Powerful and haunting, The Positronic Man is an unforgettable novel that redefines what it means to be human—and reaffirms Isaac Asimov’s and Robert Silverberg’s place among the greatest of science fiction authors of all time.
In the twenty-first century the creation of the positronic brain leads to the development of robot laborers and revolutionizes life on Earth. But to the Martin family, their household robot NDR-113 is more than a mechanical servant. “Andrew” has become a trusted friend, a confidant, a member of the family. For through some unknown manufacturing glitch, Andrew has been blessed with a capacity for love and a drive toward self-awareness and development that are almost…human.
But almost is not enough. Andrew’s dream is to become fully human. Facing human prejudice, the laws of robotics, and his own mechanical limitations, Andrew will use science and law in his quest for the impossible, arriving at last at a terrifying choice: to make his dream a reality, he must pay the ultimate price.
I will freely confess: I didn’t want to read this book. I read Nightfall and The Ugly Little Boy patriotically, because it was my duty as a stalwart Asimov fan. I did not particularly enjoy either experience. Silverberg had done OK, but not really as well as Silverberg can do or Asimov deserves.
Here, however, the opposite is true. This novel is a sterling piece of work. It is as good as Silverberg can do, and it is worthy of the original. Indeed—dare I even breathe it?—in some respects it’s even an improvement. It’s a loving, caring, slow and thoughtful retelling of the original story at several times the original length and it works—it works well, very well indeed.
What I think makes the difference is that here we have little more than an expansion of the original novella. There are no subplots added, no major rearrangement of the story, hardly any new characters. This contrasts sharply with Nightfall which includes substantial plot additions fore and aft, and The Ugly Little Boy which not only adds an entire (extraneous) parallel plot about Timmie’s tribe but adds a sub-plot about political opponents of Stasis, Inc. Here? Nothing. Asimov’s original plot is intact—expanded, yes, but otherwise intact.
The result is simply that Silverberg tells the same story that Asimov told in a leisurely fashion, showing us some of the scenes we don’t get to see in the original book and expanding the scenes we do see.
I have few quibbles, in fact, with this volume. One is that the focus shifts from Andrew’s desire to be a human being to Andrew’s desire not to be under human domination, and the other is that the ending is slightly, ever so slightly, weakened. Otherwise, I think Silverberg’s done a magnificent job.
This is a fitting final third to Silverberg’s novelizations of Asimov’s stories. Even if one finds the earlier two disappointing, this volume stands as a worthy tribute to these two writers and the friendship that linked them.