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I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – My Thoughts

I, Robot was published on 1950/12/02. The film I, Robot, while enjoyable, has very little in common with its source material.

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. They deal with the issues of 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 Laws. [P8]

Each of the stories expresses the problems with the laws. In one instance law one has to be adjusted. The reason is that humans are working in a risky environment, ‘a… gamma field’ [p114] – and so the robot rescues them from it. Its programming will not allow it to take the risk that the human might stay beyond the safe limit. So the law is adjusted to ‘No robot may harm a human being.’ [p114] This however presents a problem, as discussed later in the story. A robot could drop a weight on a human if it knew that ‘his strength and reaction speed would be sufficient to snatch the weight away…’ [p122] – it could then allow the weight to continue because now gravity is acting on the weight. The modified First Law allows [this]. P122.

In my opinion Asimov is at his best when writing short stories. Science fiction short stores of this era tended to focus on a what if type scenarios.

Asimov’s characters are not very well developed. This is irrelevant in the short form as it is the idea that is important. However in the novel form, like the Foundation series which I’ve also read, this cannot work. In a novel we need characters we can become invested in.

Given that this book is now 65 years old it sounds anachronistic at times. It is difficult to put into words but essentially the technology is futuristic but the people are not. One of the stories mentions the earth population – he was accurate for the time he wrote it but failed to predict just how many of us their would be in the 21st century.

If you like science fiction you should read this book. It is an important story in the history of the genera. I hope that those who are involved in robotics do read it. There will come a time when we need to have laws of robotics – not these ones though. That is not a slight against Asimov as it is the point of the story.

If you haven’t read this – read it – read it now.

…or you know when you’ve finished the book you’re currently on.

All quotes taken from the Panther Science Fiction edition: I,Robot 1968

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The Name of the Wind – A Review

Three days ago I finished The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I wanted to try to review this book. This is a difficult thing because I didn’t like it.

I think a negative review requires more than a positive review. If a friend tells us that a book is great we might just read it on their recommendation. If something is good we don’t want too much information – we don’t want spoilers.  On the other hand if we are told a book is bad we’ll want details.

Speaking of spoilers there will be some in this…

I read this book after seeing a review, of sorts, on You Tube.

While I would love to share Little Book Owl’s infectious smiling love of this book I just didn’t get on with it. I’m not going to tell you not to read it though. I would never say that. Actually that’s not true there are definitely books that I would tell people to avoid. In fact I’d encourage you to read The Name of the Wind so you can explain it to me!

The Name of the Wind is a fantasy novel that revolves around the character of Kvothe. Kvothe is telling his life story to a chronicler. The book switches between first and third person narrative. This was quite effective. Kvothe talks in first person when telling us his story – third person is used for the in between parts in the present.

The story takes a little while to get going. When the narrative begins proper it is well told. We start with Kvothe with his family and then disaster. I don’t think I’m using hyperbole when I say that my jaw dropped and I brought my kindle closer. This part of the story was great and really ratcheted up the tension.

From this incident Kvothe is on his own. Money is continually an issue for him; however I never really felt the struggle. He always seemed to land on his feet. He always seemed to find a way to get money.

When he arrives at the university he negotiates his entry. He actually gets the masters to pay him rather than the other way around. Although the story shows us repeatedly that he is so much poorer than the other students he never seems held back by it. Some might say this makes him even more the hero but to me it was tedious. Since Kvothe seemed unphased by his setbacks they didn’t interest me either.

After getting to the university the story reads like someone going to school. He has his friends and enemies but to me none of them felt like complete people. There is very little characterisation, with a couple of exceptions, and all the Masters at the university basically merge together. The only thing to tell them apart is if they generally like Kvothe or dislike him.

It is perhaps the first person narrative that hinders the novel. It means we are unable to get into the minds of the other characters. We don’t even get much of a feeling for Kvothe. Even when he is whipped he just shrugs it off.

While I hesitate to make references to Harry Potter – The Name of the Wind is like The Philosopher’s Stone without Voldemort. I’m not saying that The Name of the Wind needs to have a villain. It is actually quite refreshing to see a fantasy novel without that. What I’m saying is there needs to be a pay off. Just some small sign that something has come together for the character. Even if we just here that he won a large amount of money – even if he loses it in the first chapter of the next book it would give some closure. It could be said that this lack of an ending is to be expected as this is the first in a trilogy; but generally each part in a trilogy has a satisfactory ending in and of itself. In the end Kvothe stops his narrative, there is some inexplicable disagreement between the Chronicler and Kvothe’s assistant, Bast, and the characters make for bed.

Maybe, sometime is the future, I might read book two. For now though I was disappointed with The Name of the Wind and have started reading The Book Thief.

Addendum: As I only have my eyes and my brain I can only give my opinion. I will admit that there were times when I was confused by this book. I had to read over a couple of sections. I got characters mixed up and I got taverns mixed up. So some of this may be me. When book three comes out I might attempt Name of the Wind again. Perhaps as one story it will work better.

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Vila: I’m entitled to my opinion.
Avon: It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.
Blake’s 7: “Bounty”

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