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Very few people fail to recognise the name Isaac Asimov: regarded as one of the great American science fiction writers of the 60s, along with Arthur C Clarke and Robert E Heinlein, he is probably most famous today for 'I, Robot' and its fictional Three Laws of Robotics. Asimov was a scientist, born in 1920 and publishing most of his work in the 1950s and 60s. By today's standards, his writing is clinical and unemotional - more science than drama, but his work is still an inspiration to many for its insight and innovation.
'The Positronic Man' started life in 1976 as a commissioned short story called 'Bicentennial Man', the original story was later expanded by Robert Silverberg, who added extra scenes and detail, and published it as 'The Positronic Man' in 1992. In 1999 Touchstone Pictures made the novel into a film version called 'Bicentennial Man', directed by Chris Colombus. For those of you familiar with Robin Williams in the film version - don't expect anything like the same romance and drama! This is a more scientific description of a robot who feels that he is the equal of his human creators.
The story is set in the twenty-first century, and the dawn of the age of robotics. Walking, talking, intelligent robots are starting to appear in every household to serve the family and relieve them of the onerous chores of everyday life, including childcare. Andrew is one such robot, servant to the Martin family and special friend to the youngest child, 'Little Miss'. In the film version, Andrew's love for Little Miss was a major theme, but in the novel it is almost non-existent, making Andrew a colder and less endearing character.
Andrew has been designed by the US Robots and Mechanical Men Company, and like many of the robots produced there, has been given a positronic brain. To the amazement of the family and the horror of the company, Andrew soon starts to exhibit sentient characteristics; he starts to discover his creativity, sculpting beautiful ornaments out of driftwood; he develops a fine mind, studying the most complicated legal and scientific concepts; and he starts to demand certain rights and freedoms. As a servant / slave his earnings are kept by the Martin family and he must obey their every command, but they have started to regard him as a friend and help him in his mission to gain the status of a free robot. A long legal battle ensues, initially to gain Andrew his freedom, but eventually to try to get him recognised as a human. Andrew does not try to hide his robot origins, but demands a legal right to be regarded as human as a natural born man. The story of this legal battle, and the story of the extreme steps that Andrew will take in his quest to become human, make up the core of this story. Andrew develops into a being with awesome intellectual and creative powers. He learns how to create human organs, and turns his body into one that is almost indistinguishable from the human. The only thing that stops him from being truly human is his longevity; he lives forever, and this is where the pathos of the book lies, as he sees generations of the Martin family pass before him, losing friends and supporters along the way. Will Andrew ever become truly human - and what sacrifices will he have to make for this to happen?
I found 'The Positronic Man' a dull read, and one that has not made a successful transition to the twenty- first century. The dialogue is clunky and dated, and the action is slow, totally failing to engage the reader due to the long courtroom scenes and extended philosophising. Having said that, I do admire Asimov for his inventiveness - the idea of a robot who develops human emotions, and desire for independence was far ahead of its time, although it is commonplace now days in characters such as Star Trek's, Data. This is one of the few books that I have read, where the film version is an improvement. Asimov did not create the character of Andrew with much emotion or empathy, and this is why the reader fails to connect with his story. In the film version, Andrew feels; he loves and he is loved - and this makes all the difference to his story.
There is no doubt that Asimov had a huge impact on the world of science fiction writing; the popularity of his novels has lasted and the ideas have been used for film scripts on many occasions. Despite this, I cannot recommend 'Positronic Man' as a good read. Interesting, definitely ... enthralling, definitely not!
My version was published in 1993 by Pan Books.
223 pages, ISBN 0330330586
At present it is only available from Amazon as a used copy - from 1p.
This is very much in the spirit of Pinocchio or Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Basically it's a novel, set in a futuristic world in which every family has a robot. This particular robot, the Positronic Man of the title, wants to become human. That's the gist of the story. There is more to it than just that, and being an Asimov story it is very well written, of course.
Sadly, I just could never get into this book. Let me say, I am a major Asimov fan, I have loved his work since I was a child, and even now, as a middle-aged Mum, I can read and enjoy his books over and over again. This one, for me anyway, is just the exception to the rule.
I first read this as a short story titled The Bicentennial Man in one of Asimov's short story collections. In fact, The Bicentennial Man was the title of the whole collection, but that story itself was just one of 12 in the collection. Sad to say I wasn't that impressed, but I could get through it as it was only a short story. Then, in his later years, Asimov took to re-writing some of his short stories as novels (Nightfall and The Ugly Little Boy being two other examples), and this one was developed into a full length novel titled The Positronic Man, with Robert Silverberg as co-author.
Being a fan and a collector, I had to buy the book when it was published in 1992. I did try to read it, but sadly got no further than chapter 4. It pains me to say this, because Asimov is truly the master of science fiction, and I really hate to say he wrote anything that I don't absolutely love - but this is it. I can't even put my finger on what was wrong with it, it just wasn't gripping. Generally, when reading an Asimov novel, I find it impossible to put the book down and end up reading well into the night, struggling to keep my eyes open because I am so desperate to know what happens next. With this book the struggle was simply to keep reading, and sadly I lost!
I wouldn't like to put anyone off the book, as I'm sure many people would enjoy it - indeed, it must be generally considered one of his better ones, as is evidenced by the fact that Robin Williams made a film of it. In my opinion, though, it wasn't one of his best, and wasn't truly representative of Asimov's work.
I have read this book several times, before and after seeing the film of bicentennial man which is basically the same story with a different name. This book starts off by describing the setting: the family of the story is the Martin family of which there are many generations within the book. The Martin family purchase a robot/android whom has the serial code with the letters AND i it, because of this the daughter in the family decides that the robot deserved to be called Andrew Martin. With time Andrew begins to show skills which shouldn't normally be seen on an android i.e it begins to become very creative with pieces of wood and his own 'imagination'. This is special because these androids aren't supposed to show any form of artistic or emotional capabilties. From here Andrew gradually starts selling his sculptures and with the money he makes he buys new parts for himself to make him look more 'human'. It gets to the stage where Andrew wants to be independant and so ask Mr Martin whether he can pay him the money that was originally used to purchase the robot and inevitably become a free robot. Ths annoys Mr Martin and him and Andrew do not speak again for may years until Mr Martin is on his death bed when he calls for Andrew to see him. Andrew leaves to go on a expedition to attempt to find other androids with the same characteristics as himself and through this he discovers a scientist who started to make extra parts to make the robots even more like humans, skin, organs etc. He ran out of funding and therefore had to give up his research. Andrew funds th research and starts up a line of biomechanical organs which can be used by humans and androids simultaneously. Eventually he discovers that there is only one thing preventing him from becoming human - his immortality. But does he forfit this to become human? You will have to read to find out. I definatley recommend this to everyone as it is pleasurable to read as an adult bu
t is also perfectly understandable for children as well. Excellent Book! I feel that this book lacks some form of real excitement. I was able toread it several times but I wouldn't say that I felt it necessary to continue reading, whereas with some books I feel compelled to read on until the early hours, this one did not have that effect. It is a very enjoyable story which was complemented by the film. I prefer more intense books with much more depth, so therefore this book is good but not brilliant.