1976: Isaac Asimov’s The Bicentennial Man

imageI do not have a ton of science fiction literature under my belt. But even before I really started to get into it I knew the name Isaac Asimov. I knew he had written lots about robots, and I knew about his “3 Laws of Robotics”. I had watched I, Robot and I had even seen Bicentennial Man. The story I read this week was the inspiration for the latter in both name and story.

Bicentennial Man tells the story of NDR, AKA Andrew Martin. Andrew is a robot and is originally the property of the Martin family. Meant as a household servant, Andrews role changes when it is discovered that he has left him a knack for woodcarving. His creations make a small fortune for the family. His creativity comes from a unique abnormality in his positronic brain that gives him a heightened sense of self. The Martins are the type of family I hope I would be if I were in this situation. Despite being the legal owners of Andrew, they recognized that these masterpieces were of his doing and put half of the money away in savings for him. As the years pass they update his body to the most advanced of technology. Slowly, between the efforts of himself and the lineage of the Martens (/Charney) family, he becomes more and more human in body, mind and legal status. He eventually concurs his goal. On his 200th Birthday.

imageAn excellent piece of fiction, it checks off all the right boxes for me. The character is inherently good and is a means toward the end of a legitimate issue that is personal to them, not just because it’s right. There is clearly advanced technology and society, but it is not integral to the story. At the heart of this, this a man on his journey to equality. And best of all, no love story.

This was a great short story, but would have worked even better, I think as a full on novel. As witnessed in other novels I have looked at, including ones I have looked at here, The Fantastic Voyage and The Gods Themselves, Asimov was brilliant at the science of science fiction, but even better at the character development in these books. He definitly could have broken down the book into sections, each from the point of view of each generation of Martin/Charney and expanded on that character, while also giving a larger scope of Andrew. I especially would have liked to see more of the relationship between him and George. Good news for us, the story is expanded into a full size novel and was written with Robert Silverman, entitled The Positronic Man.

In the story Andrew ends up being closely assisted by the legal firm owned by George, even well after his death. The legal dealings in the book, while an interesting and clever vessel for plot advancement, didn’t seem to be Asimov’s forte. Maybe it’s because I’ve just ended a Suites binge run, I found the legal actions both taken and threatened to be lacking. They seemed to always win on what seemed like fairly flimsy platforms. And nobody outside of the (originally) villainous U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Inc. ever challenges these claims, and never in court.

imageThe Bicentennial Man was written into a novel, The Positronic Man, which was then turned into the Bicentennial Man film, with Robin Williams as Andrew. The original was published the same year as The U.S. Bicentennial. Coincidence? The short story itself fits into the larger Robots world. A world designed not unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s universe where stories are separate, but co exist and some characters and concepts pop in and out. Robots also connects with the much more popular Foundation series.

I have read several of Asimov’s Robot stories, but would one day work through everything. I would love if iBooks published an entire Robots collection similar to other collections such as Sherlock Holmes or H.P. Lovecraft stuff that has everything. Although I’m sure those are easier to do due to public domain.

Thanks for reading! Check back all next week for multiple Star Wars posts!

images from http://www.nicholaswhyte.info/sf/tbm2.jpg, http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51C41P3QV9L.jpg, and http://img.studentlive.in/2012/03/Bicentennial-Man-Other-Stories-The-cover.jpg

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