Newest Review: ... of his human creators. The story is set in the twenty-first century, and the dawn of the age of robotics. Walking, talking, intelligent ... more
What is it that makes us human?
The Positronic Man - Isaac Asimov
Member Name: dee778
The Positronic Man - Isaac Asimov
Advantages: Interesting ideas and debates
Disadvantages: A bit dry and scientific
'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.
Summary: Still appeals to a huge audience today