The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov

Posted On 14 January 2012

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Just finished reading the Positronic Man.  I’m currently reading the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov as part of a read-along hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and I’m really enjoying the experience, plus I’ve finished the first book in the series and enjoyed it much more than I expected to.  Positronic Man however is a different thing altogether – I loved this book, a lot.  I’m not trying to say that I’m now hooked to sci-fi because I’ve not really read enough to be convinced but this is a brilliant story, really thought provoking and extremely touching.

Positronic Man tells the story of a robot, serial number NNDR 113.  This is a series of robots that are being tested for roll out across the planet and Gerald Martin, a highly respected and influential member of the Legislature has undertaken to take one (along with varous other robots) by way of experiment to see how they cope and try to overcome the negativity that most people bear towards robots.  At the start we are given a brief history, the year is 2007 – and you just basically have to imagine it’s further into the future, the human population is in decline due to smaller sized families and the fact that some people are moving out to live on the moon.  Due to the dwindling population it has been necessary to introduce more robots in order to carry out everyday tasks but in spite of the need people are still cautious and suspicious.

So, Gerald Martin brings home his NDR and introduces him into the family where the youngest member of the family (little miss) names him Andrew and from there onwards we see Andrew become increasingly important to the family.

To be honest, it’s difficult to go into too much detail without giving away much of the plot.  Basically as you read along you watch Andrew change, very slowly, at first just in small awarenesses – things that have changed in himself such as feelings which he believes he experiences even though you would think this impossible for a robot.  And, slowly but surely, these small changes lead to other feelings.  You watch as he undergoes personal struggles to become free and then later to bring about legislation to protect himself.  He also undergoes massive changes to himself physically to the point where he looks human.  You can’t help reading along and wondering why?  Why is Andrew doing all these things.  Basically he wants acceptance.  He’s lived in a family and been accepted by them.  He’s worked and gained both fame and fortune.  He has a brilliant mind and has helped humanity – but he isn’t human.

I liked the way that Andrew succeeded in making changes almost in time with each new generation of the Martin family – who would always rally to his side and support him without reservation.  Progress is slow though – it’s like each new generation can only accept so much change at any one given time before they become weary of Andrew’s pursuit of his goal.  Yet, the Martin’s do really care about Andrew – in fact they love him and have accepted him as a member of his family. They fight for his causes, even if they don’t agree with them – because they allow him to chose his own path.  They visit him and make him a part of their new families and they try to protect him against outside prejudices.

You can’t help liking Andrew, although there was a point where I wondered whether his changes might make him too human.  He developed a short temper and the ability to manipulate and lie!  But I still liked him – it was just as though the longer he lived he adapted and took on the ability to become cynical – he even became bored.

It’s odd as well in that Andrew’s story is almost told in isolation – you have a few people surrounding him at any given time but that’s about the limit and the setting is similarly small scale and relatively normal – there are no dramatic sweeping descriptions of how the world has changed.  You know it’s changed.  Firstly there are robots, secondly people are living on the moon and space travel is commonplace and thirdly Asimov does introduce a few snippets here and there such as travel, dress sense, etc. But I think the  fact that there isn’t too much detail is better because it allows you to focus on Andrew’s story.  Asimov does go into quite a bit of detail about Andrew and his ‘workings’ but it’s not overwhelmingly ‘techy’ and easy to understand.

Anyway, I’m not going to go too much farther.  I really enjoyed it and was totally immersed in Andrew’s world.  On top of that there are all sort of thought provoking ideas not to mention quite a lot of ideas that I think have contributed to other books and on top of that a really good and emotional ending.

This is a great book.  I really can’t recommend it enough.

Rating A+

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7 Responses to “The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov”

  1. Redhead

    I so want to read this. Asimov plus Silverberg? does it get any better than that?

    Something that I’ve always appreciated about Asimov’s writing is that it is very science fictiony, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand it. He writes towards normal people.

    • lynnsbooks

      He’s definitely a great intro to sci-fi for someone like me who finds it a bit daunting! I really did like this one though.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Carl V.

    So glad you enjoyed this one, as you know I fell hard for it a few weeks back when I read it. Wonderful review. It is interesting how the humans around him are able to be a part of stages of change with him but only up to a certain point. And good call on the isolation, I have to wonder if that was purposeful to give readers empathy for what Andrew is going through and how isolated he must feel, too “human” to be just another robot and too much of a robot to be considered human.

    I don’t have any problem considering you hooked on science fiction. If you’ve liked the few things you’ve read then realize that there is a great many other works out there that you will like. And some you won’t. I’ve been a science fiction lover since my youth and there is a lot of stuff out there I don’t like. But much more that I do. Its fun to be open to new genres, it widens out one’s potential for discovering great books.

    Welcome to the family. 😉

    • lynnsbooks

      I think I’ve been lucky with the books so far! Plus I wouldn’t have read Positronic Man if I hadn’t seen your review which intrigued me. I don’t always like the sound of everything but this one sounded good and it was really readable. I wanted to put so much more in my review but didn’t want to give everything away.
      I liked the way that Andrew’s inventions made people almost a little bit ‘robot’ – Not sure that he intended that, more that it just happened as a result of what he wanted to do for himself, but then afterwards it seemed to give him a certain sort of pleasure or make him feel that people were closer to him somehow.
      Whilst I was reading, I kept thinking that things were going to somehow take a more sinister turn, that Andrew would become more menacing, not sure if that doesn’t put me in the category of one of the untrusting humans in the story, but then I gradually came to realise that Andrew really was governed by his 3 laws, he was trustworthy, and the changes he wanted were just for himself, because of the way he had developed.
      I could go on…..
      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        Well I’m glad you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read thus far. I expected to enjoy The Positronic Man just because I’m fond of Asimov’s robot stories, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it turned out to be. I really got wrapped up in the story, love it when that happens.

        I knew I was hooked the moment Andrew started creating art and started to become aware of the pleasure it gave him, as well as when he started to realize just how fond he was of his family, particularly the two young girls.

        It was interesting how you never knew for certain what was going to happen with Andrew. I was certainly expecting more danger from humans like the guys he met when he tried to go to the library.

        This book makes for an intriguing comparison with the Foundation series in that one is focused on much larger, galaxy-spanning events and ideas and the other is focused almost solely on one person and on one idea: what it means to be human. I love that Asimov could do both so well.

  3. "Auntie" sezzzzzz...

    Very interesting sounding!!!

    More the kind of sci-fi, which I’d be inclined to read.

    Have to look-see if it comes in Large Print. My husband would probably enjoy this!

    “The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope;
    big stars were shining over the silent fields;
    here and there the dark pointed firs stood up
    with snow powdering their branches
    and the wind whistling through them.”

    ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

    • lynnsbooks

      I would definitely recommend this – I’m only just starting to touch on sci-fi with my reading but this was a really good story, plus it’s only just over 200 pages and not overly ‘techy’. I really enjoyed it.
      Stopping by to check out your pics shortly.

      Take Care
      Lynn 😀

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