I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years since I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot for the first time. After finishing that book and doing some reading, I came to understand that renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay that took the pieces of Asimov’s anthology and put them together with more of a through story, but it never got made. Reading a few more lines or paragraphs lead me to the realization that the script was made into a book with concept artwork by Mark Zug. After that I added I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay to my Amazon wish list and was lucky enough to get it for Christmas or my birthday, but it wound up taking quite a while for me to get around to it. I’m glad I added it to my third Ambitious Reading List because it got me to focus on this book that wound up being both a great story in and of itself, and a good introduction to Ellison (an author whose work I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with) and showed me how intricate and precise a screenplay can be.
Right away, I’ve got to say that this is not the easiest book to read. It’s in screenplay format which might be confusing if you’ve never read anything along those lines, but it’s also an incredibly dense screenplay packed with all kinds of jargon, some of which even I didn’t understand and I took a screenwriting class in college (though am in no way an expert). Also, since this is a futuristic story packed with all kinds of technology, you’re dealing with a lot of descriptions for ideas that might be hard to grasp at first. I found myself re-reading some of the descriptions several times to get a good idea of what was going on. In those cases it helps to have Zug’s full color art in the center of the book and some of his sketches throughout the regular text.
Ellison’s tale revolves around Bratenahl, a reporter who finds himself driven by the idea of interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist whose work helped usher in the robot revolution that advanced humanity throughout the cosmos. At first he’s just covering a funeral and encounters the mysterious woman who most people would describe as cold and ultra-scientific, but he sees something else there. Encouraged by his editor to keep digging, Bratenahl winds up becoming obsessed with his quarry and her hidden story. That drive leads him to various locations all over the galaxy — teleportation is common place — which brings him in contact with people who tell him tales of Calvin, those stories are all found in Asimov’s book. The screenplay incorporates “Robbie,” “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Evidence” as well as elements from the other tales.
I’m glad that I took a few years between reading the source material and digging into this adaptation because it was still able to surprise me. As I got into the first flashback sequence, some of the synapses in my memory started firing and I could remember little bits and pieces of what was possibly coming, but not everything altogether. I also kept remembering elements from the other stories and wondering if they would pop up, which added another layer of mystery and wonder to the proceedings.
Screenwriting is a form of writing that I’ve always been interested in and a format that I thought I knew pretty well before seeing how freaking amazing Ellison is at it. I’ve read things like Kevin Smith’s scripts as well as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Christopher McQuarrie’s original The Usual Suspects screenplays and while those use the format to convey the story, the way that Ellison so completely understands the form and how to move the camera is just mind-blowing. So if you’re interested in seeing how well executed a screenplay can be while also getting in on a piece of sci-fi goodness that really needs to get made — I picture it as an animated movie, someone start a Kickstarter! — give I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay a look.
As far as the ARL3 goes, I’ve got to admit, I was struggling there for a while. Even with branching out to read Al Capp and The Totally Sweet 90s, it’s taken me a pathetic seven months to get through three books and realize that Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap just isn’t for me (at least right now). I’ve even started working on my next pile which has a few more books that I’m really interested in reading, but finishing the I, Robot screenplay has inspired me to stick with this one and see how things go. I’ve already moved on to Hunger Games which I’m about 60 pages deep into. It’s a pretty quick and easy read so hopefully I can keep that momentum going.