Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Rest Of The Robots

by Isaac Asimov


Killer robots intent on wiping out and replacing mankind have been a staple of science fiction for years. In The Rest Of The Robots, a collection of eight short stories that were originally published separately during the 1940s and 50s, Isaac Asimov deals with far subtler machines, many of them making use of his famous Three Laws of Robotics.

It's fair to say Asimov had a bee in his bonnet about robots. He looks at them from all angles, at our fears of them and the way we respond to their presence. Often the people in these stories have blown the robot threat far out of proportion, letting an instinctive panic overrule a more rational response. In Robot AL-76 Goes Astray we see this kind of reaction when a Moon robot is accidentally let loose on Earth. Confused, but intent on carrying out its orders no matter what, it terrifies many of the people it encounters.

Let's Get Together serves up a different flavour of fear. It's a Cold War-style tale of paranoia, in which the USA attempts to maintain a fragile stalemate with the enemy. But the other side are believed to have developed robots that look and act exactly as human beings would. Could they infiltrate the country and threaten the peace by giving the enemy the upper hand?

Asimov's robots often have an unexpectedly human side. In a few of the stories they're mistaken for humans in various ways. This is not merely because some of them look believably human. The way they behave tends to cause people to respond to them as though they are just like us. Half the stories feature Dr Susan Calvin, a logical and cold roboticist. Yet even the formidable Dr Calvin has a softer side when it comes to her creations.

The stories at the start of the collection, and particularly those written in the 1940s, definitely have a more frivolous feel. Towards the end of this collection Asimov tackles weightier and more practical issues, such as the limitations of robot minds, whether robots can be programmed to learn, and our fears of obsolescence in the face of increasingly sophisticated machines. These stories have aged pretty well. They're often surprising, always interesting, and they remain an effective antidote to the Faustian nightmares that dominate so many other robot stories.

Book Details

Decade: 1960s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Read more about Isaac Asimov