the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Isaac Asimov’ Category

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Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was one of the first science fiction authors I read. I started with his Foundation books, moved onto the Robot books, and leapt into the fray from there. And Dr. Asimov is far more than just a science fiction writer. He wrote droves of non-fiction as well, eventually being involved in over 500 books of both fiction and non-fiction.  His science fiction is utilitarian yet deep, showing a fascinating view of the human condition, yet easily grasped. After all these years, it’s had to believe I’ve never read Asimov’s famous short story Nightfall, which in the 1960s was voted the best science fiction short story ever written by the SFWA. The original short story Nightfall was written in 1941, and shortly before Asimov’s death he and Robert Silverberg adapted it into a full length novel.

asimov_isaac_nightfall

Nightfall (short story) by Isaac Asimov

originally published in 1941

where I got it: listened!  download the story from Escape Pod, here

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Lagash  is a planet that never has a sunset, never sees stars, never lights a fire to keep the dark of night at bay.  You see, Lagash has not one or two suns, but six that cross its sky. This is a civilization that has never been in the dark,  never worried about inventing light bulbs, electricity, gas lamps or candles. They barely have an understanding of the burning pitch torch.

Until now.  Every two thousand years or so the stars are aligned just right so that only Lagash’s dimmest star, Beta, remains in the sky as the planet’s dark companion slowly rotates around, causing a total solar eclipse.

When darkness falls, what will happen? The archaeological records show that most civilizations reached a peak, and then collapsed shortly after each eclipse that hits like clockwork.  But this time things will be different. In the capital city, a percentage of the population waits safely in an underground shelter with all the records and knowledge of Lagash, prepared to wait out the worst and repopulate the planet if necessary.

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Hi Everyone, welcome to the second half of our read-along of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. I invite you to click back to Stainless Steel and visit all the other wonderful discussions. A huge thanks to Carl for hosting and organizing this eye opening read along for a science fiction classic!

Salvador Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with. What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

I LOVED it. Hardin is a brilliant strategist. Sure, it’s easy to call him manipulative, and he is, but predicting what frightened power hungry people will do really isn’t that difficult. All he’s doing to the four Kingdoms is giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. I’ve never minded characters of ambiguous morality, so Hardin was a pleasure to watch. And when the other planets start understanding that without the technologies of the Foundation they are nothing? their power plants won’t work, their medical devices won’t work. . . wouldn’t it be smarter for them to work with Hardin and the Foundation instead of fighting them tooth and nail?

Remind me never play chess with this dude.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

although these were the draggiest chapters for me (I want more Hardin, damnit!), they were the ones that bore the most interesting after-thinking. Just as it had been predicted, planets and their populations began to see through the Foundation religion and rejecting the missionaries. The rules weren’t exactly sure what was going on, but they knew they had been manipulated and they were understandably insulted.

Regarding the shift from religion to trading – a thinly veiled lesson that nothing lasts forever? that we shouldn’t feel shackled to the traditions of the past simply because they worked for our parents? Yes, there is a thousand year plan, but that doesn’t mean every year has to be exactly like the previous year.

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This post is part of Stainless Steel Dropping’s Foundation read along, and coincidentally enough, works into my Vintage Sci Fi month as well. Written by Isaac Asimov as a series of short stories in the 1940s and published as such in Astounding Magazine, they would not be bound as the trilogy of novels we know today until the 1950’s, and then to far more fanfare in the 1960s. In 1966 the Foundation series won the Hugo for “best series”. Forty years after Asimov started typing that first Foundation story, he was paid one of the largest advances ever to write a fourth  Foundation series, which was published in 1982 as Foundation’s Edge.

A story of a galactic empire in ruins, and one man’s mission to save it. A mission that couldn’t be started until long after he died. Hari Seldon knew what he was getting himself info, but Isaac Asimov couldn’t have possibly guessed in 1941, what he was getting himself into.

When Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings told me a while ago he would be doing a Foundation read along in January, I was thrilled. What better way to introduce people to the masterpiece that is Foundation than through an easy to follow yet casually guided read along? He’s split the book in half, and since the whole thing is barely 300 pages long, that’s some easy readin’.  I seem to (re)read Foundation every ten years or so, sometimes going forwards or backwards in the chronology, sometimes not. Last time I read the books I was in college (and still living on campus!) so it was certainly time for me to be reading Foundation again.

Carl provided some conversation starters to use as a jumping off point, lets see where this takes us, shall we?

For those who have read it before, how has it held up to your memory/feelings about previous reads?

Like I said, it’s been about ten years (yikes, maybe longer!) since I last read Foundation. I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t hold up, that I’d be bored, or underwhelmed, or annoyed by the characters.  I shouldn’t have worried my pretty little head. Foundation is so far even better than I remember it. In fact, I feel like I’m finally old enough to understand it.

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I Robot, by Isaac Asimov

Copyright 1950, my copy is circa 1970.

where I got it: have had it nearly forever

Written between 1940 and 1950 the short stories in Asimov’s I Robot came before Hal9000, before Terminator, or Dr. Soong’s Data and Lore, the uncanny valley or The Lifecycle of Software Objects.  These were the days of Eniac, when the things that would be future computers took up entire rooms and required teams of programmers. Asimov envisioned a future were robots helped humanity do everything from everyday tasks to interstellar mining and solving the mysteries of the universe.

Although all the stories were written and published separately over the course of 8 or 9 years, the collection known as I Robot isn’t presented as a standard collection with a table of contents and breaks in between stories.  A journalist is interviewing the now semi-retired Dr Susan Calvin, famous robo-psychologist about her lifetime working with robots.  It’s the conversations between the journalist and Dr Calvin that weave the stories together.  Asimov is no stranger to this trick, weaving together bits and pieces that were written over years or decades with a common thread or character.

The stories are presented in chronological order, from the non-speaking robots of Calvin’s youth, to robots who could talk, to robots that could learn and think and eventually lie and later pass for human.  Like any programmable machine, a robot does exactly what we tell it to do, no more and no less.

So be careful what you tell ‘em to do!

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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