Not surprisingly for anyone who knows much about science fiction, today’s entry is about yet another influential author, Isaac Asimov. Don’t worry, I’m going to get back to current books quite soon. These recent entries are largely to counter the sniffy reactions I’ve gotten several times recently, which boil down to “But [insert current author here] is so good!”. The authors I’ve blogged about recently (and some others not yet covered) are the writers to whom I compare current authors. Fair? No. But it’s what I do. ‘Fess up now: who doesn’t do this? if not in science fiction, in other genres? (not all of us are fans of science fiction)
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not fair to compare a young author’s first book to the last books of an experienced more mature author (and Asimov is extremely experienced.) Nevertheless, it’s something to which those up and coming authors may aspire.
As with several other science fiction/fantasy authors, Asimov’s best known novel(s), the Foundation trilogy1, isn’t the one I like best, although I’m going to stand firm on the precept that no one can claim to be an aficionado of the genre without having read all three of the original Foundation books. (I didn’t manage to finish them until I found myself on the equivalent of a desert island for a couple of weeks, but read them I did!) Where to start then? Given Asimov’s output, you could start just about anywhere in a well stocked public library and find something by him2: kids, adults, fiction, non-fiction–there’s something there for almost everyone.
I’d suggest starting with his collection of robot stories, I, Robot; for those who’ve not read a single story about robots written since about 1950 or thereabouts, Asimov’s the one who came up with the Three Laws of Robotics, after all3. This collection rings a number of changes on the robot-human relationship, which is continued in Asimov’s trilogy about human detective Elijah Baley and android assistant R. Daneel Olivaw, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and Robots of Dawn. In most of the examples in the short story collection, the robots were in the main clearly mechanical in appearance and behavior, but in the Baley/Olivaw books, robots can be nearly human. Fifty years on, the novels are more than a bit dated–Asimov didn’t update the transportation options to match the positronic brain enabling robots to match humans’ intelligence, for one thing. They’re still worth reading, as another take on a cramped overcrowded claustrophobic future Earth.
…and that’s all for today. There’s more information out there than I could fit in an entry for those who don’t know anything about Asimov, including reviews, and those who do know about him will just be bored…
1Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation
2Really. He’s best known as a science fiction author, but he’s got mysteries, religion, medicine, biology, chemistry, astronomy, history, literature (Shakespeare), geography, philosophy, humor…
3A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.