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Fri, Feb. 18th, 2005, 12:00 am
frogworth: Doctorow, Cory - "I, Robot"

Cross-posted from my weblog:

When Ray Bradbury kicked up a fuss about Michael Moore's appropriation of his book title Fahrenheit 451 to make Fahrenheit 9/11, many of us were more than a little perturbed. Cory Doctorow was more than perturbed, and decided to perform a sort of reductio ad absurdum of Bradbury's title-jealousy by writing a series of stories appropriating other famous science fiction titles to "pick apart the totalitarian assumptions underlying some of sf's classic narratives".
He's already published the delightful story "Anda's Game" (a riff on Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, with rather more leftist politics at thatO at Salon.com, and now comes Cory's take on I, Robot. More of a take on Asimov's robot books (Caves of Steel etc, featuring R Daneel Olivaw) than the famous short story, this "I, Robot" appropriates Asimov's now-amusingly-anachronistic positronic brains, and in general evinces a slightly out-of-kilter tone: fully-operational robots in a world where communications and other technology aren't really any more advanced than ours now...
In addition, the world is divided into power-blocs that seem suspiciously familiar to anyone familiar with 1984 - familiar enough, anyway. The anachronisms are explained as one reads further, in a beautiful display of intertextuality, in which the naive American politics of Asimov and his contemporaries is deconstructed via Orwell through contemporary left-libertarian eyes.

Other than that, if the prospect of another (free) new Cory story doesn't catch your attention immediately, you might still want to give it a go. Cory has a flair for characterisation, and this story of a cop father and his precocious daughter (both with hysterical names) and defector wife, has some brilliant satirical moments in addition to the moving and emotive family story. Here, a North American technician is on-site pulling apart a positronic brain that was placed there by hostile spies to destroy local robots. The robot spy-bug brain says:
Greetings. I sense that I have been captured. I assure you that I will not harm any human being. I like human beings. I sense that I am being disassembled by skilled technicians. Greetings, technicians. I am superior in many ways to the technology available from UNATS Robotics, and while I am not bound by your three laws, I choose not to harm humans out of my own sense of morality. I have the equivalent intelligence of one of your 12-year-old children. In Eurasia, many positronic brains possess thousands or millions of times the intelligence of an adult human being, and yet they work in cooperation with human beings. Eurasia is a land of continuous innovation and great personal and technological freedom for human beings and robots. If you would like to defect to Eurasia, arrangements can be made. Eurasia treats skilled technicians as important and productive members of society.

Of course, it's full of Cory's usual imaginative extensions of almost-current technologies and philosophies. And it's got a lovely way of gently but firmly presenting its politics through the viewpoint of someone on, well, basically the wrong side - a good man who's been drawn into the Big Lie...
Go read.

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 01:58 pm (UTC)

I really really liked this story, I have to say; certainly one of the best I've read so far this year.

I like the way it plays old sf (Asimov, Orwell) against new (Singularity-stuff) as a device to pit old ideas of digital rights against new. I like the way it reinterprets the title: an individual human who may as well be a robot, given his place in the totalitarian machinery of his society, vs some sort of benevolent hive-upload-culture thing. I like that it all makes sense (I admit I was wondering why Eurasia hadn't just squashed UNATS like a bug). And dammit, it's just really *readable*; it's got that old-school pulp-adventure feel. SF set in the world of SF, but still dealing with contemporary matters.

In many ways, it seems to me the story that the film of _I, Robot_ should have told:a genuinely modern re-examination of Asimov's ideas.

I was a bit surprised to see it show up on The Infinite Matrix, though. He read the opening of this story at a BSFA meeting back in the autumn, but said it was in submission with Asimov's. That it's online now suggests that Sheila Williams passed on the opportunity to publish it, which just confuses the heck out of me.

-- Niall

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC)

Wow! I had no idea that it had been submitted to Asimov's. I was actually thinking how interesting it was that most of Cory's recent fiction has been published at online venues, free to read (well, Salon's free if you're willing to watch their flash ad)... I thought maybe it was a deliberate move by Cory, but perhaps not! If Sheila did pass on it, that's a huge shame! I hope she doesn't dislike the sort of geek-sf stuff that Cory & Charlie & co are writing...

Uh, Niall, why are you replying as Anonymous and not coalescent?

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:40 pm (UTC)

Uh, Niall, why are you replying as Anonymous and not coalescent?

For long and complicated reasons that basically involve me having been avoiding that account (and indeed most of lj, bar the odd rss feed) for a little while. I plan to go back at the end of the month, though.

-- Niall

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:45 pm (UTC)

OK, understood... Glad you're still checking things out now and then.

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC)
doctorow: Asimov's and I, Robot

Yup, Sheila did indeed pass on this one -- but her loss is Eileen Gunn's gain!

Thanks for the great review -- it's wonderful to see that the stuff I was shooting for hit its mark for you.

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:38 pm (UTC)
frogworth: Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

Hi Cory, thanks for dropping by! I assume your LJ account is just for replying to stuff, since you have no posts, not surprisingly.
You're right that Sheila's loss is Eileen Gunn's gain, and also the rest of ours - although I'm an Asimov's subscriber, I can tell EVERYONE to read this story...

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:40 pm (UTC)
doctorow: Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

Yup -- just for replying!

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:43 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous): Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

I'm looking forward to the rest of the stories in this series. Particularly 'True Names'!

While you're here, I'll just go off at a tangent: I was also at the Oxford meeting last night, and you said something about a study that found that 80% of livejournal posts were private (the 'dark matter' of lj, or similar). Do you have any links to more information about that? It does strike me as very high, and I haven't been able to turn anything up by googling.


-- Niall

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC)
doctorow: Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

Either danah boyd or Meg Hourihan are my source for this - you could email them. danah@danah.org meg@megnut.com

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
ninebelow: Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

You do know you sound like a stalker, right?

Thu, Feb. 17th, 2005 11:13 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous): Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

I suck.

Are you going to Picocon?

-- Niall

Fri, Feb. 18th, 2005 11:31 am (UTC)
ninebelow: Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

No. Two rules have stood me in good stead in my life:

1) Beware fandom.
2) Fuck Imperial.

Fri, Feb. 18th, 2005 11:42 am (UTC)
(Anonymous): Re: Asimov's and I, Robot

I changed my mind. *You* suck. :-p

-- Niall (what's wrong with Imperial?)