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Literature / Robot Series

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1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Isaac Asimov's most famous contribution to Science Fiction are his positronic robots. These stories tend to share several similarities, but are overall inconsistent with each other. Many of the same themes are explored in each story, with human and robot interaction usually creating the plot. While initially a separate setting compared to other stories, Dr Asimov started crossing continuity between his multiple settings towards the end of his life.

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Recurring characters often serve as a way to group the stories:

Starting in 1987, with Isaac Asimovs Robot City, Dr Asimov started giving permission for other creators to play in his sandbox. A 1988 film, Robots was authorized, as well as the later 2004 film I, Robot. The latter film began as an unrelated movie, and was rewritten to include Asenion elements not limited to the I, Robot novel.

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Works in Asimov's Robot Series are listed in publication order:

    open/close all folders 

    Novels 

    Short Stories 

    Collections 
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    Additional works authorized in this setting 

Examples of tropes in The 'Verse:

  • Absent Aliens:
  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: In his short story "Risk" a robot pilot is to test a hyperspace drive and is given instructions to "pull the stick back firmly — firmly" until the drive engages. The drive doesn't engage, so the robot is stuck in that position and its human operators have to try to get it to stop but it just won't stop pulling because the drive hasn't engaged because the robot pulled back "firmly" with its full strength, damaging the control.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The "positronic" brains of these robots is a nonsense word based on the positron. These brains operate based on having multiple objectives, and the "three laws" are the objectives with the MOST priority.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Pretty much all the robots in the stories, thanks to the Three Laws of Robotics. A vast majority of all robots exist completely harmlessly aiding and giving peace to human life. The only subversions are entirely due to extreme circumstances or, much more commonly, human error.
  • Buddy Cop Show: The Robot Novels are an early novel example version of the trope. Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan are field specialists for U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, and are employed mainly on testing new or experimental robots in practical situations — either on planets or space stations. They regularly get into complex and potentially dangerous situations when trying to solve robot issues in the field. The issues typically involve the Three Laws of Canon Welding.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: "—That Thou Art Mindful of Him" takes its title from a Biblical psalm which asks "What is Man that thou art mindful of Him?". The question "What is Man?" (or as we'd more likely say now, "What is the definition of a human being?") is central to the story.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • In all robot stories, there is Fantastic Racism of humans toward robots (in the Bailey novels, Earth-bound humans have taken to addressing robots as "boy" in imitation to how racist Americans used to refer to black people).
    • In "Segregationist", there is a sudden reveal that robots are racist toward humans.
    • In the Bailey novels, the Spacers have sterilized their colony worlds and advanced medical science to quadruple their lifespan compared to other humans. So they have effectively decided that they are a different species from the humans of Earth, and the Solarians take this to its ultimate extreme, as seen in Foundation and Earth.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The short story "Lets Get Together" contemplates the Cold War lasting past the 20th century.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Mike Donovan and Gregory Powell, the nearly inseparable field specialists for US Robotics. The two men work together in stressful conditions, and typically take their vacations together, too. While no ages are given, it's implied that the two maintain a working relationship for decades.
  • Hollywood Law: In "Galley Slave", when, in the course of a lawsuit against U.S. Robots, the defense counsel calls the plaintiff as a defense witness, the judge warns him that he does not have as much latitude questioning his own witness as he would questioning an opposing witness. In Real Life, the opposite is true.
  • How We Got Here: "The Bicentennial Man" begins with Andrew Martin, a man who asks a robot to perform a brain operation that will hurt his brain. The robot refuses, because the First Law forbids him to damage a human being, and it takes precedence over the Second Law, the one of obedience. Andrew Martin clarifies that there is no problem, because he's a robot as well. From then on, we begin to learn who is this robot with a human name, who looks like a human, and who wants to damage his brain.
  • Logic Bomb: The only time that the classic logic bomb ever worked is in "Liar!", where Dr Calvin confronts the robot with evidence that its "harmless lies" have caused harm to human beings. Said robot locks up and breaks down since it can't figure out a way to avoid harm to humans.
  • Long-Running Book Series: His first "robots" story was "Robbie", from 1940. Dr Asimov started publishing collections of his short stories in 1950, as well as publishing novels in that setting, totaling eleven before Author Existence Failure in 1992. However, he and his estate have been authorizing dozens of books since the late 1980s, allowing many authors to continue expanding the scope of the series, and Dr Asimov tied together several characters/plots, making The Empire Novels and Foundation part of the same continuity.
  • Mental Picture Projector: The short story "Think" featured an auditory equivalent, allowing two people with electrodes hooked up to their skulls to communicate thoughts directly. The scientists involved were rightly sceptical and perform several tests to make sure they aren't imagining things. When they try a control test, by directly connecting the input electrodes to each other, the scientist on the receiving end suddenly looks terrified and pulls the electrodes apart moments afterward. Apparently, he heard the machine itself start to think...
  • Miraculous Malfunction: In "Light Verse", a house-cleaning robot is terrible at house-cleaning but these defects allow it to create astonishing works of art.
  • Shout-Out: The short story "Too Bad" is about a miniature robot injected into somebody's bloodstream to cure cancer. It even states that a miniature submarine was considered, and rejected as too expensive, which acts as a reference to Fantastic Voyage, which Dr. Asimov wrote the novelization to.
  • Standard Sci-Fi History: This series begins 20 Minutes into the Future, with the positronic brains as a technology that facilitates basic Artificial Intelligence (see "Robbie"). They're used to facilitate humanity's expansion into the solar system (see "Runaround") and eventually develop Hyperspace travel (see "Little Lost Robot" and "Escape!") so that they can expand into the larger galaxy. The division between the space exploring robot users and the bigoted Earthers drives a social wedge between the two groups. The colonies begin to call themselves Spacers to distinguish between themselves and the Earthmen.
    By the era of Elijah Baley, the loose association of Spacer societies has calcified. Scientists don't share their theories/experiments because they want all the credit for themselves, robots provide all of life's necessities, and there is no threat to struggle against. During this decadence and decay, Baley encourages the overpopulated people of Earth to explore new planets without relying on robots (becoming known as the "Settlers"). Thus, a new era of interstellar exploration is begun while the first "empire" slowly collapses.
  • The 'Verse: Dr Asimov's Robot stories form a rough timeline of events. Some time soon, there will be robots for every type of job, and supercomputers networked around the world. Most of the short stories take place between now and then. At some point in The Future, a schism occurs between those who like the robots and those who hate the robots. Those who like robots use their labour to colonize new worlds (calling themselves Spacers), leaving Earth to the robot-haters, who start to outlaw robots with human-level AI (calling themselves Earthers). This is when the Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw stories take place. According to Robots and Empire, Bailey has inspired Earth's interest in space colonization, which will eventually become a single Galactic Superpower, which bridges this series into the Empire and Foundation stories.

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