Robots. What are they? Do we need them? How do they differ from humans? Will they take over the world? And what happens when they go wrong? This interesting and often funny collection of linked short stories by classic science fiction author, Isaac Asimov, explores these issues and manages to be relevant after 70 years. The stories are mainly set in what is still the future, within this century. The robots are manufactured by a corporation, United States Robots and Mechanical Men, the employees of which are present in every story.
The link between the stories is provided by a journalist who is producing a series of articles on robots, based on interviews with Dr Susan Calvin. She’s a psychologist of robots and feels a connection with them, being rather efficient and emotionless herself. I felt her portrayal was somewhat sexist as she is often described as ‘plain’ and ‘cold’, not respected enough by her male colleagues. It seems to be suggested that her scientific career is successful because she’s not the kind of woman who is attractive enough to find a husband. However, it’s no worse (and possibly better) than some other portrayals of women you might find in other science fiction works of the same era. It amused me that the language the characters use is rather of its time, too.
The stories are not simply cases of robots going berserk and having to be stopped. Logic and testing are used to investigate exactly why the robots are behaving like that. It usually comes down to conflicts between the famous Three Laws of Robotics in ways which were not foreseen by the robots’ intellectual inferiors – humans. Generally I found the book to be a good read. Sometimes I had to go over a sentence a few times to process it with my illogical brain. No wonder I found it a difficult read the first time around when I was 13.
First published as individual stories in magazines between 1940 – 50. Published as a collection in 1967. This edition is by Harper Voyager, 2013. The (very loose) film adaptation starring Will Smith was released in 2004.