I, Robot is not exactly a novel in the traditional sense. And yet, it is something more than a mere collection of loosely connected short stories as well. In addition to the recurrence of certain characters, the unifying aspect that maintains the structure of the whole premise is the mandated Three Laws of Robotics created by author Isaac Asimov regarding the function of robots:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Since conflict is the basis of all drama, naturally these laws are put to the test throughout the self-contained stories making up the narrative of I, Robot.
The actual stories trace back to before publication and Asimov decided to collect the cream of his robot archive, produce a new framing story to introduce them and publish the results in 1950 as a full-length book of fiction. A little revision of the existing texts was also required in order to achieve cohesion. One of the most substantial revisions was the introduction of the vital character of Susan Calvin into the narrative of existing stories in which she had previously been absent. Susan’s role is essentially primarily due to the efficiency of allowing her to function as a single voice charting the progression of the history of robotic development over time.
Asimov’s book has provided fodder for screen adaptations varying widely in faithfulness and quality. A Twilight Zone-like anthology hosted by Boris Karloff titled Out of this World aired an episode featuring Susan Calvin titled “Little Lost Robot.” A big budget 2004 vehicle for Will Smith kept the title of Asimov’s tome, but little else. One common misconception is that an episode titled “I, Robot” from the original Outer Limits series and the remake of that episode for its reboot are based on Asimov’s stories when in fact they are adapted from the story of the same name written by Earl and Otto Binder.
Asimov’s I, Robot is considered one of the seminal works of 20th century science fiction. The volume is notable for setting the groundwork for conventions of behavior by fictional robots as well as expectations for how those conventions are inevitably going to be subverted.