Isaac Asimov was a little bit like Stephen King. With the lengthy autobiographical introductions to his stories, the humor, and the hundreds and hundreds of pages of autobiographical writing, Asimov developed an intimate relationship with science fiction fans. Much as King does with his own constant readers.

Asimov was ridiculously popular, and I think a lot of people, like myself, were as enamored of the man as much as the writing. He is arguably the most beloved figure in the entire history of science fiction literature.

His works are renowned. "Nightfall" won many readers' polls as best short story in the field. His Foundation novels are legendary. His most famous, however, is probably I, Robot.

Many people outside serious SF fandom, mundanes as fans calls them, know of I, Robot from a movie starring Willie the Slap-Happy Clown. I've never seen it, but I've never heard anything good about the film. At least from people whose opinions I respect.

There was a silly album from The Alan Parsons Project in the seventies called I, Robot. It bears little, if any at all, resemblance to the book.

Harlan Ellison, a good friend and admirer of Mr. Asimov, wrote an excellent screenplay for I, Robot. It was a true collaboration of the two talents. Asimov's brilliant concept and characters, coupled with the raw emotion Ellison often employed in his own writing. The project was in development, but a little movie called Star Wars was released, and the producers wanted to change the script to be more similar (read: simpler and more adolescent) than Isaac and Harlan's scenario. Ellison unsurprisingly walked away from the project.

Asimov didn't even come up with the title. He had done a series of robot-themed stories for John W. Campbell, Jr and Astonishing Science Fiction. The title itself, I, Robot, had previously been used in a story by Eando Binder. That author name was a pseudonym for brothers Earl and Otto Binder. Get it? E and O.

I, Robot, the Asimov book, is a story cycle. A thematically related series of short stories edited together to paint a portrait of the effects of robots on the evolution of humankind. Asimov was considered to be a hard science fiction writer. Meaning he generally used established scientific knowledge to drive his fiction. He was also a prolific science fact writer.

Rather than focus on the nuts and bolts technology of the robots, I, Robot is more concerned with their psychology. Robots were programmed to think and reason, and as time went on they gradually began to develop emotions.

You may have heard of Asimov's well-known Three Laws of Robotics:

1: A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human to come to harm.
2: A robot must obey orders, unless they conflict with law number one.
3: A robot must protect its own existence, as long as those actions do not conflict with either the first or second law.

These dictates are programmed into each robot's brain, yet the laws are not infallible. In dealing with everyday situations the laws bring out contradictory behavior from the mechanical creations. Each chapter, or story, chronicles various complications in the robots' psychology.

The central character in I, Robot is Dr. Susan Calvin, a plain, socially withdrawn woman who loves and understands robots more than her fellow human beings.

Asimov was an optimist, and the outcome of I, Robot suggests that only robots can bring about peace and prosperity for humanity. Their precise logic and their lack of hate, greed, or jealousy allow them to make the right decisions for the future of the planet. Looking at our recent leaders, I am inclined to agree.

Isaac Asimov had a brilliant imagination and was a visionary of letters, but he was no stylist. The prose in I, Robot, and the rest of his early work, is more than a bit stiff. Use of humor helps, but I found I, Robot to be tough going. I'm no longer thirteen or fourteen years old, as I was when I first read the book.

This isn't to say I did not enjoy revisiting I, Robot. It was like going back to the future of my early years, when I lived and breathed science fiction. There are a lot of ideas in I, Robot, and the stories are all fascinating.

Asimov's writing improved over the years. Later robot stories, such as the poignant "The Bicentennial Man", hold up much better.

I met Isaac Asimov sometime around 1980. He gave a lecture on Our Future in the Cosmos in my hometown. He was trying to augment public enthusiasm in the space program. I met him after the talk and had him sign a copy of The Foundation Trilogy. I told him I was a science fiction fan. In a strong Jewish/Brooklyn accent he said "Science fiction fans are the salt of the Earth".

Asimov died on April 6, 1992. I mourned, as did the rest of the humans who loved science and imagination.

Written by Mark Sieber

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