Sunday, September 07, 2008

Book Review: I, robot [sic]

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Smith, Howard S. (2008). I, robot [sic]. Toronto: Robot Binaries & Press.

Photo source: LibraryThing

I, robot has nothing to do with the Isaac Asimov classic of the same name or the movie that devolved from Asimov’s collection. (I wonder if the lower case r in the title is an oversight, an futile attempt to make the title seem original, or just an attempt to convey something in a manner so oblique that the meaning is lost. According to reviewer notes in the advanced copy I read, the publisher seems to have chosen the title and based on the robot-like qualities of the lead character who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Smith’s I, robot reads more like Tom Clancy than Asimov. Its short chapters make it a deceptively quick read. It seems that every time the author would have inserted a subchapter break, he simply made it a new chapter. This technique does not make the book too choppy for me, but it may bother some readers. Rather, I see it as an attempt to keep up with the attention span of many of today’s readers. The book is chunked like a technical manual, which it may turn out to be.

One thing that did bother me was the amount and quality of illustration. While the maps were useful, most of the drawings did little to supplement the text. They served simply as decoration, in case you had trouble processing text at a fifth-grade reading level. Worse, some of them seemed to be used more than once and thrown in randomly to boot.

Smith is an engineer and, unusual as it seems for that profession, a pretty good technical writer, so you won’t find any awe-inspiring phrasing or poetic language. The characters are not very well developed, and almost all of them seem robotic. The plot has no unexpected twists and often bludgeons you with predictability. But Smith pays attention to the story and keeps it moving, even if he overuses deus ex machina when he writes his lead character into a corner.

I, robot is like a shortbread cookie. It might help you stop a craving, but it won’t satisfy the underlying hunger. You’ll still have to look elsewhere for real satisfaction. But if all you want is a way to kill time in an airport, this is a good choice. You can put it down and not worry whether or not you find your exact spot when you pick it back up. If you don’t pick it back up, you won’t spend the rest of your life wondering what happened to the characters; they won’t mean that much to you.

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