Robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin recalls the history of US
Robots and Mechanical Men Corp. She recounts landmark cases
in robotic development, including a nursemaid called Robbie;
Speedy, a robot whose positronic brain sends him running around
in circles; the metaphysical Cutie; the multitasking Dave;
and the telepathic Herbie...
this collection is tied in with the release of the I, Robot
movie starring Will Smith, none of the stories that in any
way resemble events in the film have been included. Filmgoers
will recognise the names of Susan Calvin (though she is much
older here) and Alfred Lanning, but that's about it.
However, the essence of Isaac Asimov's original short story
collection and the subsequent movie is present and correct
in the recurring theme of the Three Laws of Robotics. These
Laws seem straightforward enough at first glance, but they
pose unexpected complications for field testers Greg Powell
and Mike Donovan in Runaround, Reason and Catch
That Rabbit, and Calvin herself in Liar!
who believes that the movie cheated by adding grey areas to
the Three Laws should note how Asimov does much the same thing
in Runaround, which deals in potentials rather than
absolute values. This means that the Third Law (that a robot
must protect its own existence) can occasionally override
the Second (that a robot must obey orders given to it by human
beings). The Laws' applications appear to be on even shakier
ground in Reason, in which a robot develops a spiritual
outlook, and they have little bearing at all on the opening
story, Robbie - why isn't the robot compelled to stop
when his eight-year-old charge tells him to stand still? However,
the author's logic in Liar! is both impeccable and
who thinks Asimov's writing style is too dry and lacks a human
soul should listen to Liar!, my personal favourite
in this volume, in which the usually cold Dr Calvin gets very
emotional indeed. Meanwhile Robbie takes a rather comical,
if dated, view of married life.
of the stories do show their age a bit. For instance, Robbie
has a family travelling by "gyrocar" in 1998. The same story
gives the strange impression that robots are capable of feeling
emotions - though it is possible that, as a child's nursemaid,
Robbie is merely programmed to simulate the appearance of
human feelings. On the whole, though, it is remarkable how
well these tales have held up when you consider they were
written more than 50 years ago.
Hagon, whose name may be familiar to Big Finish fans, due
to his roles in Doctor Who and Judge Dredd audio
dramas, conveys the stories well, adopting a variety of voices,
ranging from the aged Dr Calvin to a little girl called Gloria.
However, he seems to have difficulty with the word "question":
it frequently ends up sounding like "guestin'".
four CDs and with a running time in excess of four hours,
this collection is well worth picking up. Roll on Volume Two
- which will hopefully include Little Lost Robot, a
story that does have elements in common with the movie.
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