Review: The Robot and the Man

Martin Greenberg, editor
1953

I first read this book way back about 9 months ago. For some reason I never got around to doing a Review, so I decided to read it again. The Close Up was done back then, you can view it here.

This is the fourth in the superb ‘Adventures in Science Fiction Series’ put together by Greenberg.  Every time I do a review of one of these I am always in glowing admiration for Martin Greenberg’s concept, along with the construction and execution of these anthologies.  I feel no different on this occasion.  As I have done for all anthologies in this series I’ll reproduce the Foreword Mr Greenberg uses to outline the intent and structure of the book.  Here it is:

View this document on Scribd

The stories contained within the book are somewhat unusual. Mr Greenberg made some very interesting and eclectic choices to illustrate the history of the robot.  Many of the tales are a little more cerebral than one might expect and as a whole The Robot and The Man is a surprisingly refreshing and thought provoking anthology and a superbly applied take on the history of the robot.  I could even admit to being a little emotional at times.

On the critical front, the vision of the robot in the later stories is very ambitious.  To the modern reader (a point of review I apply often and is actually worth discussing in it’s own post sometime) the portrayal of the more advanced robots seems a little naive.  Especially as they are almost without exception described as having very human emotive ability – sadness, joy and so on.  To have robot’s sighing, for example, does seem a little silly.  Also, the physicality of these robots is invariably described as very… mechanical.  Coils and pistons are quite strange components with which to fashion robots at a time thousands of years in the future.  But personally I embrace these kinds things in stories penned in that Golden Age of Science Fiction.  They serve to remind us of the romantic no-limits-to-contemporary-technology vision these writers had of times to come and part of what makes all these books extremely endearing and such a joy to read.

The anthology traces the evolution of the robot from it’s beginnings in artificial intelligence and powered prostheses, through self awareness, industrial and social integration, ultimately outliving humanity in the final poignant irony to take the role of God in the re-population of the Earth.  My particular favorite was ‘Rust’ by Joseph E. Kelleam.  A touching tale of three aged, lonely, frustrated and rapidly deteriorating killing machines contemplating their nature as agents of destruction and finally facing their mortality as the only sentient beings remaining on the Earth.  Of course, unbeknown to them they aren’t the only ones as subsequent later and unrelated tales testify.

Just a comment about the title to finish with.  The theme that develops throughout this anthology is that without Man there can be no Robot, but what finally hits home or ‘bears fruit’, is that despite at times being light years apart in time and space, our existences remain inextricably entwined and we are led to the inevitable conclusion that without the Robot there will be no Man.

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