In 1977 The Alan Parsons Project released I Robot, an album based on Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series. (Readers of Open Culture will remember that they wrote about this album last week. This is what inspired this post.)

By the time the album came out I had read all or most of the robot series. It’s pretty huge, and I can’t remember if I managed to track all of it down via the library and used paperbacks.

Asimov is one of science fiction’s most respected authors, and the Robot Series is a reason why. He explored the idea of robots as beneficial servants of mankind, rather than the stock monsters they were often portrayed in stories and movies at the time. The book I, Robot, a compilation of previously published short stories, was published in 1950.

Central to Asimov’s stories are the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These laws were heady stuff for a young kid discovering science fiction through Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein. Unlike fantasy, with it’s flexible and often very convenient magic, science fiction had laws. Constraints. At the same time these laws often took the stories into unexpected places.

So in 77 a catchy hit, “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You.” hit FM radio. It sounds like an unhappy friend or lover, so imagine my surprise when I discover it’s from an album titled after Asimov’s book.

The Alan Parsons Project is better known for 1982’s Eye In the Sky. I think this album, as well as Tales of Mystery and Imagination (based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe) and The Turn of a Friendly Card are much better.

Progressive rock doesn’t get a lot of respect these days, not that it got much in the 70s and the 80s. My favorite criticism is the one centered on song length. I always think of the Emperor in Amadeus:  “My dear fellow, there are in fact only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of an evening.”

As commercial radio dies its well-earned slow and painful death, the gatekeepers are dying with them. This has allowed bands like Porcupine Tree, Marillion, and the Pineapple Thief, to build audiences.

Here’s a song from Porcupine Tree, from an album inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park. The song is a direct reference to the book’s last chapter.