Susan Calvin

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Susan Calvin
Susan Calvin, as portrayed by Bridget Moynahan, in the 2004 film I, Robot.
First appearance"Liar!" (1941)
Last appearanceI, Robot: To Preserve (2016)
Created byIsaac Asimov
Portrayed by
In-universe information
GenderFemale
OccupationRobopsychologist
NationalityAmerican

Dr. Susan Calvin is a fictional character appearing in Isaac Asimov's Robot series of science fiction short stories. According to I, Robot, Susan Calvin was born in the year 1982 and died at the age of 82, either in 2064 or 2065.

She was the chief robopsychologist at US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., posited as the major manufacturer of robots in the 21st century. She was the main character in many of Asimov's short stories concerning robots, which were later collected in the books I, Robot and The Complete Robot.

Fictional character biography[edit]

According to Asimov's fictional history of robotics, Susan Calvin was born in 1982, the same year that US Robots and Mechanical Men was incorporated. At 16, she wrote the first of many papers on robotics, a Physics-1 paper entitled "Practical Aspects of Robotics". This was after attending a Psycho-Math seminar at which Dr Alfred Lanning of US Robots demonstrated the first mobile robot to be equipped with a voice. As quoted in I, Robot; "Susan said nothing at that seminar; took no part in the hectic discussion period that followed. She was a frosty girl, plain and colorless, who protected herself against a world she disliked by a mask-like expression and a hypertrophy of intellect. But as she watched and listened, she felt the stirrings of a cold enthusiasm".

Graduating with a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 2003, she began post-graduate work in cybernetics, learning to construct positronic brains such that responses to given stimuli could be accurately predicted. She joined US Robots in 2008 as their first Robopsychologist, having earned her PhD. By 2029, when she left Earth for the first time to visit Hyper Base, her formal title was Head Psychologist.

In Asimov's stories, her emotionless brilliance is portrayed positively, when she solves issues with robots manufactured by her company. Usually, she is tripped up when she is swayed by emotion (as in "Liar!" and "Lenny").

In the Mickey Zucker Reichert book I, Robot: To Protect, while working as a Psychiatrist in 2035, she was handed four cases; a traumatized girl that has not talked for 6 years, an obese boy that can't stop eating, a teenaged girl with "dementia, status post A-V fistula repair", and a 4-year-old girl accused of attempted murder.

Susan Calvin retired from US Robots in 2057 but continued to act as an occasional consultant for the company. She died in 2064, aged 82.

In "Evidence", when asked, "Are robots so different from men?", she replies, "Worlds different. Robots are essentially decent". Asimov's own stories leave her misanthropy largely unexplained, but Harlan Ellison's screenplay adaptation of I, Robot investigates its origins, and in the end concludes that her attitudes are rather well-founded.

An excerpt from Harlan Ellison's screenplay adaptation of I, Robot said of Calvin:

She is a small woman, but there is a towering strength in her face. Tensile strength, that speaks to endurance, to maintaining in the imperfect world. Her mouth is thin, and her face pale. Grace lives in her features, and intelligence; but she is not an attractive woman. She is not one of those women who in later years it can be said of them, "She must have been a beauty when she was younger". Susan Calvin was always plain. And clearly, always a powerful personality.

It was not until a mention of her in The Robots of Dawn, Asimov's third Elijah Baley Robot novel, that the events of her era (the 21st century) were concretely tied into those of Baley's era, three millennia further into the future, and thus into the greater Foundation universe as a whole.

Portrayals in other media[edit]

She was played by three separate actresses in British television, beginning in 1962 with Maxine Audley in an adaption of "Little Lost Robot" for the TV series Out of This World, then later played by Beatrix Lehmann in the 1967 "The Prophet", and followed by Wendy Gifford in 1969's "Liar!" both being episodes in the series Out of the Unknown.[1]

Ann Firbank portrayed the character serving the same function, renamed Inge Jensen, in the Out of the Unknown adaptation of "Satisfaction Guaranteed". Margaret Robertson played her in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the same story.

A character named Dr. Susan Calvin (played by Marilyn Erskine) appears in the episode "Sun Gold" of the American anthology TV series Science Fiction Theater. Although the episode was not based on an Asimov story and does not feature robots, it is likely that the character name was a tribute to Asimov and his works.

Harlan Ellison's script for a feature adaptation, begun in 1977 and finished in 1978, would have featured Susan Calvin prominently. The story presents Calvin as a legendary figure, now aged 82. Taking a cue both from the framing sequence of I, Robot and from Citizen Kane, the film would have presented incidents from Calvin's earlier life, in which she would figure prominently, even if absent in the original story. Ellison envisioned the role as a vehicle for Joanne Woodward.

The 2004 film I, Robot was not originally based on Asimov's but had an unrelated script, which was then retrofitted into an adaptation. Here, Calvin is played by Bridget Moynahan. She serves as an operative who "makes the robots seem more human" and dependent on the Three Laws of Robotics. She disbelieves Del Spooner's claim that robots can be violent, then comes round to Spooner's line of thinking and discovers that the robot Sonny had killed Dr. Alfred Lanning.

References by other writers[edit]

Arthur C. Clarke mentions Susan Calvin several times alongside Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper: In his novel 3001: The Final Odyssey she appears as a female "role-model" in "the battle of wits between man and machine" (Chapter 36: Chamber of Horrors); in The Ghost from the Grand Banks Clarke refers to "the small pantheon of famous women programmers" while he puts one of the novel's characters in a league with the three aforementioned ladies (Chapter 4: The Century Syndrome). It is unclear whether Clarke is referring to Calvin in the sense of Asimov's fictional character or as a character who existed in his fictional universe.

Susan Calvin also appears in David Wingrove's illustrated book The Immortals of Science Fiction"(1980). Here she is interviewed, along with nine other famous science fiction characters.

In November 2009, the Isaac Asimov estate announced the upcoming publication of Robots and Chaos, the first volume in a trilogy featuring Susan Calvin and authored by fantasy author Mickey Zucker Reichert.[2] The book was published in November, 2011 under the title I, Robot: To Protect.

List of stories by order by publication[edit]

By Asimov[edit]

By other authors[edit]

Short fiction[edit]

Novels[edit]

  1. I, Robot: To Protect (2011) by Mickey Zucker Reichert
  2. I, Robot: To Obey (2013) by Mickey Zucker Reichert
  3. I, Robot: To Preserve (2016) by Mickey Zucker Reichert

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.imdb.com/character/ch0005854/ IMDb list of actresses that have played Susan Calvin.[user-generated source]
  2. ^ Wilkins, Alasdair (2009-10-26). "Meet The Young, Frisky Susan Calvin, In "I, Robot" Prequel Trilogy". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2021-05-19.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]