cover image The Positronic Man

The Positronic Man

Isaac Asimov. Doubleday Books, $22.5 (259pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26342-9

The third and final collaborative novel from Silverberg and the late Asimov ( Nightfall ; The Ugly Little Boy ) follows Asimov's classic story, ``The Bicentennial Man,'' step by step (whole sentences and paragraphs remain), adding extra scenes for length. The novel chronicles the quest of the robot Andrew Martin (dubbed NDR-113 at the factory) to achieve the rights, privileges, appearance and ultimately even the weaknesses of being fully human. When brought to the home of wealthy politician Gerald Martin, Andrew is little more than a standard household robot, but he quickly develops a remarkable, even artistic, skill in woodworking. He proceeds to stretch his increasingly human-like mind, seeking and winning his freedom and legal rights, grieving as human friends die and he lives on, replacing his robotic parts with organic prostheses of his own design. But he cannot replace his positronic brain, so he must finally appeal to the World Court to be declared human in all respects. Focused on the question of what it means to be human, Asimov's short story is a masterpiece in which the thinness of the background doesn't matter. The absence of a convincing future world or well-developed characters is glaring here. Readers interested in contemplating the human potential of robots would do better to reread the original. ( Nov .)