Outer Space as a Setting is not a new thing and certainly wasn’t a new thing when Asimov wrote I, Robot. Humans have been looking at the stars and wondering about them since we could wonder and likely writing about them since we could write. Of course, Science Fiction hasn’t actually exists since then, not in the sense that we know it now, but we’ve always shared stories about the sky at night. Asimov used that obsession, that peace, and Space as a Setting throughout his novel. Not every moment happened out of Earth’s gravity, but several bits of the story happened someplace other than dear old home planet. Having the ability, the technology, to move human beings into outer space to live and work for extended periods of time is certainly a Science Fiction trope. Asteroid mining is definitely something we can’t do yet, I don’t think, and would require a huge amount of research and resources to accomplish. Sending Donavan to Powell to Mercury with Speedy to “evaluate the possibility of reopening the Sunside Mercury Mining operation” (Science Fiction) is well beyond human capabilities. But that’s the idea with Science Fiction. To take a technology that could maybe be and explore it, make it a reality, and tell an entertaining story. Space as Setting and Space Travel tropes were both used well and comfortably by Asimov, allowing us to see a possibility for human survival beyond Earth.
It’s hard to say that Asimov deviated from any of the normal Science Fiction tropes since I, Robot came to the game pretty early as far as robots go, but there is an worm that twists and tweaks in his book. The idea of the Ghost in the Machine or the Machine with a Soul shows up at serval different moments. In each instance that a robot acts imperfectly, or even perfectly, we are left to wonder if there is a soul behind the goings on until it’s explained as a deviation of such and such law and how.
In Robbie’s chapter, the very first one, we see his interactions with a little human girl named Gloria. Robbie is meant as nursemaid, a robot sitter, and Gloria has become very attached to him. The two play and Asimov portrays Robbie’s actions in a childlike, human capacity. His movements and reactions to conversation have an innocent quality. Gloria measures him as human and on a roughly equal level to herself. Later, Robbie is removed from the household due to some external influences on the mother, Grace. We’re left reading about Gloria and her longing search for her bestest best friend, Robbie. At the end of the chapter, Robbie saves her life in the robot factory. The whole thing is a set up gone terribly wrong and can be chalked up to Robbie’s failsafe programming (a precursor of the Laws of Robotics) but it can also be read as an instance of the Ghost in the Machine trope. Not Robbie’s immediate action in saving Gloria, but his reaction afterwards, his implied joy at being reunited with his dearest companion. Asimov’s use of the Ghost in the Machine trope with Robbie is pretty straight forward. He’s exhibiting emotion which is not something a machine can be programmed to do on a meaningful level and being perceived by another character who is human as possessing that which makes us what we are, emotional range.
Though, in the case of Cutie, the robot who finds religion and starts a cult of other robots on a space station syphoning solar energy, we see something a little deeper than just a maybe soul. We see what seems to be a thinking, reasoning creature who is creating a superior being based solely on logic. Cutie is not only a perfect reflection of the human scientists throughout the book, he is also a great symbol for much of humanity and it’s evolution. His act of picking a part of the station, another machine, as his creator and then treating it as holy, as a god, can represent so much about human history. The act can be seen as purely religious, men finding gods and thus peace within themselves and yet another reason to war on their neighbor. The robot is taking his knowledge and his beliefs and sharing that information with others, convincing them that he’s correct, and explaining to them why they should logically follow the Creator. Cutie’s actions can be taken as a metaphor for the growth of literacy after introduction of the printing press which is often toted as a major factor in the Renaissance. “During the Renaissance the printing press helped spread information based in the liberal arts. People became more interested in Roman and Greek texts, which included science, geometry, philosophy, art, and poetry. The printing press allowed these subjects to reach more people.” (Avitts) When looked upon non-literally, his knowledge sharing is basically enlightenment to the other robots on the station.
By having Cutie seem to not only build a soul, but also an entire religion which he goes on to teach to other robots, Asimov changed the Ghost in the Machine trope. I think it was a wonderful way to examine human behavior, understanding, and make known to the reader that when it comes time, robots won’t be all that different from us. The understanding that I gained from closely reading and understanding the tropes of Space Travel /Outer Space as Setting and Ghost in the Shell helped me to feel comfortable with the direction of my novel. I think it will still fit and be timely within the Science Fiction genre when completed because robots in emotionally charged stories are making a come back, big time, especially on streaming services. I’m comfortable with the position the story will likely be in when it’s time to release it onto the Science Fiction community. I’m also feeling pretty comfortable and confident in my chances in the overall literary landscape
In my thesis for the program and for now my place in the literary landscape, I’ll likely use tropes in a fairly conventional way. I don’t see a whole lot of deviation going on. My novel will have space travel, high technology, robots, and star ships, all tropes that show up in I, Robot. I was also thinking about a sort of law enforcement or control through neurological restraints, a direct brain buzzing. It’s not exactly a trope but definitely something a more humane and technologically advanced humanish race might consider. My antagonist, the Allmen’s Drive, follows the Super Prototype Soul Sucking Machine design trope. He’s the first of his kind. He’s supposed to be the best at what he does and the plan for later models is, in fact, to make them cheaper and more accessible to the general population, and, well, he pulls out people’s souls. My book also has the Ghost in the Machine trope and a discussion on the workings and meanings of mind, consciousness, and soul. For my work, the Ghost in the Machine is in actuality a sub-atomic particle associated with the soul that has been implanted into a container bot. Bam, instant Souled Machine with a fully conscious humanish mind.
~Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. Del Ray, 1950. Print.
Avitts, Alex. “The Printing Press, Humanism, the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation.” Feb 13 2008. Art History Journal. Web. <https://arthistoryjournal.blogspot.com/2008/02/printing-press-humanism-renaissance-and_13.html>.