Infinite Matrix, February 15, 2005

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"I, Robot" by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a sharp writer and an intellectual property policy wonk, and he applies both skills to "I, Robot," a reimagining of the world portrayed in Asimov's book of the same name.

Detective Arturo Icaza de Arana-Goldberg is so busy keeping future streets safe from "men who masturbate into their hats under their tables and then put them back onto their shining pates" that he just doesn't have time to spy on his school-skipping twelve-year-old daughter, Ada.  He tasks a robot to trail her instead, but when the robot is mysteriously disabled, Arturo finds himself drawn into an action-packed battle between, essentially, villanous supporters of digital rights management and heroic designers of open source software.  (This is more dramatically effective than it sounds.)

The tone of "I, Robot" sometimes slips from gritty to self-parodying, but its take on Asimov's future is appealingly uncompromising.  Where Asimov took for granted his robots and the societal structures that built them, Doctorow considers exactly what kind of world would give rise to Susan Calvin's corporate empire.  The result serves as both a warning against some scary political trends in today's world and as a solid, entertaining piece of fiction.