Many years after enjoying Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot short story collection, I returned to read The Complete Robot, which brings together all of his Robot stories under a single cover. There are 31 stories here, originally published from 1939 to 1977, sourced from magazines and short story collections. The stories are not ordered chronologically, but split into categories created by Asimov himself for this book.
The Non-human Robots category was one of my favorites with clever and heart warming stories. The robots here are not humanoid and so are not bound by the Three Laws of Robotics, making the plots easier. Stories in the The Immobile Robots category are what could be termed as Asimov’s vision of the intelligent computers of the future (aka our computers of today). Some Metallic Robots feature stories of industrial or servant robots typically used on other planets. Robbie is a standout here, Asimov’s first Robot story and is quite a heart tugging one involving children.
In the Some Humanoid Robots, we finally get to situations where the Three Laws of Robotics (which are programmed into these robots) are stress tested in various intriguing situations. There are mysteries to be solved, puzzles to be unraveled and the bounds of human-robot harmony to be tested. A separate category features clever conundrums into which the funny duo of Powell and Donovan are thrust into, usually involving a misbehaving robot. Susan Calvin, the famous robopsychologist of Asimov’s stories and his most popular human character gets her own category. Dealing with complex interplays of humans and robots, these stories are the most mature and examine deep into what robots might think or dream. Two long stories end the book, with The Bicentennial Man setting up a final destiny for robots: a wish to be human.
Not surprisingly, this ~700 page omnibus provided many moments of thought provoking and fun reading. Since it was easy to put away after finishing a story, the book was slow to finish though. Published in 1982, it has a beautiful introduction by Asimov explaining how he got started into robot stories, how the robots evolved over the decades of his writing and the state of robotics at the time of this publication. Though undoubtedly visionary, the reader of today will notice something missing in all of these stories - the internet. If you can get past that and accept that somehow a positronic brain was created and programmed, these stories pretty much envision every possible scenario involving humans and robots. All these reasons and many more make this collection the definitive vehicle to get into Asimov’s Robot stories.