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This book is actually a series of short stories written by the highly renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov, written between 1966 and 1976. The title story is the best and tells of a robot, Andrew, who wants to be a human. Asimov was one of the most prolific science fiction authors of all time, and won many awards for his writing, but to my mind, his robot stories are where his genius really lay, and The Bicentennial Man is one of this best. Another excellent story within this collection is called THAT THOU ART MINDFUL OF HIM, which is where Asimov considers the introduction of the robots into human society on the planet Earth. Asimov's writing style can sometimes be a little ponderous, particularly in his FOUNDATION stories, but all of the stories in this collection read at a fair old clip and should be enjoyed both by people who already have a love of science fiction and those new to the genre. It was one of the first science fiction books I ever read and I have not been able to get enough since, particular of stories by this author.
The Bicentennial man is a novel by Isaac Asimov, or at least is an extended short story. The original BM was a short story to be found in the robot series but was expanded to be a full novel on its own called the prositronic man, the expansion was with the help of legendary sci fi writer Robert Silverberg.
We are not worthy!! For many including myself Isaac Asimov is the greatest science fiction author ever. He wrote the foundation series, the robots series and invented the concept of the prositronic brain and the three laws of robotics. The brain and the laws are now part of real life science and his influence on the thinking in real robotics is as real as though he was a real scientist. He had a huge output in terms of short stories, some very influential novels including the legendary Foundation series and sometimes dabbled with mystery stories. He died in 1992, and his name is connected with the prestigious Asimov awards for outstanding science fiction, considered just below the nebula and Hugo awards for outstanding science fiction writing.
BM is a novel looking at the lines between human and artificial life, in this initial short story we encounter the robot Andrew who is a fairly standard robot in the household of the martin household. This is the 21st century and the role of robots is largely sub servant and domestic. Andrew has little programming outside his basic need to care for the members of the Martin family, however, he slowly becomes close the youngest member of the family Lucy.
He and Lucy are soon bosom friends but his limited programming make it hard for him to accept Lucy as a grown up so he starts to stretch his original design and starts to want non-robot things. From this point on we are in a voyage of self investigation and have the concept of self and the true line between life and automatic behaviour. Andrew slowly gains more and more human characteristics and starts to think like a human, he gains empathy, understands love and hate and the true meaning of friendship.
The novel has a bitter sweet and brilliant end; Asimov stretches his original concept into a novel looking into the importance of human life. Through Andrews's eyes we see that life is sacrosanct and that we should wake each morning with awe in our eyes and a light heart because life itself is precious and unique. From this stand point we encounter through Andrew the darker side of life, prejudice against robots, hatred of those who are different and as we go along hatred for those who are well off and happy.
The end of the novel and the meaning of the name start to become apparent and not wanting to spoil the end for those who haven't seen the awful Robin Williams film I will not reveal it here. The novel ends on a surprisingly upbeat message and there is generally a feeling of happiness rather than sadness running through the novel. I have to say that the novel is far less sentimental than the film, the film rather emphasises the sexual side of Andrews's story and the process to human rights is only conceded right at the end of the film. In the book, the path to being recognised is the central tenet of the story. This need is of course relevant to a dissident Russian Jew living in America from the 1930's onwards, though making too many links between the fate of Andrew and the pogroms of Eastern Europe is perhaps a stretch too far.
Asimov with the help of Silverberg expanded the middle third of the novel when compared with the original short story; he expanded the life of Andrew away from the Martin family and perhaps expanded the importance of this period of Andrews's life. Again can we view Asimov's exile from Russia as a simile of this section of the novel? My favourite part of the novel, is when Andrew meets a fellow robot who is a later model and has better programming, he rather wistfully wishes he had that robots view of the universe and wonders what life would be without boundaries self-imposed. Hmmm consider that insight in any way you wish.
BM is a book which is relatively hard to find, but is worth the effort ignore the saccharine coated Hollywood make-over and find out why Andrew wants to be human. Expect conflicting emotions, raging desire to meet Andrew and a few tears at the end. Overall feel the love Andrew has for life and how he views the importance of just being, then consider his decisions and shed a tear again. This is science fiction at its very best, not just stories about space flight, stars, galaxies and strange races but a simple story of a walk in the life of a robot, his struggles, his beliefs and hopes and his final days.
My favourite science fiction author at his best, aided by another legend in the field creates here a story for all readers and far outside the normal boundaries of a fairly rigid genre.