Category Archives: Fiction

The first “I, Robot”

ComicBook“It certainly caught my attention. Two months after I read it, I began ‘Robbie’, about a sympathetic robot, and that was the start of my positronic robot series. Eleven years later, when nine of my robot stories were collected into a book, the publisher named the collection I, Robot over my objections. My book is now the more famous, but Otto’s story was there first.”
Isaac Asimov

I must confess that I had never heard of Eando Binder before. When I heard the phrase “I, Robot”, my first thought was of the famous story by Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. One person I asked thought that perhaps I was talking about a new robot to be made by Apple following on from iMac, iPod, iPad and so on. Another mentioned the film starring Will Smith which was based on Asimov’s robot detective stories.

AudioBookIt was not until I noticed a short audio book, available from Audible, entitled I, Robot, that I realised there was a story with that title published much earlier than Asimov’s.

Amazing_Stories_January_1939Eando Binder was not one person, but two brothers by the names of Earl and Otto, “E and O” Binder, who initially wrote science fiction stories together. Their first story about the robot Adam Link, was published in the January 1939 edition of Amazing Stories.

Extract from I, Robot by Otto Binder (1939):
I will begin at the beginning. I was born, or created, five years ago. I am a true robot. Some of you humans still have doubts, it seems. I am made of wires and wheels, not flesh and blood. I am run by electrical power. My brain is made of iridium-sponge.

My first recollection of consciousness was a feeling of being chained. And I was. For three days, I had been seeing and hearing but all in a jumble. Now, I had the urge to rise and peer more closely at the strange moving form that I had seen so many times before me, making sounds.

The moving form was Dr. Charles Link, my creator. Of all the objects within my sight he was the only thing that moved. He and one other object, his dog, Terry. Even though I had not yet learned to associate movement with life, my attention was pinpointed on these two.

AdamLink-bookIt is a very good story, and, unusually for the time, the robot is sympathetically treated and not regarded as some kind of monster. However, Adam, the robot, is wrongly accused of murdering his creator. The collected Adam Link short stories are available from Amazon as a Kindle book.

OuterLimitsOtto Binder’s story was used as the basis for two episodes of The Outer Limits, both titled “I, Robot”. The first from 1964 and the second from 1995. Leonard Nimoy appeared in both versions, but as two different characters.

“To anyone fond of the robot story in science fiction, Adam Link is of extraordinary interest. The robot-with-emotion has rarely been handled so well.”
Isaac Asimov

Robby Mocks the Monsters

Forbidden Planet, the 1956 film which introduced us to Robby the Robot, is widely regarded today as something of a masterpiece, and certainly ahead of its time. Wikipedia states that in the authorised biography of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Roddenberry notes that Forbidden Planet “was one of [his] inspirations for Star Trek.” On, Forbidden Planet is rated 7.7 out of ten (over 31,000 votes), comparing well to the 1977 Star Wars which scores 8.7 out of ten, and higher than 2004’s I, Robot with Will Smith, which was rated at 7.1 out of ten.

According to the following write-up, taken from Picturegoer, the British national film and entertainment weekly, written shortly after the film was released, newspapers at the time had mixed opinions of the film.

Picturegoer magazine, 14th July 1956

Robby Mocks the Monsters

There may be some giggles, says Sarah Stoddart, but this science shocker never pulls a switch wrong

Monsters of the science fiction world – watch out! You’re being got at – by an upstart called Robby the Robot. He’s the star of Forbidden Planet and, if this isn’t the cheekiest skit on screen monsters, I’ve got a few atomic screws loose. It takes the mickey – and then some.

Robby’s a kind of steel-plated, maid-of-all-work reception party for the crew of a space ship exploring a dead planet. Working for his master-brain boss (Walter Pidgeon), he is an ultra-polite, English-speaking, ball-bearing Jeeves who manufactures anything on demand – even crates of whisky.

There may be giggles – but only in the right places. That’s the amazing thing about this science shocker: it never pulls a switch wrong.

There’s a Jules Verne kind of crazy logic running through the plot. It gets the enthusiasts, the disbelievers, the intellectuals and the thrill seekers and takes them all for a ride.

For SCIENCE there’s Walter Pidgeon’s crazy professor. He has decoded the secrets of a lost race of supermen on a dead planet. And his collection of electronic equipment threatens to blind and deafen you with science.

For PSYCHOLOGY there are fragments of Freud – the Ego, the Id and all that. For SEX there’s Anne Francis, dressed most of the time in sequined scanties, as a brazen reply to all those dreary blue-stocking science women who get caught up in space.

For THRILLS there’s a welter of trick photography that really staggers. Monster-sized footprints suddenly crater the ground, a tiger disintegrates in thin air, massive metal doors melt into candy floss.

And I’m giving away no vital secret when I reveal that the unknown horror, when it finally appears, turns out to be a snarling lion’s head. But MGM doesn’t appreciate the joke about its Leo the Lion trademark. In fact it seems slightly red-faced and ashamed about Robby.

Forbidden Planet gets what’s called ‘outside theatre’ treatment. That means it wasn’t shown at MGM’s own London showplace, the Empire, Leicester Square. It’s being released as a double bill with Lana Turner’s Diane. Curious mating.

MGM is doing wrong by Robby, I think. Some film critics have done the same. The press has been divided about Forbidden Planet, but the majority has agreed that it’s a wonderful piece of mickey-taking hokum. “Glorious balderdash,” said the Daily Sketch; “triumphantly entertaining,” said the Daily Express.

But there were some reviewers whose sense of humour seemed to have been dazzled by a ray-gun. The Daily Mail thought the film silly while the Evening News threw the word boredom at poor old Robby.

For my money, Robby’s the best thing to happen for years in the rather blasé world of screen space fiction. He’s a tonic indeed after all those routine, serious and dedicated space adventures.

It’s the best way to handle the tricky subject of science fiction – with tongue-in-the cheek (but deadpan) earnestness.

I, Robot – free audio book

Have you ever read Isaac Asimov’s famous collection of robot stories, cleverly linked together into one book? The stories which eventually made up I, Robot were written between 1940 and 1950, but they are just as fascinating and thought provoking today.

Audible 30-Day Free Trial

At the time of writing this short Blog entry, there is an advert for Audible on the right hand side of this page. If you sign up for a free 30-day trial of the Audible service, you can listen to I, Robot completely free – all eight hours and 25 minutes of it.

One audio book reviewer wrote:

Listening to this audiobook was a true pleasure. The classic sci fi tale of robots and the future of humanity has aged very well and many of the issues it rasies still feel contemporary. The book’s structure is pure genius, taking several previously published short stories (some which feature on going characters and some which don’t) and stiching them together with original work by means of a journalist conducting reseach. The stories are increasingly epic and complex, each one drawing the listener further into the world of the robots. This is also fascinating for any sci fan as it effectively documents the developement of the genre in the last century, from the simplistic and haunting stories of the pulp fiction anthologies (which make up most of the first half of the book) to the politically complex novels that writers like Clark, Dick and of course Asimov went on to write.  On the production side the reader does an excellent job representing the different charatcers, both human and robotic!