Science Fiction (Sidelined Asimov Stuff)

This entire sub-domain is a private effort of free information.
There are no cookies, no advertisements of any kind, and nothing for sale.
linked from here

My "Isaac Asimov" Book Reviews and Observations (2004)

Most of the information comes from dust jackets or things I noticed while re-reading the books in 2004.
Locate rare and out-of-print books: www.bookfinder.com

Book-0 of Asimov's 15-book "boot up"
The End of Eternity (1955)

One hardcore Asimov fan told me this book was listed before all the others in a recommended list published in Asimov's SF Magazine

  • This book employs a lot of time travel to implement the social engineering of humanity but somehow Asimov seems to make it work
  • The first seventeen chapters are a good read but good turns into great in eighteenth and last chapter which is titled "The Beginning of Infinity" Here we are presented with a choice to stay with a conservative Eternity or replace it with a progressive Infinity
    comments:
    • It is my belief (in 2014) that Asimov wanted to show us "that the nudges given to humanity by Hari Seldon's time vault in the Foundation Trilogy" were preferable to "the direct meddling by the employees of Eternity". The Hari Seldon method gives each one of us much more free will while dispensing with time travel paradoxes and social engineering.
    • When you think about it, an author's publications are a form of one-way time travel or communication. Like Seldon, Asimov stories speak to humanity long after his death.
    • The very last act of meddling involves moving the discovery of nuclear energy from the 30th century to the 20th which also leaves the Earth's crust slightly radioactive; and now I am recalling a little speech give by one R. Daneel Olivaw about how this fact led to humanity leaving Earth
  • "psycho-mathematics" first appears on page 13
  • Time-line violations aside, Asimov was aware of the navigation difficulties in travelling to a future-or-previous time on a moving Earth (see quote from p.233 below)
  • quotes:
    • "Will you petter feel if I in your yourself dialect should speech, poy?" on page 30
        (possible translation: "will you feel better if I speak to you in your own dialect, boy?)
    • p.233: But the Earth moves about the Sun, and the Sun moves about the Galactic Center and the Galaxy moves too"
    • p.248: Any system which allows men to choose their own future, will end by choosing safety and mediocrity, and in such a Reality the stars are out of reach"
Robot Series
I, Robot (1950)
  • A repackaging of nine previously published short stories presented as the memoirs of robot psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin
  • Every modern citizen should read chapters 8 + 9 ("Evidence" and "The Evitable Conflict"). If I had any control over the matter, these two chapters would be required reading in secondary school since they are more important to modern human culture than anything written by William Shakespeare who I also value highly. Why would I say this?
    • Lessons found in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" teaches humanity that anti-Semitism is a disease to be avoided. Modern teachers use this to teach tolerance.
    • Chapter-8: Although written under the guise of anti-robot bias, various Asimov biographies indicate that Evidence was inspired by the author's exposure to anti-Semitism during the second world war. The idea of a lawyer wishing to avoid death penalties shows us what humans can aspire to when they think a little more while emoting a little less. To me this is "icing on the cake".
    • Chapter-9: The very brief history lesson found in Asimov's The Evitable Conflict teaches that wars are a complete waste of time. It also teaches us to repress our emotions where politics and religion are concerned. It also deals with human overpopulation and the effects of climate change

Chapters (some lists count the introduction as chapter #1)

  • Introduction (1950)
    • The year is 2057 and Dr. Susan Calvin, chief robopsychologist (programmer?) of "U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation" is about to retire so a reporter is about to spend three days interviewing her for a "Pop Ed" article. These stories are her memoirs.
  • Chapter 1 - Robbie (1940)
    • The story centers around the technophobia that surrounds robots, and how it is misplaced. Almost all previously published science fiction stories featuring robots followed the theme 'robot turns against creator'; Asimov has consistently held the belief that the Frankenstein complex was a misplaced fear, and the majority of his works attempted to provide examples of the help that robots could provide humanity.
  • Chapter 2 - Runaround (1942)
    • problems pop up with mining robots deployed on the planet Mercury. US Robot field engineers, Gregory Powel and Mike Donavan, are on site to solve the problem.
    • this is the very first story where we learn about Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics
  • Chapter 3 - Reason (1942)
    • Another story involving US Robot field engineers, Gregory Powel and Mike Donavan
    • QT (a.k.a. Cutie) doesn't believe he was assembled by the humans currently in charge of "Solar Station 5" (robots are not allowed on inhabited worlds so are manufactured in pieces on Earth then assembled elsewhere)
    • in order to come to grips with this dilemma, QT reasons that there must be a supreme creator for both men and machines
  • Chapter 4 - Catch That Rabbit (1941)
    • Another story involving US Robot field engineers, Gregory Powel and Mike Donavan
    • problems pop up with DV-5 (Dave) mining robots deployed in the asteroid belt.
    • DV-5s have a personal initiative circuit which allow them to manage other worker robots but computational overload causes a conflict with the "3 laws of robotics"
  • Chapter 5 - Liar! (1941)
    • Through a fault in manufacturing, a robot, RB-34 (Herbie), is created that has the ability to read minds. While the roboticists at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men are trying to analyze what happened and why, the robot tells them what other people are thinking. But the First Law still applies to this robot, and so it deliberately lies when necessary to avoid hurting their feelings and to make people happy, especially in terms of romance. However, by lying, it is hurting them anyway. When it is confronted with this fact by Susan Calvin (to whom it told a lie that was particularly painful to her when it was shown to be false), the robot experiences an irresolvable logical conflict and becomes catatonic.
  • Chapter 6 - Little Lost Robot (1947)
    • At Hyper Base, a military research station on an asteroid, scientists are working to develop the hyperspace drive - a theme that is explored and developed in several of Asimov's stories and mentioned in the Empire and Foundation books. One of the researchers, Gerald Black, loses his temper, swears at an NS-2 (Nestor) robot and tells the robot to "....go lose yourself." Obeying the order literally, it hides itself. It is then up to US Robots' Chief Robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, and Mathematical Director Peter Bogert, to find it. They even know exactly where it is: in a room with 62 other physically identical robots.
  • Chapter 7 - Escape! (also known as "Paradoxical Escape", 1947)
    • "Consolidated Robots" (a competitor of US Robots and Mechanical Men) burn out their master computer while trying to solve a problem during the design of an inter-stellar engine (a.k.a. "warp drive"). So they approach "U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation" with an offer of collaboration.
    • Should "U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation" risk the mental health of their own computer?
    • Question: If one and one half chickens lays one and one half eggs in one and one half days, then how many eggs will 9 chickens lay in 9 days? The Brain answered "fifty four"
    • US Robot field engineers, Gregory Powel and Mike Donavan are coerced into taking the new ship for a test ride.
    • Note: it would appear that the development of warp travel in this chapter is the basis for the expansion of humanity described in Asimov's "Foundation and Empire" series
  • Chapter 8 - Evidence (1946)
    • Stephen Byerley is a lawyer, a successful, middle-aged prosecutor, a humanitarian who never presses for the death penalty. He runs for Mayor of New York City, but Francis Quinn's political machine smears him, claiming that he is a humanoid robot (a machine built to look like a human being). If this is true, the "Frankenstein complex" hysteria will ruin his campaign, as of course, only human beings are allowed to run for office. Quinn approaches U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men corporation, the world's only supplier of positronic robot brains, and attempts to persuade them that Byerley must be a robot. No one has ever seen Byerley eat or sleep, Quinn reports.
    • When confronted, Byerley responds with "I...I...a robot?" (hence the name of the book)
  • Chapter 9 - The Evitable Conflict (1950)
    • excerpt from page 200:

      Consider relatively modern times. There were the series of dynastic wars in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, when the most important question in Europe was whether the houses of Hapsburg or Valois-Bourbon were to rule the continent. It was one of those 'inevitable conflicts', since Europe could obviously not exist half one and half the other.

      Except that it did, and no war ever wiped out the one and established the other, until the rise of a new social atmosphere in France in 1789 tumbled first the Bourbons and, eventually, the Hapsburgs down the dusty chute to history's incinerator.

      And in those same centuries there were the more barbarous religious wars, which revolved about the important question of whether Europe was to be Catholic or Protestant. Half and half she could not be. It was 'inevitable' that the sword decide. -- Except that it didn't. In England, a new industrialism was growing, and on the continent, a new nationalism. Half and half Europe remains to this day and no one cares much.

      In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a cycle of nationalist-imperialist wars, when the most important question in the world was which portions of Europe would control the economic resources and consuming capacity of which portions of non-Europe. All non-Europe obviously could not exist part English and part French and part German and so on. -- Until the forces of nationalism spread sufficiently, so that non-Europe ended what all the wars could not, and decided it could exist quite comfortably all non-European. And so we have a pattern --

      [...snip...]

      In the twentieth century we started a new cycle of wars -- what shall I call them? Ideological wars? The emotions of religion applied to economic systems , rather than to extra-natural ones? Again the wars were 'inevitable' and this time there were atomic weapons, so that mankind could no longer live through its torment to the inevitable wasting away of 'inevitability'. -- And positronic robots came.

      They came in time, and, with it and alongside it, interplanetary travel, -- So it no longer seemed important whether the world was Adam Smith or Karl Marx. Neither made very much sense under the new circumstances. Both had to adapt and they ended almost in the same place.

      "A deus ex machina, then, in a  double sense," said Dr. Calvin dryly.

    • So a world wide robot-coordinated economy was developed which meant that countries would be dissolved and replaced with informal economic regions:
      Name Area
      (million
      square
      miles)
      Population
      (billions)
      Capital Notes
      The Eastern Region 7.5 1.7 Shanghai China, India, Burma, Indo-China, Indonesia.
      The Tropic Region 22 0.5 Capital City, Nigeria South America north of Argentina, Africa south of the Atlas Mountains, North America South of the Rio Grande, Arabia, Iran.
      The European Region 4 0.3 Geneva, Switzerland Europe (including Scandinavia & Iceland but not Britain), Mediterranean Africa and Asia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay.
      The Northern Region 18 0.8 Ottawa, Canada North America North of the Rio Grande through to Russia (but minus Europe), Britain, European Russia, Australia, New Zealand.
      Earth (& Antarctica) 54 total 3.3 total New York a kind of UN of "Economic Regions"
    • Each economic region is being managed by a Machine or Brain (a large positronic brain without a robot body; e.g. a "thinking" mainframe computer) which is governed by the 3 Laws of Robotics.
    • This is the humanity's most peaceful and economically productive period in history but some people resent being told what to do by computers so have joined organizations like "Society for Humanity" (an anti-technology group)
    • Recently, the Brains have made mistakes and some people are beginning to suspect that the robots (and Brains) are evolving. This means that the "First Law of Robotics" may have changed! (or the robots may be interpreting it differently). Click here for more details.
    • Comments:
      • It seems that Asimov predicted the formation of economic associations ("free trade zones") which should help tamp down nationalistic pride. It is too bad that he missed the prediction of the EU (European Economic Community)
      • In 1950 it must have made sense that Britain would be part of the Northern Region. Obviously joint projects like the Concorde and Chunnel improved relations between Britain and France so today Brits would probably prefer to be associated with Europe. (oops, I suppose the BREXIT vote made a mockery out of that notition)
      • Asimov is using 54-million sq mi which is very close to the total shown on here but the individual regions to not add up to 54. It is not like Asimov to make a mistake like this so I wonder if there are some area has slipped through the cracks.
      • Did Asimov actually think that future humans would be able to control their population and keep it as 3.3 billion because that is very near the value when this story was first published in 1950.
      • Asimov's idea to use computers to optimize human economies sound somewhat close to this real-world example
  • Click here for information about the 2004 movie I, Robot which was not based upon any of Asimov's stories but was based upon his characters
Robot Trilogy (a.k.a. Elijah Baley Detective Series)
Caves of Steel (1953, 1954)
  • Planet: EARTH
    Crisis:
    Dr. Roj Nemennuh Sarton, the preeminent roboticist, is murdered in Spacetown
    Problem: The fragile relationship between Earth and Space depends upon Lije (Elijah) Baley's speedy solving of the case. But that's not the worst of it. Lije is paired with investigator R. (for Robot) Daneel Olivaw. And Lije dislikes robots deeply, almost pathologically.
  • In this novel, Isaac Asimov first introduced Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, who would later become his favorite protagonists. They live roughly three millennia in Earth's future, a time when hyperspace travel has been discovered, and a few worlds relatively close to Earth have been colonized — fifty planets known as the "Spacer worlds". The Spacer worlds are rich, have low population density (average population of one hundred million each), and use robot labor very heavily. Meanwhile, Earth is overpopulated (with a total population of eight billion), and strict rules against robots have been passed. The eponymous "caves of steel" are vast city complexes covered by huge metal domes, capable of supporting tens of millions each. The New York City of that era, for example, encompasses present-day New York City, as well as large tracts of New Jersey.
  • The book's central crime is a murder, which takes place before the novel opens. (This is an Asimovian trademark, which he attributed to his own squeamishness and John Campbell's advice of beginning as late in the story as possible.) Roj Nemmenuh Sarton, a Spacer Ambassador, lives in Spacetown, the Spacer outpost just outside New York City. For some time, he has tried to convince the Earth government to loosen its anti-robot restrictions. One morning, he is discovered outside his home, his chest imploded by an energy blaster. The New York police commissioner charges Elijah with finding the murderer. Elijah must work with a Spacer partner, a highly advanced robot who is visually identical to a human, named R. Daneel Olivaw, even though Elijah, like many Earth residents, has a low opinion of robots. Together, they search for the murderer and try to avert an interstellar diplomatic incident.
  • Population of Earth:
    • Humans: 8,000,000,000 (almost all live underground)
    • Robots: a minimal number to run the farms; almost all live on the surface
  • Excerpt from page 28: Efficiency had been forced on Earth with increasing population. Two billion people, three billion, even five billion could be supported by the planet by progressive lowering of the standard of living. When the population reaches eight billion, however, semi starvation becomes too much like a real thing. A radical change had to take place in man's culture, particularly when it turned out that the Outer Worlds (which had merely been Earth's colonies a thousand years before) were tremendously serious in their immigration restrictions.
  • So Earthers created Cities (the capital "C" means we are talking about a machine version of a "city") and robots. While most people accepted Cities, a small group of people known as "the Medievalists" were opposed to them.
  • Baley had read somewhere once that Spacers had no religion, but substituted, instead, a cold and phlegmatic intellectualism raised to the heights of a philosophy.
  • Excerpt from page 110: Earthmen are all so coddled, so enwombed in their imprisoning caves of steel (under ground apartments), that they are caught [on Earth] forever.
  • Malthusian: of or pertaining to the theories of Thomas. R. Malthus, which state that population tends to increase faster, at a geometrical rate, than the means of subsistence, which increases at an arithmetical rate, and that this will result in an inadequate supply of the goods supporting life unless war, famine, or disease reduces the population or the increase of population is checked. Comment: The publications of Malthus had a profound influence upon Charles Darwin.
  • The character Dr. Gerrigel uses the term "Asenion" to describe robots programmed with the Three Laws. The robots in Asimov's stories, being Asenion robots, are incapable of knowingly violating the Three Laws but, in principle, a robot in science fiction or in the real world could be non-Asenion. "Asenion" is a misspelling of the name Asimov which was made by an editor of the magazine Planet Stories. Asimov used this obscure variation to insert himself into The Caves of Steel in much the same way that Vladimir Nabokov appeared in Lolita anagrammatically disguised as "Vivian Darkbloom".
  • Speculation about names: Asimov tells us that Lije is short for Elijah while Jessie is short for Jezebel, and that the names are derived from Old Testament stories. I have always wondered why the humaniform "Spacer" robot was named Daneel. The only thing that comes to mind is the Old Testament story of Daniel. QUOTE: According to the biblical book, at a young age Daniel was carried off to Babylon where he became famous for interpreting dreams and rose to become one of the most important figures in the court. COMMENT: In this light, Daniel was a bridge between backward Judea and modern Babylon
  • Asimov mentions that Terries (humans living on Earth) are engaged in a C/Fe (pronounced "see-fee") culture clash. "C" represents carbon while "Fe" represents iron (see periodical table of chemical elements). I guess today we would use the phrase C/Si.
The Naked Sun (1957)
  • Planet: SOLARIA
    Crisis:
    Rikaine Delmarre, husband of the beautiful Gladia, is found brutally murdered while, apparently, attended by only his robots.
    Problem: On Solaria, the few inhabitants have isolated themselves from one another for so long that they find direct physical contact with fellow human beings intensely uncomfortable. By virtue of their programming, robots are incapable of harming a human being, and cannot permit harm to come to a human. Yet, no evidence of a murder weapon was found. Who could have done it? How? And why?
  • Like its predecessor, The Caves of Steel, it is a whodunit story, in addition to being science fiction. The book was first published in 1957 after being serialized in Astounding Science Fiction between October and December 1956. The story arises from the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, a prominent "fetologist" (fetal scientist, responsible for the operation of the planetary birthing center reminiscent of those described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) of Solaria, a planet politically hostile to Earth. Elijah Baley is called in to investigate, at the request of the Solarian government. He is again partnered with the humaniform robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Before leaving Earth, he is asked by Earth's government to assess the Solarian society for weaknesses.
  • Population of Solaria:
    • Humans: 20,000 maximum (reproduction is enforced by the local government and immigration is not allowed)
    • Robots: 200,000,000 (10,000 robots for every human; robots are used to exploit this planet's natural resources and manufacture products for export)
  • Asimov tells us that each Solarian robot has a unique shoulder patch consisting of six-by-six gold-and-silver checkerboard, and "that the number of possible arrangements would be 236 then, or 70 billion". I found it strange that he didn't use the phrase "a little less than 70 billion" since the actual number is closer to 68.7 billion :-)
The Robots of Dawn (1983)
  • Planet: AURORA
    Crisis
    : Roboticide: Jander Panell, one of the two most advanced robots yet assembled - a twin to R. Daneel Olivaw - is murdered
    Problem: Only the gifted roboticist Han Fastolfe had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime - and Baley must prove him innocent if the overcrowded Earth is ever to have access to space and the resources it needs.
  • The book opens with detective Elijah Baley on Earth, training with his son and others to tolerate the outside, in spite of their socially ingrained agoraphobia. He is ordered to go to the police headquarters where he is told that the Spacer world of Aurora has requested his presence to solve a crime. He is told that the mind of R. Jander Panell, a humaniform robot identical to R. Daneel Olivaw, has been destroyed via a mental block—"roboticide", as Baley later terms it. The robot's inventor, Han Fastolfe, has been implicated. Fastolfe, who was last seen in The Caves of Steel, is the best roboticist on Aurora. He has admitted that he is the only person with the skill to have done it, although he denies doing it. Fastolfe is also a prominent member of the Auroran political faction that favors Earth. Implication in the crime threatens his political career; therefore, it is politically expedient that he be exonerated.
  • Population of Aurora:
    • Humans: 200 million maximum (reproduction is enforced by the local government and immigration is restricted)
    • Robots: 10 billion (50 robots for every human; every human possesses at least one robot as a personal servant; most robots are used in the areas of: farms, mines, factories, space)
  • Aurora was initially named New Earth but since this was the first extra Spacer world represented "the dawn of a new age" they changed the name to Aurora (which is the roman god of Dawn). So the title really means "The Robots of Aurora"
  • Notable changes in Asimov's writing:
    • Asimov is now using the metric system (but metric time is only used in the 50 off-world colonies; 10 metric hours a day; 100 metric minutes per hour; 100 metric seconds per minute = 100,000 metric seconds per day compared to our 86,400 seconds per day)
    • Asimov now speaks about robot programming (earlier works only spoke of robot psychologists)
    • Asimov now mentions that smoking tobacco is banned in all off-world colonies but still allowed on Earth (this might be "one" reason why Earthers have such a short lifetime compared to Spacers
  • Notable connections to other books:
    • Dr. Han Fastolfe:
      • mentions that of all the 50 "spacer worlds", only Aurora had come closest to implementing the Three Laws of Robotics as the Three Laws of Humanics.
      • speaks of his intention to possibly create a new science called Psychohistory (Foundation Trilogy)
      • mentions the legends of:
        • Susan Calvin and a not-so-truthful "mind reading" robot (Story of "Liar!" found in "I, Robot")
        • Andrew Martin (Bicentennial Man)
  • General comments
    • Robots on Earth only have a single name (R. Sammy, R. Geronimo) while Spacer robots have two (R. Daneel Olivaw, R. Giskard Reventlov, R. Jander Panell, R. Ernett Second (introduced in Robots and Empire))
    • There are only two humaniform robots in existence at this time: Daneel Olivaw and Jander Panell.
    • Dr. Fastolf tells us that humaniform robot bodies were developed in order to improve positronic brains
Fourth book of the Robot Trilogy :-) (not part of the Elijah Baley Detective Series)
Robots and Empire (1985)
  • Asimov says to read this one after Robots of Dawn
  • From the 1985 hard cover dust jacket: [snip] For it not only presents the thrilling sequel to the best-selling "The Robots of Dawn", but also ingeniously interweaves al three of Asimov's classic series: "Robot", "Foundation", and "Empire". [snip] Two hundred years have passed since "The Robots of Dawn" and Elijah Baley, the beloved hero of the Earth-people, is dead. The future of the Universe is at a crossroads. Though the forces of the sinister Spacers are weakened, Dr. Keldon Amadiro has never forgotten - or forgiven - his humiliating defeat at the hands of Elijah. Now, with vengeance burning in his heart, he is more determined than ever to bring about the total annihilation of planet Earth. But Amadiro has not counted on the equally determined Lady Gladia. Devoted to (the memory of) Elijah Baley, the Auroran beauty has taken up the legacy of her fallen lover, vowing to stop the Spacers at any cost. With her two robot companions, Daneel and Giskard, she prepares to set into motion a daring and dangerous plan... a plan whose success - or failure - will forever seal the fate of Earth and all who live there. [snip]
  • excerpt from page 66: Daneel said, "The picture you draw is attractive. It would make Partner Elijah proud of us if, as you say, we have accomplished that. 'Robots and Empire' Elijah would say and perhaps he would clap me on the shoulder. -- And yet, as I said, I am uneasy friend Giskard.
  • excerpt from page 186: If emotions are few and reasons are many, the behavior of a crowd can be more easily predicted than the behavior of one person can. And that, in turn, means that if the laws are to be developed that enable the current of history the be predicted, then one must deal with the large populations, the larger the better. That might itself be the First Law of Psychohistory, the key to the study of Humanics.
  • Notable connections to other books:
    • Under Secretary of Energy, Sophia Quintana, mentions the legend of robot-politician Stephen Byerley (I, Robot)
More Robot Stories
The Rest of Robots (1964)
  • 8 more short stories
The Bicentennial Man (short story, 1975) Robot Dreams (1986)
  • 21 more short stories
  • In 2008-02-xx I purchased a good-quality hard-cover copy via http://www.bookfinder.com
    • it was sold to me by a London England book seller who purchased it from the HM Maze Political Prison near Belfast Northern Ireland which was closed in 2000.
      So now I can't stop picturing Irish political prisoners sitting around their cells, during The Troubles, reading about a better life in Asimov's (usually) utopian sci-fi future.
  • a few of the AI stories are about robots; one which includes "Robot Dreams" which is about Susan Calvin's (U S Robots and Mechanical Men Inc.) discovery of a robot with rather disturbing dreams
  • other AI stories seem to be about mainframe computers usually with a name similar to "multivac"
  • two of the stories "Does a Bee Care?" (1957) and "Spell My Name with an S" (1958) seem to contain alien-contact themes also found in "2001: A Space Odyssey". I'm not insinuating plagiarism on the part of Arthur C Clarke. Synchronicity tells us that these themes may have been part of the late 1950s culture.
  • Many of these stories predate computer programming. It is interesting to note that Asimov labels computer programmers (like Susan Calvin) "robot psychologists" while supercomputer programmers (like Noel Meyerhof) are labeled "grand masters".
  • The last story is titled "Lest We Remember" and shows, to my satisfaction, that Asimov was aware of the debate concerning IQ vs. EQ (Intelligence Quotient vs. Emotional Quotient)
Robot Visions (1990)
  • In 2008-03-xx I purchased a good-quality hard-cover copy via http://www.bookfinder.com
  • A book of 18 short stories mostly about Robots including "Evidence (I... I... a robot?)" and "The Bicentennial Man". My favorite story was "The Evitable Conflict" which seems to open the door to the zeroth law of robotics.
  • This book also contains 16 thought-provoking essays which should be read by anyone going into artificial intelligence research or robotics
  • Three of the stories (REASON, LIAR!, and EVIDENCE) mention that certain robot restrictions exist for the Earth. This reminded me that Replicants (Blade Runner) are illegal on Earth.
  • ROBBIE was Asimov's first story and was published in 1940. A rewrite of this story appeared in "I, ROBOT" in 1950 which includes an encounter with a teenage SUSAN CALVIN in a New York museum
  • ROBOT VISIONS is the best short story I've read in 10 years. It has a very cool surprise ending.
  • People who only get sci-fi from TV might think that James T Kirk was the first person to trap a robot in a logical dilemma (see the 1968 Star Trek episode "The Changeling") but Dr Susan Calvin did it much earlier in the 1941 story LIAR!
  • It has been many years since I read EVIDENCE (which was prior to reading Asimov's 15-book set) but after rereading it, I now realize that this may be one of his best short stories. Here are a few of my reasons:
    • the paranoia of human impostors amongst us (Blade Runner, Battle Star Galactica, Terminator, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, etc.). Quotes:
      • You are perfectly well acquainted, I suppose, with the strict rules against the use of robots on inhabited worlds
      • You are also aware that all positronic robots are leased, and not sold; that the Corporation remains the owner and manager of each robot, and is therefore responsible for the actions of all
      • Not the positronic brain, sir. Too many factors are involved in that, and there is the tightest possible government supervision. (in BR: one reason why the Tyrell Corporation buildings resemble a pyramid is so the world government COULD detonate explosives causing the whole thing to collapse inward upon itself; they would only do this if they detected a Replicant insurgency)
      • "It's been done experimentally by U.S. Robots," he said reluctantly, "without the addition of a positronic brain, of course. By using human ova and hormone control, one can grow human flesh and skin over a skeleton of porous silicone plastics that would defy external examination. The eyes, the hair, the skin would be really human, not humanoid. And if you put in a positronic brain, and such other gadgets as you might desire, you have a humanoid robot."
    • the seed of the zeroth law of robotics is explored during a debate on how a robotic attorney might find it necessary to violate the first law of robotics by recommending, or supporting, a human death sentence. (bad for the human, good for humanity)
Galactic Empire Series
Pebble in the Sky (1950)
  • introduction: due to an experimental accident at a university across town, a tailor steps hundreds of years into the future
  • First published in 1950 and republished January-2008 in hardcover for the Christmas season
  • I can see where Asimov developed the ideas for his 15-book set
  • Whether you read this book or not, at least reader the Wikipedia overview.
  • Page 131 mentions a three dimensional chess set composed of 8 transparent levels played with twice the number of pieces. Up until this point I had always credited Star Trek: TOS with this idea
The Stars, Like Dust (1951,2008)
  • First published in 1951 and republished in hardcover on December-2008 for the Christmas season
  • This was a very pleasurable read. Even through the story is now 57 years old, it is still relevant while standing the test of time.
    (I do not understand how Asimov was able to write this story so that is didn't become "dated"; perhaps it has something to do with paying slightly more attention to humanity and slightly less attention to technology)
  • a university student on Earth becomes embroiled in an intergalactic conflict
  • From page 37: a poem recited after the first jump into hyper-space
    The stars, like dust, encircle me
    In living mists of light;
    And all of space I seem to see
    In one vast burst of sight.
  • Asimov is a hard sci-fi author which means that he publishes things that close to reality. So I think I have discovered a spot where one of his editors might have taken a liberty. On page 100 we read the following "and backward, watching the massometer, which indicates the distance from the planet's surface by measuring the intensity of the gravitational field". Asimov had a PhD in Chemistry so it is inconceivable to me that he confused "mass" with "weight". Starting on page 106, Gillbret describes a previous trip where a meteor (meteoroid?) hit the ship. Then on page 107 he properly explains that energy is a product of mass times velocity which tells me he was aware of the difference
  • What a wonderful ending. And, if memory serves, was the basis for an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Click here if you are curious as to which episode.
The Currents of Space (1952,2009)
  • a nearly naked man with no memory is found laying in a field
  • First published in 1952 and republished in hardcover on May-2009
  • This was a very pleasurable read. Even through the story is now 57 years old, it is still relevant while standing the test of time.
    (I do not understand how Asimov was able to write this story so that is didn't become "dated"; perhaps it has something to do with paying slightly more attention to humanity and slightly less attention to technology)
    • I recently read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" and marveled at the timelessness it. While reading Asimov's The Currents of Space it became apparent to me that Isaac Asimov, and his work, will become immortalized like that of Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Foundation Series
Foundation Prequels
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
  • Chapter 1: 32-year-old Hari Seldon presents a paper outlining the possibility of psychohistory; the emperor hears about this and wants Hari to say "that psychohistory predicted a peaceful and prosperous future for the galactic empire".
  • Chapters 91-94: This book ends with a double plot twist in these final chapters; obviously readers have different opinions when it comes entertainment, but it is my opinion that this might be one of Asimov's best books (provided you previously read the first five books of the Robot Series")
  • This book spans approximately one year of time

Second Foundation Trilogy (commissioned by the Asimov estate after Isaac's death)

In the 'Second Foundation' trilogy, a series of books authorized by the estate of Asimov, a race of Aliens within the Foundation Universe is mentioned who appear to be in circumstances similar to the Cepheids. Although they are not mentioned by name, a major character in this story is. A subplot in Foundation's Triumph investigates the problem raised in this story.
  • Foundation's Fear (1997) by Gregory Benford
     
  • Foundation and Chaos (1998) by Greg Bear
     
  • Foundation's Triumph (1999) by David Brinn
Forward the Foundation (1993)
  • This book is a continuation of Prelude to Foundation and is Asimov's last publication before his death in 1992.
  • Part 1 (Eto Demerzel) - Chapter 1: Eight years have passed since the end of Prelude to Foundation. Hari Seldon has just turned 40. Hari and Dors are married and living with their adopted son Raych. The Emperor finds it impossible to believe that psychohistory is not ready after 8 years of research
  • Part 2 (Cleon I) - Chapter 1: Ten years have passed since he end of the previous chapter. Hari is ~50 years old. Part 2 spans ~10 years.
  • Part 3 (Dors Venabili) - Chapter 1: Hari is ~60 years old
  • Part 4 (Wanda Seldon) - Chapter 1: Hari is ~70 years old
  • Part 5 (Epilogue) - The only chapter: Hari is 81 years old and is in the middle of preparing a final holo-recording for posterity. The crisis-holograms were finished one month earlier. This is followed by Hari's obituary in the Encyclopedia Galactica.
  • From the rear dust jacket:
    "I could not have written this book forty or thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. That is because, piece by piece, over the years I have been working back to Foundation's source: Hari Seldon. Today I enjoy the gift of been given time: Experience (some might call it wisdom, but I will refrain from such self-aggrandizement). For it is only now that I am able to give my readers Hari Seldon during the most crucial, creative years of his life.. You see, over time, Hari Seldon has evolved into my alter ego... In my earlier books Hari Seldon was the stuff of legend - with Forward the Foundation I have made him real.
    -- Isaac Asimov, June 1991
  • In many ways this book is sad because you can sense that the author knows he is dying while he devises an end-of-life story for Hari Seldon. Also, Hari Seldon (a.k.a. Asimov) points out symptoms of a dying empire which are visible everywhere today in 2004 and I'm afraid the world is descending into a Blade Runner kind of future. Let's hope it doesn't descend further into something like Soylent Green
The Foundation Trilogy
Hari Seldon's holographic image, pictured on a paperback edition of Foundation, appears at various times in the First Foundation's history, to guide it through the social and economic crises that befall it. The holographic image of Hari Seldon appears at various times in the First Foundation's history, to guide it through the social and economic crises that befall it.
The book series started as a series of nine short stories, eight of which were published in Astounding Science Fiction 4 magazine between May 1942 and January 1950, and a ninth which was written a few years later when the series was first published in book form. The stories vary in length from about 7,000 words to about 50,000 words. The early stories are very closely based on Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Asimov said he did "a little bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon" when describing the influence of that work on the Trilogy).

Foundation (1951)
  • Part 1 - The Psychohistorians
    Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica: Hari Seldon, born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era, perfects a branch of social mathematics called "psychohistory" which can predict the future actions of humanity 3. He sees that the Galactic empire is about to collapse which could result in a 30,000 year age of darkness, so develops a plan to reduce this dark age to only 1,000 years.
    (comment: once you view this chart you begin to wonder if psychohistory might be possible some day)
  • Part 2 - The Encyclopedists
  • Part 3 - The Mayors
  • Part 4 - The Traders
  • Part 5 - The Merchant Princes
Foundation and Empire (1952)
  • Part 1 - The General
  • Part 2 - The Mule
Second Foundation (1953)
  • Part 1 - Search by the Mule
  • Part 2 - Search by the Foundation
Foundation Sequels
In 1982, following a thirty-year hiatus, Asimov gave in and wrote what was at the time a fourth volume: Foundation's Edge. This was followed shortly thereafter by Foundation and Earth. Foundation and Earth (which takes place some 500 years after Seldon) ties up all the loose ends, but opens a brand new line of thought in the last dozen pages. As a result, many fans (wanting a tidy end to the series) consider this finale to be a failure. According to his widow Janet Asimov (in her biography of him, It's Been a Good Life), he had no idea how to continue after Foundation and Earth, so he started writing prequels

Foundation's Edge (1982)
  • Chapter 1: It has been ~500 years since the death of Hari Seldon and the planet Terminus (home of the first Foundation) is preparing for his next hologram-appearance
Foundation and Earth (1986)
  • This book is a continuation of Foundation's Edge but seems better written.
  • It will be most enjoyable if you've already read the Robot Trilogy and Robots and Empire.
Superscript Notes:
  1. Initially written as a series of short stories based on Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
  2. Rereading this book in early 2004 was somewhat refreshing. Except for occasional references to "smoking tobacco" or "non-metric measurements", the material does not appear to be dated in any way.
  3. I wonder if this idea is an extrapolation of the investment science of "technical analysis" which attempts to predict the future actions of the stock market?
  4. "Astounding Science Fiction" was renamed "Analog Science Fiction" in 1960

Other

Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (From the 1942 short story "Runaround")

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  • Click here for two possible fourth law of robotics
  • Click here for the official zeroth law of robotics (hinted at in many stories but formalized in Robots and Empire)

Note: In Isaac Asimov's book "It's Been A Good Life", Isaac states that Astounding Magazine publisher John W. Campbell deserves joint credit in the creation of the Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics

Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Humanity (From the 1946 short story "Evidence")

Because, if you stop to think of it, the three Rules of Robotics are the essential guiding principles of a good many of the world's ethical systems.

  1. Of course, every human being is supposed the have the extinct of self-preservation. That's Rule Three to a robot.
  2. Also every 'good' human being, with a social conscience and a sense of responsibility, is supposed to defer to proper authority; to listen to his doctor, his boss, his government, his psychiatrist,  his fellow man; to obey laws, to follow rules, to conform to custom -- even when they interfere with his comfort or his safety. That's Rule Two to a robot.
  3. Also, every 'good' human being is supposed to love others as himself, protect his fellow man, risk his life to save another. That's Rule One to a Robot 1

To put it simply -- if Byerley follows all the Rules of Robotics, he may be a robot, OR 2 may simply be a very good man.

Superscript Notes:

  1. I wonder how many humans would support the zeroth law? Stephen Byerley is elected mayor at the end of "Evidence" but reappears as World Coordinator in "The Evitable Conflict" and I suspect he rises to that position for just that reason.
  2. Asimov wrote "AND" but anyone familiar with Boolean logic knows he meant "OR" (providing he was using Boolean logic :-)
  3. According to a quote by Dr. Fastolfe in Robots of Dawn, the planet Aurora is the Spacer world that has come closest to implementing the Three Laws of Robotics as the Laws of Humanics.

It's Been a Good Life (2002)  Janet Jeppson Asimov

  • A biography of Isaac Asimov edited by his second wife, Janet Jeppson Asimov
  • Chapter Titles:
    "Russia", "The United States", "City Child", "Religion", "Prodigy", "Becoming a Writer", "Science-Fiction Fan", "Starting to Write Science Fiction", "Writing Progress", "Famous Fiction", "During the War", "Postwar, and the Army", "Becoming a Ph.D.", "Postdoc", "Teaching, Writing, Speaking", "Beyond Limitations", "Limitations Came", "Going On", "Major Nonfiction", "Writing and Thinking About Writing", "On Prolificacy", "On Writers' Problems", "Miscellaneous Opinions and Quirks", "Sexism and Love", "Life While Famous", "The Bible", "Changes", "Shakespeare", "New Experiments in Writing", "More Working With Words", "Isaac, Himself", "More on Writing", "Heart Attack", "Extending Two Series", "Triple Bypass", "Humanists", "Senior Citizen and Honors", "Working on in Gathering Shadows"
    Epilogue
    Appendix A. "Essay 400" - A Way of Thinking
    Appendix B. Isaac's Personal Favorite: "The Last Question"
    Appendix C. Bibliography of Works by Isaac Asimov
    Index

Back to original page
Back to Home
Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.