Study Guide

I, Robot Writing Style

By Isaac Asimov

Writing Style

Clear, Talky, Fun

Asimov once said, "Everything I write is intended to enlighten, even my science fiction." We're with you on that, Mr. Asimov.

In fact, from 1958 to 1991, Asimov wrote almost 400 essays on science for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and won a special Hugo Award for "adding science to science fiction." So we know that Asimov really cared about being clear about science and science fiction. (He does sneak a few science facts into these robot stories.)

So many of the robot stories are mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, where one character has the answer and has to explain it to another, and to the readers as well. So what we get is a lot of dialogue where one character lays out the situation to another. There's not a lot of description—maybe the most description in this whole book is the part where Robbie and Gloria play in "Robbie." Most of the stories seem to focus on dialogue between the characters. And that's how Asimov lays out the problem and the solution.

There are a few names for this technique in science fiction, but we like the phrase "As you know, Bob." In the classic, clumsy "As you know, Bob" technique, one character will tell another something that everyone should already know. If you were writing a story about your life for aliens, you might resort to something like, "As you know, Bob, we drive cars on streets." Which is ridiculous—when was the last time you told your friend Bob about cars driving on streets? But Asimov knows that's ridiculous, so he sneaks in a few jokes. For instance, here's Powell and Donovan discussing Dave in "Catch that Rabbit":

"And not just under it—they're part of it."
"I know that—"
"Shut up!" said Powell, savagely, "I know you know it, but I'm just describing the hell of it."
(Catch that Rabbit.9-11)

Of course, Powell isn't describing it out loud just for fun or to remind himself about it; he's saying it out loud so that the readers know about it. So even when Asimov is trying to be clear to the audience, he also makes a few jokes about how he's doing it.