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Classic Fantasy and Science Fiction

First Law

written by Isaac Asimov

published in 1956
by 999

short story in the
Asimov's Robots series

short story in the
Powell and Donovan series

Set in the Foundation universe

Cover Notes

The story is very short, only 3 pages in length, and takes the form of Mike Donovan's account of an incident that occurred on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. He tells of a malfunctioning robot named Emma that escaped from the base and was later encountered by Donovan while he was lost during a storm. While Donovan's life was in danger, Emma chose to protect its offspring, a small robot that it had built, instead of assisting him. This was a direct violation of the First Law of Robotics, which states that "a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm". Apparently, maternal instincts in the robot took precedence over its programming, an example of the commonly encountered literary theme of paternalism in Asimov's work.

While such direct disobedience of the First Law is not described in any other robot story by Asimov, he points out that the story is told by Donovan, who may be an unreliable narrator. Asimov admits that "I was being funny at the expense of my robots". In The Complete Robot, he also points out that this story is intended as a parody and is not to be taken seriously.

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