i,Robot is a science fiction and mystery book by Isaac Asimov(published in 1976) that will keep you guessing and surprised till you turn the 249th page. Asimov was a professor of Biochemistry and became a famous science fiction author; Asimov's background in science made him always feel that the worlds he created in his books had to be kept real and grounded to the laws of science that the given world has, this made many of his tales were believable despite the science fiction element. i, Robot is set on a fictional earth in the robot age, the book is about 9 short stories famous robo-psychologist Susan Calvin tells a journalist, the first taking place in 1996 while the last in 2052. The core of the book lies in the 3 laws of robotics that are in the brain of every robot:
"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law."
The first short story serves as an effective introduction as it deals with human attachment to robots and how the first robots were made. Each short story thereafter explores how conflicts arise due to giving priority to one law over the other and how contradictions arise from these laws as humans become aggressive towards robots. The short story with the robot that can read minds and the lengths it goes to to protect humans was especially touching while the story to find a robot that camouflaged itself after being told to "get lost" by its owner was thrilling. Throughout the book you can't help but think why the robots are behaving as they do and how their dilemma may be solved, the eventual resolutions never feel forced or predictable.
Each story is well paced as the events develop at a comfortable pace, character development is the only thing that takes a hit. The last two stories felt sub-par compared to the ones before it, the main reason for this was that focus veered off the 3 laws and went towards world development, this was great as we got to know more about Earth in the year 2052, however the change of focus was sudden.
The books is plot driven rather than character driven; despite this Asimov succeeded in creating believable and well grounded characters who aren't what they seem from first impressions. We have our enthusiastic engineer Gregory Powell & his pessimistic buddy Michael Donovan, their way of solving problems cooperatively and friendly banter adds a human element to a book that is otherwise focused on robots. Michael Donovan at times showed unnecessary pessimism which came off as forced and seemed like it was placed there to counter Powell's sunny disposition. Next we have a highly driven alpha female in the form of Dr Susan Calvin, she is a robo-psychologist who deals with robots emotions and thoughts in day to day life, due to this she seems to be cold and devoid of emotion; however through the short stories we see other aspects of her inner self and past open up which eventually turns her into an endearing character. Finally we have the genius of his age, Dr Alfred Lanning who is the head of US Robotics, instead of being shown as an all knowing leader we see him quite vulnerable and dependent on his friends which makes him all the more believable.
The writing is simple, descriptive and to the point. There are no words here that will send you scrambling to the dictionary, the book is accessible to most ages. Humor in the writing has played a big part, "Why not let her talk, man? She's been sitting there imitating a gatepost for half an hour", humorous phrases like this often appear to aid respite in the mood of mystery, even robots have some humorous writing in their way of speaking which makes you smile. Along with humor the writing is able to evoke dramatic tension when needed, this is evident in the 5th short story (Liar!).
i, Robot makes you think, makes you smile and gets you attached to not just its characters but also the robots that are in trouble. The science fiction elements are molded well with suspense and mystery to form a book that interests people with different tastes. Despite the disappointing end this is a great book for anyone interested in science fiction or a psychological thriller. i, Robot forms a great introduction to the series of books based around robots that Asimov wrote. I can't wait to read the 2nd book in this series;what about you?
Rating: 4.5/5 (A Must Read)