Robots from the Czech Republic

Who knew the term ‘robot’ came from the Czech ‘robota’, meaning ‘forced labour’? Not me. I only discovered this recently when I found this second-hand copy of Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which premiered 90 years ago, in 1921, and for which Čapek apparently coined the term. This tale of a robots’ revolt against their human masters is somewhat outdated, but still quite fun to read. This Penguin Classics edition features a translation by Claudia Novack and an introduction by  Czech novelist Ivan Klíma. The cover photograph, copyrighted to Bob Elsdale / Getty Images, is disappointing: it looks as if a computer chip and circuit board had been painted on the model’s skin and as if the batteries had just been glued to the back of his head.

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