself in the same mindset you would have when watching a rerun of black-and-white TV, then the stories are often humorous and interesting, if melodramatic and clumsy.

All this being said, the last two stories of the book do depict a world with far more sophisticated robots (although my appreciation for the storyline was likely dampened by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). I may decide to read more in the series, just to see where Asimov took his world. I don’t mind reading classics that feel mediocre by our standards if they can help me understand the roots of future works — but unless this also interests you, I can’t see why you would read I, Robot.

 

So, there you go. I’d say this was definitely not a win for us. We’re still planning on watching the movie at some point. Have you guys read this or watched the movie? What’d you think? The general consensus on Goodreads is that this is a brilliant book. Let us know your thoughts! And look forward to next month’s He Said/She Said where I get to pick the book!

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