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Literature / The Positronic Man

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The Positronic Man is a Novel written by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, first published in 1992 and based on Dr Asimov's story, "The Bicentennial Man". Unlike the previous two collaborations, Silverberg doesn't add new chapters to this Novelization, instead lengthening each individual chapter by adding in Narrative Filigree in the form of additional character quirks and Worldbuilding.

Certain details are changed or clarified, such as Andrew Martin being originally the robot model NDR-113, and how being the inventor of the field of prosthetology brought with it incredible fame. Despite this, his struggle to be recognized as human is still hard-fought and risks disastrous consequences in failure.

The Positronic Man provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The original story ends with Andrew's dying words, but this Novelization ends when the World President appears to shake hands with Andrew in recognition of Andrew as a human.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The original Novelette, "The Bicentennial Man", was expanded into a full-length novel, which was later adapted into the film Bicentennial Man.
  • Adaptation Name Change: While expanding from "The Bicentennial Man", some of the names change, although they're supposed to represent the same characters. George Martin is called George Charney here, keeping his father's last name instead of his mother's. This has a direct effect on the Feingold law firm, which becomes Feingold and Charney instead of Feingold and Martin. When meeting representatives of US Robots for the first time, robopsychologist Merton Mansky is replaced by robopsychologist Merwin Mansky.
  • Ambiguously Brown: When upgrading himself into an android body, Andrew deliberately Invokes this, wishing for a blend of skin tones because he is not a member of any ethnicity.
    For his skin color Andrew had selected something neutral in tone, a kind of blend of the prevailing skin colors of the various human types, darker than the pale pink of the Charneys but not quite as dark as some. That way no one would be able to tell at a glance which race he belonged to, since in fact he belonged to none.
  • Amicable Exes: In this adaptation of "The Bicentennial Man", it is established that when Ma'am leaves to go to an art colony, she is also leaving the marriage. However, she remains in contact with the rest of the family, especially Sir.
  • Billed Above the Title: The authors have their name emblazoned over the title (and usually at the top of the cover). Sometimes the cover only shows their last names, which are more recognizable.
  • Canon Foreigner: When expanding the original story into a Novel, Silverberg introduced several new characters.
    • Instead of meeting the robopsychologist Merton Mansky at the regional offices of US Robots, managing director Elliot Smythe and robopsychologist Merwin Mansky came to the Martin house.
    • The researchers from Luna City that welcome Andrew to the colonies on the moon.
    • Roger Hennessey is the victim of Feingold and Chaney's first legal action to "prove" that robot parts mean you aren't human.
  • Colonized Solar System: Colonies from Ganymede and the rings of Saturn are mentioned, Worldbuilding the distant future of humanity by further developing the details of colonization in the solar system.
  • Deathbed Confession: When Sir is dying, he has his grandson fetch Andrew so that he has a chance to apologize for getting upset over Andrew's request for freedom.
  • Dedication: This novel is dedicated to their wives; Janet Asimov and Karen Silverberg.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Birthday: In chapter three, Andrew witnesses a birthday party. He starts to wonder when his birthday would be and what he would use to determine it. Nevertheless, the hundred-and-fiftieth and two-hundredth anniversaries of his construction are publicly celebrated.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: The 1993 Doubleday cover has a small portrait representing Andrew Martin, with a half-human, half-robot face. The robot side of his face is much darker than the human half, the better to emphasize his glowing red eye.
  • Face on the Cover: Most of the covers have some sort of humanoid figure, implied to be Andrew Martin. The 1993 cover gives him a half-human, half-robot face, with the robot half in darkness to emphasize his robotic red eye. Other covers show him as all-human or all-robot, or as a "something else", obscuring the features entirely and leaving only a silhouette.
  • Famed in Story: Chapter one establishes that Andrew will have become famous for what he is by the end of the story. By the time chapter one happens, Andrew has already been acclaimed as the Sesquicentennial Robot. He seems to regret that his fame doesn't come from who he is, just what he is.
    He was more than a little famous. He had never asked for his fame, of course-that was not his style-but fame, or at any rate notoriety, had come to him all the same. Because of what he had achieved: because of what he was. Not who, but what.
  • Fat and Skinny: When Sir invites US Robots executive Elliott Smythe and Chief Robopsychologist Merwin Mansky, it is apparent that Smythe is tall and skinny, while Mansky is short and fat.
    They were a curiously mismatched pair, for Elliott Smythe was a slender, towering, athletic-looking man with long limbs and a great mane of dense white hair, who seemed as though he would be more at home on a tennis court or in a polo match than in a corporate office, while Merwin Mansky was short and stocky and had no hair at all, and gave the appearance of someone who would leave his desk only under great duress.
  • Funetik Aksent: In chapter two, Little Miss mispronounces "algae" as "algy".
  • In-Series Nickname: Little Miss, whose name is actually Amanda, is typically called Mandy by her father.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: One of the groups objecting to Andrew's attempt to gain his freedom is the Regional Labor Federation, who always oppose robot distribution and suddenly find themselves arguing the same side as United States Robots and Mechanical Men. They don't want robots to be recognized as people who deserve freedom because they fear that it will cause a loss of work for human beings.
    "How ironic! To have built a tool so good that it takes command of its builders! To be supplanted by our own machinery-to be made obsolete by it, to be relegated to the scrapheap of evolution-"
  • Literal-Minded: During his first decade of service, Andrew runs into trouble with idiomatic language, such as "You've got a look on your face" because, as a robot, his face cannot change expression. After stumbling several times with linguistic drift, he decides that he needs to go to the library and learn about language so that he isn't confused by idioms anymore (at least, no more than another human would be when encountering an unfamiliar one).
    Even after all this time, it was still difficult sometimes for Andrew to keep pace with humans when they struck out along linguistic pathways that were something other than the most direct ones.
  • Mythology Gag: In order to tie this story more explicitly to other stories in The 'Verse of Dr Asimov's Robot Series, Alfred Lanning, Peter Bogert, and Susan Calvin are mentioned by name in chapter two. The Robot Names and nicknames from the stories collected in I, Robot are also mentioned, such as RG and QT being nicknamed Archie and Cutie. The company itself is declared to have been founded in 1982, confirming the introduction of I, Robot.
  • Named by the Adaptation: While expanding from "The Bicentennial Man", more information about some of the character's names is added. Andrew's original serial number is NDR-113. Ma'am and Miss's first names are Lucie and Melissa. The judge and opposing attorney from Andrew's battle for freedom are given the names Harold Kramer and James Van Buren.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The book was published in 1993, and cites a Ban on A.I. taking place by 2007. This, however, is merely background information, as the events in the book takes place in the twenty-second century (through to the twenty-fourth century), after the ban has been revoked.
  • Novelization: This novel is an Adaptation Expansion of a novelette, "The Bicentennial Man". However, after the release of Bicentennial Man, a new copy of this novel was published with the film poster as the cover.
  • Ship Of Theseus: Andrew has Feingold and Charney start a Frivolous Lawsuit in which they know they are in the wrong in order to get an official ruling on how much of a human can be replaced with mechanical parts before they're no longer human, in the hopes of being able to use that to have Andrew, who has himself been mostly replaced with human-compatible parts, declared human. Unfortunately, the line is drawn at the one part Andrew can't swap out - organic versus positronic brains.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Tagline: "The poignant story of a robot's journey toward humanity" — Bantam Books 1995 paperback cover.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: When complaining about his mother's obstinance, George Charney says that the First Law of the Martin household is to obey her whim (the Second and Third Laws are restatements of the same).
  • Two-Faced: The 1993 Doubleday cover has a small portrait representing Andrew Martin, with a half-human, half-robot face. The robot side of his face is much darker than the human half, the better to emphasize his glowing red eye.
  • Uncertified Expert: When Andrew Martin arrives on Luna City, one of the colonies on the moon, he is shocked by prosthetologists calling him "Dr Martin", as (despite being the inventor of the field and foremost researcher and experimental subject) he only has an honorary degree (hundreds of them, but still). He requests that they simply call him "Andrew", as he is a robot, and despite their promises they occasionally lapse into calling him Dr Martin.
  • Vibroweapon: One household item in the Martin family is an electric vibro-blade, useful for carving wood.