Analysis

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

Asimov’s robot stories represent a transition from the lurid, sensationalist magazine science fiction of the 1930’s—exemplified by the material in Hugo Gerns-back’s Amazing Stories—to the more sophisticated so-cial science fiction demanded by John W. Campbell, Jr., in his magazine Astounding Stories (later titled Astounding Science-Fiction). It is thus not surprising that Campbell rejected Asimov’s story “Robbie” as too much in the tradition of the bug-eyed monster stories of the juvenile magazines. Campbell helped Asimov to develop the Three Laws of Robotics, thus earning the epithet of “Godfather of the Robots” Asimov bestowed on him in the dedication to I, Robot.

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Asimov’s basic theme in his robot fiction, as in all of his science fiction, is the unwavering belief that science and technology will create a utopian future for humanity. The robot stories are an attack on those who believe that humans will develop technological monsters that will come to haunt and destroy them. Asimov was contemptuous of people with such Luddite views and considered them to be afflicted by what he called the Frankenstein complex. Such characters populate his robot stories from the first and are always shown as mean-spirited or as well-intentioned buffoons.

The Three Laws are a distillation of the basic ethical principles of all cultures—not to harm and to protect fellow creatures, to obey reasonable laws, and to protect one’s own existence. Although the robots are programmed to obey these laws unflinchingly, human beings tend to equivocate and compromise, particularly when two of the laws come into conflict. Humans may not always risk their own lives to save that of another or refuse an order that involves harm to another person. The robots are compelled to do so and thus emerge as humanity’s guardian angels in the end, preventing people from destroying themselves and one another. Asimov brushed aside as illusory and insignificant the objection that such a guardianship would involve the loss of human free will.

This utopian outlook is reinforced by the internal structure of most of the stories, which are modeled on the mystery archetype. A story presents a seemingly unsolvable problem in a new generation of positronic robots. Traditional wisdom fails, so the “detectives,” either Susan Calvin or Donovan and Powell, apply themselves to the problem and inevitably solve it. This repeated structure represents Asimov’s unfaltering belief that human ingenuity will, despite some losses and setbacks, overcome all obstacles and eventually create a better future. The villains in the stories are the obstructionists and naysayers. Asimov has thus adapted the optimistic structure of classic detective stories to his science fiction. It is not surprising that the protagonist of his two robot novels is a robot detective and that Asimov has written some well-received classic detective stories.

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