I, Robot
Volume One

Author: Isaac Asimov
Narrator: Garrick Hagon
BBC Audio
RRP 15.99
ISBN 0 563 52576 2
Available 02 August 2004

Robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin recalls the history of US Robots and Mechanical Men Corp. She recounts landmark cases in robotic development, including a nursemaid called Robbie; Speedy, a robot whose positronic brain sends him running around in circles; the metaphysical Cutie; the multitasking Dave; and the telepathic Herbie...

Although this collection is tied in with the release of the I, Robot movie starring Will Smith, none of the stories that in any way resemble events in the film have been included. Filmgoers will recognise the names of Susan Calvin (though she is much older here) and Alfred Lanning, but that's about it.

However, the essence of Isaac Asimov's original short story collection and the subsequent movie is present and correct in the recurring theme of the Three Laws of Robotics. These Laws seem straightforward enough at first glance, but they pose unexpected complications for field testers Greg Powell and Mike Donovan in Runaround, Reason and Catch That Rabbit, and Calvin herself in Liar!

Anyone who believes that the movie cheated by adding grey areas to the Three Laws should note how Asimov does much the same thing in Runaround, which deals in potentials rather than absolute values. This means that the Third Law (that a robot must protect its own existence) can occasionally override the Second (that a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings). The Laws' applications appear to be on even shakier ground in Reason, in which a robot develops a spiritual outlook, and they have little bearing at all on the opening story, Robbie - why isn't the robot compelled to stop when his eight-year-old charge tells him to stand still? However, the author's logic in Liar! is both impeccable and ingenious.

Anyone who thinks Asimov's writing style is too dry and lacks a human soul should listen to Liar!, my personal favourite in this volume, in which the usually cold Dr Calvin gets very emotional indeed. Meanwhile Robbie takes a rather comical, if dated, view of married life.

Some of the stories do show their age a bit. For instance, Robbie has a family travelling by "gyrocar" in 1998. The same story gives the strange impression that robots are capable of feeling emotions - though it is possible that, as a child's nursemaid, Robbie is merely programmed to simulate the appearance of human feelings. On the whole, though, it is remarkable how well these tales have held up when you consider they were written more than 50 years ago.

Garrick Hagon, whose name may be familiar to Big Finish fans, due to his roles in Doctor Who and Judge Dredd audio dramas, conveys the stories well, adopting a variety of voices, ranging from the aged Dr Calvin to a little girl called Gloria. However, he seems to have difficulty with the word "question": it frequently ends up sounding like "guestin'".

Containing four CDs and with a running time in excess of four hours, this collection is well worth picking up. Roll on Volume Two - which will hopefully include Little Lost Robot, a story that does have elements in common with the movie.

I, Richard McGinlay

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