Finished reading ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov

It took longer than I would’ve liked, but I finally finished reading Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories, I, Robot.

This book, for those who haven’t read it, bears some resemblance to the I, Robot movie that starred Will Smith. Perhaps I’m being generous to say “some”: in the movie, I can remember robots doing some harmful things to humans. It was a fascinating tale, but after reading these short stories, I detect a strong sense of disconnect. Perhaps because most of these stories were written in the 1950s while the movie came out a few years ago. And we know how much Hollywood butchers great stories (such as Michael Crichton’s great novels Sphere and Rising Sun).

It would take too long to discuss each story individually, so I’ll provide an overview and then discuss what I liked and didn’t like.

It’s very difficult to encounter a science fiction story that doesn’t feature a robot in it. Writers of today see a world of tomorrow where robots serve our every need. Some are cooks, some are butlers, some are police officers, some do labor while others provide the calculations necessary to help exploration of other planets and even stars. Asimov is no different. In I, Robot, robots serve as babysitters, miners, lawyers and even giant computers used for calculations to improve the economy, promote peace and, best of all, further the human race. Each story is a story related by “robopsychologist”* Dr. Susan Calvin at the end of her life (she dies at 82 in 2064) to a reporter.

Some stories deal with amusing problems that go beyond the malfunctions that are commonplace today with computers. What if robots on Mercury refuse to believe a) that humans created them, b) that their robotic origins are on earth and c) that they’re accountable to humans? Further problems arise when a robot programmed to read minds decides it doesn’t like what it sees and starts doing the unimaginable; another robot decides to hide from humans out of a weird superiority complex; another robot gives the blueprints for a spacecraft that when built, takes humans onto a distant trip to the stars.

My two favorite stories were Evidence (where an honest, squeaky-clean district attorney/aspiring mayor is apparently a robot, but nothing’s done about it since he does such an outstanding job) and The Evitable Conflict (where robotic computers control the world’s economy, peace and make humans wonder why they seem to be giving odd data that suggest errors).

What I liked: Asimov was an excellent story teller. While the book took three months to read, his stories made you think. Robots can certainly be a blessing or a curse to mankind, and Asimov posed plenty of healthy “what if?” scenarios?

What I didn’t like: Sometimes it was a little too technical, which might explain why it took a little long to read. Asimov’s style is vastly different from Ray Bradbury’s energetic, comic-book style of description, and he reads similar to Crichton.

Overall, I liked I, Robot. Someday I’ll re-read this book and add it to my personal library.

*Dr. Calvin is a scientist who specializes in robot psychology rather than being a psychologist who’s actually a robot.

Richard Zowie is a writer. As a child, he wanted to be an astronaut. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

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How much do you read?

If there’s one dream I have as a writer, it’s being able to write full-time for a living. I’d love nothing more than to be able to write fiction, be a journalist, blog and write columns and essays full-time without the need for a second job.

Many successful writers, when asked the secret to their success of writing for a living, will tell you that any successful writer must do two things daily: read and write. Some writers will spend several hours churning out thousands of words of fiction, blogs, columns, essays, journals before settling down later in the day with some great books. And perhaps a few magazines.

I am envious of those who can maintain a heavy book-reading workload. Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft describes himself as a slow reader but somehow manages to read scores of books annually. Wow. It makes you wonder what he considers to be a fast reader. Maybe, perhaps he had in mind the older brother of one of my friends. Andy told a reporter once that his brother, Peter, could read about seven books per week.

Not per year or per month. Per week.

I am in awe and honestly wish I were like these people. One of my goals in life, both as a writer and as someone who wants to learn about the world, is to become someone who’s “well read”.

So far in the past year I’ve read four books that I can remember. One was a biography on Jim Morrison, another was Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing while two were novels by science fiction writer Ben Bova. I am currently finishing up Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and plan next to read a collection of Bova’s short stories. After that, who knows? Whatever catches my fancy.

It is, of course, best to discipline yourself as a writer to read daily. By reading, you get an idea of what flows, what works and what doesn’t flow and what doesn’t work. Sometimes terrible prose can not only teach you how not to write, but it can also inspire you (“Hey, if this person can get published, so can I!”).

Perhaps this evening, when I get done blogging, I’ll do a little reading. Besides the two books I have checked out at the library, I have more than 100 books at home that I have yet to read.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Reading Asimov, Writer’s Digest, battling procrastination

Am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. Funny collection of short stories. Have read about five so far, none of which seem similar to the movie made a few years ago. Maybe I haven’t reached the story yet, or maybe it’s just Hollywood for you. J.D. Salinger was said to be so furious over the butchering of one of his short stories into a movie that he turned down all requests over the years–including Jerry Lewis–to make A Catcher in the Rye into a movie. I also have a collection of Ben Bova stories I’ll read once this is done, along with a book titled The Sacred Romance.

Asimov’s style is similar to Ray Bradbury’s, but he gets into more technological info and he doesn’t get into the flowery, nostalgic language that Mr. B does.

I recently received the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest and will be perusing through that. The economic survival guide sounds like it will be very beneficial along with the formula for freelance success.

Procrastination. I hate it. But it comes very natural for me. I pray for the strength to overcome mental road blocks and blog on a daily basis. And write on a daily basis.

Zen in the Art of Writing: ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’

Maybe I’ve been working too much too lately or am just getting old (I’m 37), but I thought I’d posted this chapter commentary already. I haven’t, so here it goes…

Much of this chapter has to do with what was once a taboo genre of literature. Once dubbed inferior and not worthy of being read by those who desired to read fiction, science fiction has over the years slowly gained an acceptance. Currently, the top grossing movie of all time, Avatar, is science fiction.

Mr. Bradbury starts off this chapter with a reference to a poem of his about a boy in a semi-animatronic museum in the future. The boy stumbles upon Plato, Euripedes and Socrates.

Kids, Mr. B asserts, became teachers early on in this first time in history as they moved art and teaching “back in the form of pure illustration.” Sci-fi gives us a chance to ask “what if” and be creative.

When I think of some of my favorite sci-fi movies and books, I think of the “What if?” questions they answered…

What if man could design a pressurized space craft to enter into Jupiter and explore its oceans? (Ben Bova’s Jupiter)

What if artificial intelligence took over the world, lost a critical battle to humans and then invented time travel to try to kill the human resistant’s leader’s mother before he was ever born? (The Terminator)

What would it be like for humans in deep outer space with nothing to do but do scientific research? (Frederick Pohl’s Starburst)

What would happen if a corporation’s greed for profits almost allows a hostile lifeform to take over a ship and destroy the crew? (Alien)

What happens when robots do the unthinkable and start thinking for themselves? (Philip K. Dick’s Bladerunner, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Ray Bradbury’s Marionettes, Inc.)

I wasn’t born until 1973, so I was pretty surprised to learn that in the 1920s and 1930s, there was no science fiction in school curriculum and few in any libraries. Even up to 1962 it was difficult, according to Mr. B, to find anything written by Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Alfred van Vogt or Bradbury.

Why was this? I defer to Mr. B, since he was an adult and aware back then. He believes the perception then was that facts and not fiction were worth reading. Fantasy literature was considered escapist and a waste of time.

But inevitably, kids grew more and more curious and wanted to read these books. This led to an explosion. Sci-fi flooded the market. Instead of being confined to pulp fiction magazines or paperbacks in dime stores, sci-fi graduated to hard cover and was soon in libraries and first-hand book stores.

More importantly, according to Mr. B, sci-fi brought with it new ideas that then turned into advances in technology. People read these books and get ideas. Perhaps someone long ago read Jules Verne’s book about traveling to the moon and thought, “Why can’t we travel to the moon?”

This is one reason why I’ve grown to love the fantasy science fiction rather than the “hard” science fiction. Hard bores me. I’ve tried to read a few of these books and am amazed: unless you have an advanced science degree in physics or engineering, you’re often lost. Too often far too much time is devoted to technical information while the story line is left to wither. I like the stories that ask “What if?” and let the imagination take them where they will.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer who likes reading science fiction. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.