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I, Robot    by Isaac Asimov order for
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 1991 (1951)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though I read I, Robot for the first time decades ago, I have never forgotten the logic of Asimov's 'Three Laws of Robotics'. Hardcoded, they forbid a robot from injuring a human being or allowing one to come to harm; force a robot to obey human orders (except when that conflicts with the first law); and order a robot to protect itself (unless that conflicts with the first or second laws). Common sense dictates that when intelligent robots are developed, something very close to Isaac Asimov's three laws will be built in.

The book is a collection of short stories, based on the author's interviews with retiring genius cyberneticist / robopsychologist Susan Calvin for a feature article for 'Interplanetary Press'. Calvin sees robots as 'a cleaner, better breed than we are.' The interviews provide a framework for the stories that she recounts. There's Robbie, an early, non-vocal nursemaid robot, whose (prejudiced) charge's mother wants rid of him, despite the little girl's love for her caretaker. Next comes the tale of a mining station on Mercury - when their sole robot (afflicted by 'the robotic equivalent of drunkenness') disappears on a life and death mission to retrieve selenium, United States Robot troubleshooters Powell and Donovan gear up older models to find him.

We then follow the duo out to the Space Stations, where they work with Robot QT-1. 'Cutie' thinks for himself. When this 'robot Descartes' doesn't accept anything that these 'makeshift', inferior creatures tell him, it puts all Earth at risk. Next, Powell and Donovan head to an asteroid to figure out why the new 'multiple robot' (DV-5 and its six mechanical underlings) only works properly in their presence. Will DV-5 stop 'twiddling its fingers' before their oxygen runs out? Next we hear about Susan Calvin's embarrassing experience with Herbie, the one of a kind 'mind-eating robot.' Then she travels to Hyper Base, in order to find a missing robot, one that's (on secret government orders) not been 'impressioned' with the entire First Law.

Next, an idiot savante 'Brain' sends Powell and Donovan on an unexpected space trip to make an 'interstellar jump'. There's the tale of an elected official, accused of being a humanoid robot - how can you tell? And finally we see the (somewhat idealized) outcome of a struggle between Machines that obey the author's 'Three Laws' and the 'Society for Humanity'. I, Robot is a classic example of the best of speculative fiction - Asimov looks ahead, applying logic to present entertaining windows into a robotic future that looks a lot closer now than when I first read his book.

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