Book Review of “God, Robot”

god, robotI promised Anthony Marchetta that I’d write a review on Amazon when I finished reading his book God, Robot. It went online yesterday. You can find it here.

However, for your convenience, I’ve reproduced my review below. Enjoy.

I feel a little like I’m proverbially biting the hand that has fed me. I heard about “God, Robot” several weeks ago from a friend of mine and was intrigued by the concept. After a bit of “Googling,” I found Anthony Marchetta’s blog. Before reading and reviewing his book, I wanted to take a crack at writing my own story based rather loosely on his concept of robots being programmed with the “two greatest commandments” rather than Asimov’s three laws.

With Mr. Marchetta’s permission, I have used his base concept to write and publish two short stories on my own blog and I’m currently working on a third. Now that I’ve finished his book, I’m here to write my review.

The basic structure of “God, Robot” mirrors the “I, Robot” anthology; a series of independent short stories all sharing a core theme linked by an overarching story. In “I Robot’s” case, it is a reporter interviewing U.S. Robotics’ Dr. Susan Calvin on the occasion of her retirement that provides the linkage between one story and the next. As for “God, Robot,” a detective (with gills no less) has discovered the hiding place of interstellar fugitive William Locke, but before arresting Locke, Detective Theseus Hollywell allows him to tell a story, actually a number of stories, chronicling the development of “theobots,” robots who have been programmed with the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:36-40) rather than the classic Asimovian Three Laws of Robotics.

The tales range from the very near future on Earth to the year 6080 in deep space. The earlier stories are thinly disguised Asimov tales, even down to direct character analogs of Susan Calvin, Michael Donovan, and Gregory Powell. I found that part a bit forced and would have preferred entirely new characters.

The later stories were more independent of Asimov’s legacy and as I continued reading, I found myself wanting to know more about the mystery surrounding William Locke, and how these disparate tales covering thousands of years and hundreds of light years all tied together with Honeywell’s pursuit of a wanted terrorist.

I found the answer pretty satisfying. However, I’ve been reading and re-reading Asimov robot stories for nearly half a century, and if the basic premise of “theobots” were mine to create, I don’t think I would have dispensed with the Three Laws so quickly, if at all. Also, since the narrative of the Bible and subsequent theologies built around it do not presuppose artificial intelligence and synthetic life forms, it was a stretch for me to believe that AI robots would derive that not only God loved them but they would be able to have a relationship with God. Machine intelligence does not necessitate a soul.

But then again, in re-reading Asimov’s “I, Robot,” which I did just a few weeks ago, I recall that Asimov gave his early robots more human characteristics (including emotions, allowing them to, for example, cringe in terror of human anger) than would seem reasonable. Gene Roddenberry’s made-for-TV pilot “The Questor Tapes” (1973) and Questor’s “descendant” Data from Star Trek the Next Generation are more realistic examples of intelligent, self-aware machines who struggle to understand humanity and even a supernatural creator for humans, yet never quite “get it.”

I commend Anthony Marchetta and the contributing authors for exploring the compelling intersection of artificial intelligence and theology. I’ve found these stories inspirational. But if there is ever another series of stories based on this theme, I’d like to see a few more Datas and a few less Remis wrestling with their angels, so to speak, attempting to comprehend a machine’s role in a universe created by God.

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