In this weekly series, we bring you the genre novels you really should have read by now…
I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov
First Published: 1950 (it collects stories that appeared in magazines at various points from 1940 to 1950)
Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Artificial Intelligence
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
— The First Law of Robotics
Summary: Asimov presents ten different stories, all centering around robots and the puzzling effects that they have on the futuristic society that created them. There are two central figures who present themselves in these “twist-based” stories: Powell & Donovan and Dr. Susan Calvin. Powell & Donovan are employees who happen to have unique experiences with robots. Dr. Susan Calvin, in her stories, is called in to investigate robot related issues, and is capable of parsing a robot’s behavior in order to figure out what is causing an irregularity.
Why It’s Must-Read: This book helped re-define science fiction and is therefore essential, even if it is not particularly well written.
Related Works: Most of Asimov’s many novels exist in a shared universe. Particularly related to this one are the short story collections Bicentennial Man and The Rest of the Robots. There is also a prequel trilogy, written by Mickey Zucker Reichart:
- I Robot: To Protect (2011)
- I Robot: To Obey (2013)
- I Robot: To Preserve (2016)
On Screen: Will Smith starred in an action movie that loosely applied some characteristics of the book in 2004.
In Other Media: Harlan Ellison’s unsold screenplay for the book, which he wrote in the 1970’s, was presented as an illustrated screenplay in 1994. There have been direct adaptations of select stories on different science fiction anthology shows since the book’s publication. As a random example, Leonard Nimoy starred in a mid-1990s episode of The Outer Limits directed by his son, Adam. It was about a robot murderer.
In Popular Culture: Futurama, with its constant interactions between humans and robots, has made numerous puns off of the book’s title, even going as far as to call an optician an “Eye Robot”. Asimov’s illusory invention that allows for robotic thought, the positronic brain, has now become a common term in science fiction, even being the power source for Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Awards and Nominations: None for this one.