Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: "The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov

"The Bicentennial Man" - a novelette by Isaac Asimov
From The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 37
Date Published: 1976
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: My local library
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars


What defines a human being? Creative ability? Uniqueness? Freedom? Ability to experience emotion? Wearing of clothes? An organic body and the ability to eat food? Robot Andrew Martin had all of these things, but it wasn't until he made himself mortal that he was accepted by the world as a man.

As a character, Andrew is wonderfully interesting. He is a robot, yet he is also progressing into a being that is more human than machine. His creativity and seeming ability to experience emotion makes him more human than the organic body that he eventually obtains. In fact, it's rather ironic that the one thing that seems to prevent Andrew from being recognized as a human being--his seeming immortality--is something that all humans wish they could accomplish. The research and development that Andrew accomplishes in the realm of prosthetic organs and body parts not only helps himself become more human but also helps humans live longer.

And yet despite all of his accomplishments, Andrew wants desperately to be recognized as a man. On his two-hundredth year, when he takes actions to cause his positronic brain to die, he is finally accepted as the "Bicentennial Man". He only spends a short time with the knowledge that he is a man, but he is happy to fade away with that thought in his mind. But what comes to his mind at the very end are those he loved who have died before him. I was surprisingly touched by these thoughts.

I enjoyed this story. I'm pretty sure I've never read Asimov before, and that seems strange to me considering that he wrote over 500 books in his lifetime. I may branch out to some of his longer works after this--it was an easy yet thoughtful read. I know it was made into a film starring Robin Williams, but I've never seen it. I can see why it was made into a movie, but I doubt I would enjoy it as much as Mr. Asimov's written version. "The Bicentennial Man" won the Nebula Award in 1976 and the Hugo Award in 1977. I'm surprised that the last printing of this book was in 2000, in conjunction with the movie. If you want a copy of your own, you pretty much have to buy it used somewhere.

I read this for the November Novella Challenge, but it turns out that it is technically a "novelette". According to Wikipedia, some definitions of novella start at 10,000 words, and "The Bicentennial Man" weighs in at around 15,000. So, although the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America doesn't consider this a novella, I'm going to include it in the challenge anyway.

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