I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

Book #539

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

IRToday I get to review the 1001 list’s second and final science fiction book by Isaac Asimov.

Once again I will confess at the outset to being biased in my opinions of Asimov’s writing.  I enjoy science fiction that is aspirational in it’s view of the future, but is still accessible and easy to read.  Mr Asimov, in my opinion, does both very well.  

I will also confess to another personal Asimovian quirk.  The laptop that I am typing my review on has a name.  It is R.Daneel Olivaw.  And yes, it is the name of an Asimov robot.   He does not, however, appear in this interconnected collection of short stories.

There are nine interconnected stories in this volume.  My edition ran to 249 pages, but certainly reads much faster than that would suggest.  The format is a retrospective of key events in the early development of robotics through a journalist interviewing the renowned robopyschologist, Susan Calvin on the occasion of her retirement.  Set in 2057, we are first taken back to 1996 and the story of Robbie, a non-vocal nursemaid robot, and his young charge Gloria Weston. We then take jumps forward in time through each of the eight remaining stories, investigating the development of speaking robot models, the conflict potential of the laws of robotics, the mind-reading robot, the potential fault of robots perceiving their superiority to humanity, the development of the interstellar engine and the development of a united world.  

Even reading this collection all these years after my first foray, I still find them fresh and inviting.  It astounds me to think that they were first gathered into this format in 1950 and were originally published as individual short stories between 1940 and 1950.   Once again I think it is a testament to Asimov’s style that they have barely dated.  There are clearly aspects that would seem outmoded to us today in our miniaturised computer chip world, but bearing in mind the size and cost of “computing machines” at the time Asimov was writing I think the stories hold up pretty well.

Of course no review of I, Robot could be complete without the very famous Laws of Robotics, so here they are.

The Three Laws of Robotics

1 – A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2 – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3 – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Handbook of Robotics.
56th Edition, 2058 A.D.

As a fan I am naturally going to say that you should spend some of your precious reading time on these stories.  I just hope that you enjoy them as much as I do.
My only gripe is that I had to spend my re-reading time looking at Will Smith on the cover of the book, my copy currently being in storage.  My teeth would grind every time I picked the book up as I was well aware that the film of the same name would bear a scant similarity to the stories told here.   And from what I have read of the film synopsis, I was right.  Do not believe you are going to replicate each by reading or viewing the other.


The Nose – Nikolai Gogol

Book #919

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily


Welcome to what is likely to be the shortest of the 1001 Books reviews.  The Nose by Nikolai Gogol, in the edition of his tales that I have, is a whole 23 pages long.

That makes reviewing it rather difficult and rather simple in the same breath.  Here is my précis of the story.

We begin by meeting a working class barber, Ivan Yakovlevich waking up and having breakfast.  He asks his wife for the freshly baked bread, which he proceeds to cut in two.  On cutting it and examining the inside of his half he finds a nose.  Not just any nose, but that of a regular client, a Major Kovaliov.  Horrified, and unable to remember if he had pulled or cut his client’s nose off he heads out to dispose of it.

We then shift to the story of the now noseless Major.  He wakes up with a flat pancake face right where his nose should be.  Through this narrative we find that the nose is living a life of its own and is unwilling to return to the Major’s face.

Hmmm.  Yes.  Suspend that disbelief.

I won’t tell you what occurs in the last section of the story.  It is short, but you might as well have some sort of “unknown” ending should you choose to read this.

It is certainly the strangest tale I have read to date.  Frankly I had to turn to Wikipedia to even have a clue as to the underlying ‘meaning’ of it all.  I was struggling to find one.  It is satire.  For those with no real connection to Russian literature and culture this went mostly over my head.  And in the translation that I read, the Major does not wake up from a dream (which is a possible version you may encounter), and therefore it is considered to be a precursor to magical realism.  Well, a nose with a life of it’s own, masquerading as a civil official?  Certainly is the impossible occurring within the confines of an otherwise reasonable story.

It does, apparently, have potential themes around castration, impotence and similar.
I suppose if I sat and squinted a lot I could make that connection.

I cannot genuinely recommend this, but then again, at around an hour of reading time perhaps you won’t mind making the effort.  If you do, or if you have a much greater understanding of the Russian idiom and culture, then please come back and explain it to me.  I’d like to know what I spent my irreplaceable hour on.  Thanks.

Happy reading everyone.