A Review of I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert

I did not like this book.
Not because it is a bad book, but because it tries to be something it is clearly not.
An Asimov book.

I am no stranger to spinoff books, which were written after the author has passed on. Caliban is one of my favourite books about robots.

However, this book just does not fit in the universe that Mickey Zucker Reichert tries to shoehorn itself into.

This book is like a rather long episode of House, with the occasional robot thrown in. Other than a few passing mentions about the Laws of Robotics and the introduction of a few of Asimov‘s characters, it there’s no resemblance whatsoever to Asimov‘s series.

Isaac Asimov wrote a list of recommended reading to his Foundation and Robots series. Even though chronologically, this book would take place towards the beginning of that series, it is quite clear that the author only has a superficial understanding of who Susan Calvin is and the world Asimov created, and at least did not seem to read very much into the series.

Chronologically, Asimov’s The Caves Of Steel is supposed to follow this Reichert trilogy (of which I will be reading no more of).
It is in The Caves Of Steel that Asimov introduces even the concept of a Humaniform robot; a robot that passes for a human. That humaniform robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, while in the perfect appearance of a man, does not have the customs or mannerisms of a human being, which gives it away as a robot.

Chronologically before The Caves of Steel, all of Isaac Asimov‘s robots short stories come. This is where his character Susan Calvin, the star of Reichert’s novel, is introduced.

However, in Asimov’s stories, at no point does she ever encounter a robot who bears even a slight passing to a human being. They are all described as man-shaped, but completely metal.

In this book, there is a Humaniform Robot, Nate, who is indistinguishable from all human beings. Not only does he look like a human being, but he also has a ridiculous number of mannerisms that match a human being as well, and even flirts with Dr. Calvin.
All this, we are apparently to believe, happens several hundred years BEFORE The Caves Of Steel, where the first Humaniform robot is introduced.

There are also technologies that Asimov never uses. Nanorobots, for example, do medical procedures. In Asimov’s universe, the concept exists, but large robots are shrunk down to a very small size and injected into people.

I wouldn’t even call this book science-fiction. It is more like speculative medicine instead. It is chock-full of medical jargon, which only those well-versed in medical fields would even be able to handle. She doesn’t do a good job of explaining the jargon as she plows through it, merely leaving it to dizzy the readers in a sleight-of-hand to lead them to believe that she knows what she’s talking about.

Even the actual basis of the deus ex machina that ends the book (spoiler ahead), doesn’t even follow the rules that the author sets out.

The book’s climax is the catastrophic explosion of a four-year-old psychopath who has Nanorobots implanted into her head, which was coded to convince her to detonate a bomb that is strapped to her chest.

However, that doesn’t make consistent sense, given the author’s own description of how the three laws of robotics work.

Previously in the story, two other similarly controlled people also detonate themselves, but the three laws of robotics prevent them from harming others around them. However, the four-year-old manages to blow up the boyfriend of Susan Calvin, somehow ignoring the three laws.

These are not, by far, all of the inconsistencies and anachronisms in the book, but they are the most egregious.

The romantic scenes are… cheap? They feel like badly done harlequin novels. Nearly all the men Susan encounters are “tall, slim, muscular, and have tousled hair”. It gets old really fast, and feels like a poorly done male author’s attempt to write from a woman’s perspective and failing badly.

While Reichert does a decent job laying out some of the broader themes of this society for humanity and anti-robot sentiment, she tries to shove too many things into this book that don’t necessarily belong.

The story also has weird transphobic commentary, and even a random Islamophobic rant thrown into the middle of a section that had nothing to do with the story. The author was trying to make sense of The Society For Humanity’s extremism, but instead of using home-grown examples like the KKK or neo-Nazi movement, instead chose to vilify a religion.

To that point, the book also shoehorns in non-white characters but does so in such a way that they are 2-dimensional and othered.
And there are really only two of them.

One is “Diesel”, a Black boy who is perpetually described as a bowling ball and is the only person in the book to have an object-borne nickname. He is Dr. Calvin’s first medical success and slides her into the archetype of white saviourhood.

The other is the homicidal four-year-old psychopath who just happens to be biracial.

I didn’t like this book.
I’ll likely never read anything else from this author. It’s not worth it.

Peace & Being Unsure

Benjamin Jancewicz, fresh from his haircut at Emerald City Chop Shop

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

“Healing requires from us to stop struggling, but to enjoy life more and endure it less.”

—Darina Stoyanova

• When do you feel calm, peaceful, and in touch with your inner self?

I feel the greatest peace when I am out in the forest, or by the water’s edge. Something about being out in cool air and surrounded by greenery helps me to decompress, and I begin listening to myself more. I find that when things get busy, I’ll ignore the child that is inside me.

That child never stops talking, I just tend to drown it out.

• Is there anything that you want to do but feel unsure about? What is it and why are you so unsure about it?

I think that sometimes I rely too much on my ability to fly by the seat of my pants, which makes me not plan enough. I’m not sure I’m saying I want to feel more unsure, but I think that not feeling unsure contributes to not planning things well enough.

Joy & Accomplishment

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

“Healing old hurts can only begin when the children we once were feel safe enough to speak their hearts to the adults we are now.”

—L.R. Knost

• When was the last time you felt nothing but joy? What was going on around you? How can you bring that feeling back?

Right now, my kids are fighting like cats and dogs, so it’s really hard to remember what moments of pure joy feel like. 🙃

I do not think it’s the most recent, but what immediately comes to mind is swimming with my friend Ayinde on Manhattan Beach. It was just around sunset, and Ayinde had been practicing swimming having just learned. I had brought a waterproof camera with me, and was snapping shots as the sun set. The waves were large and warm, but were not violent. They moved us in a gentle rocking motion up and down once we got past the breakers, and we laid on our backs and just floated until it got dark. It was wonderful.

I’d love to go back.

• What have you not accomplished yet this year that you feel is important that you do before 2021 ends? Why is it so important to you?

I’d really like to get the two books that I’m working on published.

For one of them, I have a 2-month deadline with a photography partner, and so I feel like that one is going to be easily accomplished and done.

The other I have been working on for years. It’s actually 99% done, I just have to take the time to polish it and get it estimated for publication. I just feel like I am constantly stretched too thin by client projects, and never have enough time for my own work. But my own work doesn’t bring in the funds I need to survive.

Goals & Gratitude

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

“Forgive the past.
It is over.
Learn from it and let go.
People are constantly changing and growing.
Do not cling to a limited, disconnected, negative image of a person in the past.
See that person now.
Your relationship is always alive and changing.”
― Brian Weiss

• What do you do every day to get closer to your goals? If you’re not satisfied with your answer, ask yourself, what SHOULD you do daily to get closer to your goals?

I claim I want to be healthier and more at peace. But I’m not working out enough, nor am I taking enough time to meditate. I’m not even coming to this class often enough. I’ve been prioritizing work over everything, and I’m not even getting paid properly right now.

I need to make sure I am active. I promised someone I would, but haven’t been. Even when Karate is cancelled, like today, I need to make sure I do something. I need to get up early and meditate and pray. I need to get to the beach and down to the water more. I need to prioritize myself and not work.

• What are you most thankful for? How do you show your gratitude?

Right now, I’m grateful for the help and support of those around me. I’m grateful for the little messages, the comments, the notes. Every day I make a gratitude list before I go to bed. It helps me to reset and remember everything that happened throughout the day. Sometimes because of my trauma, I don’t remember things the way the actually happened. The gratitude list helps me to reset some of that.

Habits, Priorities, Looking Forward, and Forgiveness.

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What habit would you most like to break? What habit do you wish to

I think I’d like to break the habit of absorbing what other people say about me when they do not have love for me. I soak hatred up so readily, even when I’ve been given a ton of love and the hatred is only a tiny portion of what I receive. As soon as the hatred comes, it will affect me, irritate me, and ruin other good things in my life. This bothers me.

I’d love to recreate a healthy workout habit. It’s tough because I feel like I’m always trying to play catchup, fitting exercise and walks and meditation into the cracks of my schedule. I know that’s no way to live, but I always feel like I’m in survival mode and don’t know how to break that cycle for myself.

• What are your top priorities? What keeps you motivated to accomplish
your goals?

Right now, my priorities are my kids, and saving up for whatever the next step is. It really feels like I’m in a bit of holding pattern in a lot of ways. Amazing opportunities have come through and I’m taking advantage of them, but they’re all local and tied to this space. So I’m listening and working on being content here.

I’m also working on my stress level. As the weather warms, that means I need to be getting out and hitting the beach and the forest more. It means eating properly and on time. It means paying attention to my mental health even when I’m busy.

• What are you looking forward to in the next 30 days? 90 days?

I had to look up when those would be. I don’t usually have the bandwidth to plan more than a week in advance.

I’m really looking forward to being a lot more active outside. I want to be at the beach a ton. I want to travel. I’m hoping restrictions get lifted soon so I can visit my parents.

• Is it easier to forgive yourself or someone who has wronged you? Why?

It is much easier to forgive other people, because I do not give myself enough worth. I know myself intimately, and I’m very hard on myself. I find it easy to forgive other people because I don’t know their entire situations, but I know mine.

Activities & Hateful Comments

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Name an activity you hate but pretend you like to stay in the good graces of friends or family. Why does it matter to you?

Sometimes the exchange of my kids with my ex is harder than I let on. Lately it’s been much easier, but especially when the divorce was fresh, it was really really hard. Old, angry feelings would arise and dominate every thought, making it tough to relax or even get through it at all. But I had to grit my teeth, force myself to relax, and smile.

It matters, because it’s important to my kids. They need the stability. They need to know that their mother and I are on the same page. They need to know that no matter what, they’ll be loved. They know that, and that makes it all worth it.

• How do you respond to insensitive or hateful comments in a group setting? Tell us about the time you failed to speak up or a time you did.

I get a ton of hateful comments in a lot of public settings online. It’s slowed down a bit this days, but it really used to bother me a whole lot. What people think of me is something I think about often, often in really unhealthy ways.

I remember reading that Martin Luther King Jr. used to save all the hate mail and death threats that he got in a box, and so I started doing the same. I created a separate Twitter account that was dedicated to just that, and I would post screenshots of the hate mail I got there.

After a while, it got really depressing, but a close friend reminded me that I also get a lot of other messages that are much more positive and kind, and that I should save those too. I created a Twitter account for that as well. And somehow, the good messages always outweigh the bad.

Geeks, Luck, Skills, Aspirations, and Being Somewhere Else.

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Are you a geek? What it something your are completely passionate about?

I’m a complete geek about design. And honestly it’s hard to turn off sometimes. For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been completely immersed in design, and it means that everywhere I look, I see things that are designed. Virtually everything that people have created has been designed in some way. But that also means I also see a lot of things that are designed badly, which can be a kind of torture. In design classes, you learn about something called kerning, which is the study of space between letters. And now, I see bad kerning everywhere I look. Before I learned about it, I had just walked around in complete ignorance, and it didn’t bother me at all.

• Is love luck, or is it designed? Explain why you think so.

I think love is luck to start with. The person you happen to meet, a friend of a friend, someone you’re randomly paired with on an app, but I think it rapidly becomes more and more designed as you go on. I think that some people have a natural inherent connection, but I also think that it’s something you have to work at as well. Love that lasts a long time takes work and effort. You take the skills you’ve learned, and apply them to a person. I think there’s beauty in that.

• What is one skill you already have that you’d like to improve this year?

I really want to be a more dedicated artist. I feel like I’m a good artist that has flashes of inspiration and episodes of art. I want to be more consistent about it.

• When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? How do you feel about what you wanted to do now?

When I was young, I wanted to own a junkyard! My father and I used to go to junkyards when I was kid, both to pull parts of the old cars so he could fix our aging Jeep Wagoneer, but also to explore.

The junkyards would have lots of really old cars, with gigantic chrome bumpers and huge tail fins, and to me they looked like spaceships. Owning a junkyard seemed like the perfect place, because people would drop things off for free, and I would get to sell them!

I don’t think I’d be terribly happy doing it now, junkyards are dirty, polluted places. I really love having trees and woods and fresh air. Junkyards are still fascinating places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live in one.

• Is there somewhere else you’d rather be right now? What are the good parts of where you are right now?

I’d really like to be on a beach right now. Somewhere with warm soft breezes, with water I can swim in, trees to string a hammock up in, and doze.

There is some really beautiful parts about where I am now, though. Spring is coming to Baltimore, and everything is budding and blooming. The weather is warm but not yet hot, and the nights are still nice and cool. I can have the windows open, which I love, and the scents of all the flowers blooming in my backyard are filling my house. There is always somewhere else I could be instead, but being here is pretty nice right now.

• What is something that makes you smile without fail? What always brightens your mood, no matter how you’re feeling?

Sunsets always brighten my mood. No matter how I’m feeling, how tough my day has been, or whatever I’m going through, taking a moment to watch the sunset is always something to makes me feel so good.

I have an app on my phone that reminds me when Golden Hour is approaching, which is when the sun dips low right before sunset and turns everything to gold. It’s been wonderful watching that time get further and further back into the evening as spring comes sweeping in.

Life Lessons, and Celebration

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What important life lesson did you learn the hard way?

I think I didn’t really know how much having kids changes the way a relationship works. I absolutely adore my kids, and I’m glad there here, and I would never trade anything for them.

I did not anticipate how unready me and my partner at the time were for the stresses of parenting, though. I wish I had known the value of therapy, counselling, and support networks much earlier.

I am glad I know those things now, and my kids are definitely healthier for it.

• Do you celebrate yourself enough? List 5 things you are excited to have
accomplished in the last year.

I surely do not. 😂

Let’s see. In the past year, I managed to get my housing situation under control. I completed a bunch of new art commissions. I’m bringing in lots of new work for my business. I’m being much more intentional about my exercise and health. I’m choosing moments of peace when I need it.

Deepening values, The Gardener and the Flower, and 6 Months of Getting Better

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What has surviving a pandemic taught me to appreciate or value deeper?

Hugs. I love them, and I really feel like I took them for granted so much. Not being able to access human touch has been hard.

I’ve definitely value my health more, and have been taking the time to work on it and make sure I am more fit.

The time I do get to hang out with people, I’ve been appreciating a lot more. I am much less inclined to be on my phone at all.

I’ve been appreciating the outdoors so much. I feel like I’m so much more in-tune with the weather, and get out in it when it’s pleasant. I took that for granted so much more.

• Are you a good receiver? How does it make you feel when people do things for you or buy you gifts? If it’s hard for you to receive, why is that?

I’m a terrible receiver, but I crave it.

Whenever someone does anything for me, or gives me a really thoughtful gift, or even is considerate of me, I melt completely. I tear up, and just don’t know what to do.

I think this is because normally I partner or am around people who tend to take more than they give. It feels more familiar to me, because I am someone who will give until there’s nothing left. I find joy in being useful and appreciated, and giving like that often brings that feeling. It makes me happy. But many times, if paired with someone who is constantly taking, I end up being used.

Because I am so frequently paired in friendships and partnerships like that, I crave being taken care of and catered to, because it nearly never happens. But I’m also scared of it, because being taken care of requires a certain level of letting go and trusting someone. And being with people who constantly take has made me wary.

During the class, someone asked “In your relationships, are you more often the gardener, or the flower?”.

I am almost always the gardener. But I’m learning to be the flower.

Melony gave the following advice during class on how to learn to be a flower:

  1. Set your standards and boundaries
  2. Treat yourself the way you expect others to treat you
  3. Teach them how to treat you
  4. Spend time only with people who make you feel good and/or special

• What has gotten better in your life in the last six months? How
have the improvements added to your life?

I got vaccinated! I have new contracts for work. I am close to signing the contract on my house. I’ve grown friendships with people who care about me and make sure I’m ok.

All this has put me more at ease, and taken some of the stress off of the anxiety of the pandemic.

Saying No, 20-Year-Old Me, Procrastination, and Purpose

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What things in life do you need to start saying no to? What do you need to start saying yes to?

I need to say no to immediate gratification things that don’t have long-term benefits, and say yes to things that last longer. Watching some funny videos might make me feel a little better, but taking a nap would make me feel better for the longer term. Having a snack might make me feel a little better, but cooking a full meal would make me feel even better.

• If the 20-year-old version of yourself could see what you are up to today,
what would they think of you? What type things would they say about your life?

When I was 20, I was beginning my last year of college. I was falling in love with the person I am now divorced from, I was bright eyed about travelling, and art, and living on my own.

I think they would be completely shocked about where I am now. I think it might be such a shock that it would send 20-year-old me spinning into depression. I definitely was not as strong as I am right now.

I think they would be proud of me being able to make it through, but they definitely would not expect this my heartache to be part of my life. They would be proud of me for continuing to make art. They would be proud of what I’ve made with art. They would be surprised at how little music I make these days.

I think they would be worried about me.

There is some of that bright-eyedness that I’m choosing to hold on to and grow. I was recently interviewed as an artist, and the interviewer was marvelling at all the things I was doing, and asked what I didn’t do. Off the top of my head, I said “I don’t know how to surf, but I’m learning this summer!” The interviewer’s eyes lit up, and they said “You’re living everyone’s dream!”

I had to stop and think about that a bit. There is a lot I have to be proud of. I need to let myself feel that more.

• How does procrastination show up in your life? What type of things are you putting off until “later” or the “right” time?

Procrastination manifests for me as overly planning. I won’t buy things, do things, or create things unless I have done a ton of planning. Most of the time, planning is a good thing, it helps me from making foolish decisions, but sometimes it really holds me back from being able to get things done on time.

Sometimes it’s just an email or a message back. But I’ll take all this time fretting about it.

• What tasks do you find make you feel most in your purpose or
element? What about them feels so right to you?

Definitely creating. Especially logos. I feel like all pistons are firing, like I am using my whole creative self to put those things together. Being able to use my whole self, especially at the beginning, is such a great feeling.