Mickey Zucker Reichert,
I, Robot: To Protect
(Roc, 2011)

As if the 500 or so books Isaac Asimov wrote weren't enough, his estate has been hiring other writers to carry on his series. Fantasy writer Mickey Zucker Reichert signed on to do three prequels to the Robot series. I, Robot: To Protect is the first of the three.

In it, Reichert goes back to the beginning. Asimov's human heroine, Dr. Susan Calvin, was a robopsychologist, well established in her profession when Asimov wrote about her. Reichert introduces Calvin in her first year of residency -- in fact, in her first day at Manhattan Hasbro teaching hospital in the year 2035, when robot technology has taken a great leap forward, giving us incredibly lifelike and self-aware robots. Not everyone is pleased with this development, however. An organized group of protesters, the Society for Humanity, objects to all use of robotics and demonstrates daily outside of Manhattan Hasbro.

Calvin is one hell of a resident. Assigned to pediatric in-patient psychiatry, she correctly diagnoses two of her four patients who had suffered from a series of incorrect diagnoses going back for years. She does this on her first day, which leads to her being chosen to assist in an experimental program in which nanorobotics are being implanted in certain patients as the next step in healing. She also meets Nate, an extremely humanoid robot.

The problem is that the experimental treatment isn't going well. The chosen patients have a nasty habit of loading themselves with explosives and blowing up buses and buildings. The question Susan Watkins and the rest of the team have to answer is this: is there a fatal flaw in the program or is it being sabotaged?

Reichert, a doctor herself, is at her best capturing the inner life of the hospital. Her portrait of the life of a medical resident rings absolutely true and will keep you turning the pages simply because she is so good at painting that picture. She is also skilled at developing a plot subtly.

What she isn't so good at, though, is finding fresh language and writing concisely. Her prose, serviceable if not stirring, contains way too many cliches, especially in her use of adjectives. A metropolis always bustles, facilities are massive, and Susan is on the cutting edge of technology. Too often, you read her descriptions thinking she is using the first adjective that comes to mind instead of searching for just the right word. She also repeats herself too often; Asimov's three laws of robotics are repeated many, many times in the book and conversations tend to give the same exposition, as if she isn't certain we'll be able to remember it from the last time.

Reichert's sense of plausibility and her plot, however, balance off those quibbles.

I Robot: To Protect is a promising start, offering new life to an old series.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

11 February 2012

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