This novelette has a bit of an unusual setting. The story takes place entirely in a Buddhist monastery and follows a robot that seeks to achieve enlightenment as a monk.
The robot called Raz is a cataloging robot specially built to absorb and catalogue books. Its previous function turned obsolete, so it sought out the monastery by itself. After some debate between the monks, the robot is accepted in the community as an equal. Not without issues though. Especially one other monk is very adamant that spiritual enlightenment is only for humans and a soul-less unconscious machine should not be allowed.
This simple but effective setup creates a story with lots of philosophical debate about sentience, free will and spiritual topics. A theme that has been explored in countless science fiction stories, and while I haven’t seen one that took place in a religious setting like here, there isn’t much new to add.
While the story is easy to follow and reasonably engaging, I was thinking of the classic Star Trek TNG episode “The Measure Of A Man” which deals with lots of the same questions and uses the same type of conflict to setup the arguments for and against – and ultimately does it better.
Read in Analog January/February 2013