29 August, 2012

Review: I, Robot

I, Robot I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first in the Robots series is a great place to start when reading Asimov's science fiction. If you haven't read Asimov before, you should begin with I, Robot. (Followed by the rest of the Robots series, then the Empire series, then the Foundation series. The order is more relevant than you might at first think.)

However, despite this being a classic, it just feels so dated. Many of the human characters are just so idiotic (excepting Susan Calvin, of course). But it's a good introduction for those that are completely unfamiliar with the idea of artificial intelligence.

This gets four stars mostly because of how it leads into the Asimov scifi universe -- if the book were on its own, I'd probably only give it three stars. In all honesty, the most interesting parts of the book involve how spectacularly bad Asimov was at guessing the future. The dates given for things like manned missions to other planets (2015 is 2nd manned mission to Venus) or estimates on population growth (3 billion humans in the entire solar system by 2050) are just incredibly wrong. Not to mention his prediction of how the cold war would end between the US and the USSR. We can't blame him for these predictions (I know I could have done no better), but it is terribly depressing to realize how much potential Asimov wrote into his fiction that we missed out on.

I'd also like to note a small point, but it slightly spoils some of the plot, so please stop reading this review if you have not yet read I, Robot.

The way robots act when their programming puts them into three laws dilemmas is just... ludicrous. These short stories read as though they are some of the first AI stories ever written; they're just so juvenile in how they act. But, to be fair, Asimov was an early writer in this genre, and despite the complete silliness of how the AIs tend to misbehave in these stories, it's still fun to read. It's not at all realistic, but this is soft science fiction, not hard science fiction, so I readily give Asimov the benefit of the doubt.

This book, while not worth the read all on its own, is nevertheless essential reading if you want to read Asimov's scifi stories. It all starts here, and it only gets better as the world grows beneath Asimov's typewriter.

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