Tag Archives: Issac Asimov

#VintageSciFiMonth: “Sally,” “Flies,” “Nobody Here But –” & “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov

nightfallasimovAs #VintageSciFiMonth starts to wind down, I’ve got a few more thoughts stories collected in Issac Asimov’s Nightfall and Other Stories collection.

Sally (4 Stars)
One of the hallmarks of Asimov was his contributions to the fictional world of positronic intelligence. “Sally” feels like an interesting precursor to his robots in a lot of ways, concerning a time in which cars are given artificial intelligence. Originally published in 1953, the story is set in 2015 and indicates another one of those odd coincidences in which Asimov came close to predicting the date when his sci-fi would become reality.

Overall, this is an intriguing story. The idea of a farm to which the AI cars retire and the greedy man who wants to strip them of their AI with little regard for the impact it will have on the cars is a good one and sets up an interesting conflict. Honestly, I think this one would serve as a great basis for a movie (indeed, it feels like a shorter version of Stephen King’s Christine) since you have intelligent cars defending themselves.

Flies (1.5 Stars)
The first swing and a miss for this collection, “Flies” looks at a group of scientists, gathering for their twenty-year reunion and looking at their legacy and current work. All of them have gone into the field of studying flies, based on the fact that one of the group’s body chemistry seems to attract the flies.
There are some good ideas in here, but overall, this one didn’t quite connect with me as some of the other stories in this collection have.

Nobody Here But — (3 Stars)
Asimov attempts to write a rom-com with a sci-fi twist in “Nobody Here But –” It’s the story of two scientists who have invented an AI (a common theme for Asimov) and how the AI starts to become self-aware. Of course, this all comes to a head on the night of the narrator’s big date with his girlfriend and the question arises as to whether his colleague suggested he ask the girl to marry him or the computer did to survive or distract the two.

Nothing necessarily “wrong” about this story but it felt a bit forced at times. And Asimov is accused of not writing well for his female characters — and that certainly isn’t helped here.

It’s Such A Beautiful Day (4 Stars)
This one feels oddly prescient today, even if we don’t necessarily have technology that allows us to instantly move from one point to another. The doors system is a technology that allows people to travel instantly from one place to the other (it feels like the transporter on Star Trek). When the door breaks down at one family’s home, their young son takes the scenic route and walks to school instead. He finds he likes it and much to the chagrin of his teachers and others, he begins to walk instead of beaming from place to place.

The question of just because technology makes life easier does it necessarily make it better looms large over this one. The horror of various people that the boy wants to get wet and muddy is well-realized and it keeps this story feeling relevant to today as we all become increasingly dependent on technology that supposedly makes our lives better.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Breeds There A Man,” “C-Chute” & “What If –” by Issac Asimov

nightfallasimovAs #VintageSciFiMonth continues, I’ve read/listened to a few more of Issac Asimov’s short stories from his Nightfall and Other Stories collection.

Breeds There a Man?  (4.5 Stars)

“Breeds There a Man?” shows a different side of Issac Asimov and it’s one I found fascinating.

Elwood Ralson is a brilliant physicist who can apparently look at a problem and come up with a solution. As humanity lives under the threat of nuclear war, Ralson may be the only hope for one side to create a defense against nuclear attack. The only issue is that Ralson is suicidal and psychologically unstable.

Ralson operates under the theory that humanity is little more than an experiment in a test tube for higher intelligence and that anytime humankind gets to a certain level, the experiment is wiped out and everything starts over again.

The concept is a compelling, fascinating one and Asimov explores it well in the course of this story. It’s interesting to note how early on, Asimov shows an inclination to exploring why there are highs and lows in the history of humanity and how his characters attempt to combat them.

C-Chute (5 Stars)

Asimov’s work is typically filled with robots rather than aliens. So a short story that presents an alien race is intriguing for him.

“C-Chute” is a bit of space opera with loftier ideals and well-drawn characters. In the near future, humanity is at war with an alien race. Our freighter is caught in the middle and its various passengers and crew are taken as prisoners of war. The group goes from being at each other’s throats to trying to find a way to escape and rescue themselves before being held on the aliens’ home world.

A compelling, taut story that was adapted for X-Minus One. I will definitely be listening to it at some point. This is one of my favorite stories from this collection to this point.

In a Good Cause— (2.5 Stars)

In the preface, Asimov notes that this is a story where he disagrees with his main characters’ viewpoint. And I suppose, that could be interesting if the story were a bit stronger.

Two friends come into repeated conflict over whether or not Earth should become part of a central, unified government (think the Federation in Star Trek). The story unfolds on three days when one of them was arrested for his beliefs and explores why the two are on opposite sides.

It’s good, but I can’t help but think this one should have been stronger. The idea of one man being right at the wrong time is intriguing. I did have a hard time not seeing this as a potential stepping stone for Gene Roddenberry in creating Starfleet, though it feels more like the Starfleet of TNG and beyond than it does TOS.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Hostess” by Issac Asimov

nightfallasimov“Hostess”:  Five Stars

You’d think Asimov couldn’t top “Nightfall” in his Nightfall and Other Stories collection, but he has.

This is a fascinating, compelling little story that is one part mystery, one part science-fiction, and one part mind-blowing concept. Rose married late in life to a police officer, something her friends and colleagues didn’t understand. Rose is a biologist, but there’s something about Drake that has forged a connection between the two.

Now, Rose has the honor of hosting an alien dignitary in their home Drake isn’t overly thrilled, but Rose is delighted to learn more about the alien world and culture — beyond what they allow the people of Earth to know.

I’ve just skimmed the surface of this story because it’s one of those delights that it’s best you don’t know much if anything about it before embarking on it. As with “Nightfall,” there are echoes of future, longer works by Asimov here — the police officer who is skeptical of a new form of life and intelligence, the debate over hosting such a being in one’s home, etc. But this one has a bit more sinister thread running through it than the Bailey novels.

If you haven’t read this one, you should. If you’ve read it, it might be time to read it again. A marvel.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Nightfall,” “Green Patches” by Issac Asimov

One of the great things about Issac Asimov is his prolific body of work. This means there will probably be no shortage of material for #VintageSciFiMonth featuring Asimov in my lifetime. I’ve read Asimov since my teens and it looks like I won’t soon run out of new (to me) stuff to read.

And while I’ve read a good portion of his longer works, I’ve not sampled as many of his short stories as I should or could. So, this year for #VintageSciFiMonth, I decided to dip into his prolific short story output with the collection Nightfall and Other Stories. Over the course of the next month, I will be offering up my thoughts on the stories from the collection as I read through.

Nightfall (1949): Five stars

Asimov prefaces this story by saying that many consider it to be his best story and that while it was anthologized elsewhere he had never included it in one of his collections. Fifty-plus years later, “Nightfall” is the selling point of this collection and it’s interesting that Asimov puts it upfront instead of making us wait until the end to read it.

The planet Lagesh has multiple suns, meaning that people of this world are rarely without light. Once every two thousand or so years, the suns all set, sending the society of that work into chaos and ruin since the mere concept of a sky without at least one sun in it sends much of the population into madness. As the story opens, it’s a few hours from the last sun setting and civilization as we know it ending.

In many ways, this feels like Asimov trying on some of the concepts he will later explore in his Foundation novels. There’s a society on the brink of chaos, facing a coming dark age with a group of learned scientists who attempt to preserve some of the civilization and its learning in a secret location. “Nightfall” shows us the beginning of the fall of the Lagesh civilization and the madness that comes when people who have never missed light are deprived of it.

As with a lot of Asimov, this story features a lot of characters sitting around and having deep conversations about what’s unfolding. And yet, there is still a bit of action as the sun slowly sets and people dread the coming of the mysterious objects known as stars. The world-building for a short story is nothing short of remarkable and the growing sense of dread is palpable.

It’s easy to see why many consider this one of, if not the, best Asimov short stories.

The story was expanded to a novel with the help of Robert Silverburg in 1990. I’ve read that book but don’t recall much about it. I may have to dip into it again this year.

“Green Patches”: Four stars

The second expedition to Saybrook’s Planet wants to determine why the initial expedition destroyed itself after sending back one final message. Turns out the planet’s life is all part of one organism with a unified consciousness. This consciousness wants to help organize the chaos is that is humanity and Earth.

Everything lives in balance with the plans producing enough food for consumption and being allowed to thrive. Biological lifeforms that have been fertilized by the planet are known by the green patches in the place of eyes.

The story is a bit of a race against time to keep a rogue lifeform from getting to Earth and taking over the planet. But the concept of a world where everything is in perfect balance is one that intrigues me. Reading this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Borg on Star Trek and Mary Doria Russell’s superb The Sparrow.

While this one isn’t as strong as “Nightfall,” it’s still pretty solid and one I really enjoyed.

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Summer Repeats: Re-Visiting Some Old Friends

Growing up, summers were the time when my favorite TV shows aired repeats of the previous season, allowing you to catch-up a bit , visit again with old friends, or discover a new favorite. Today with streaming, repeats have become a thing of the past and it’s all about new, new, new content.

This summer, I’ve been visiting a few old friends on the printed page — both through re-reading of physical copies and audiobooks. It’s been an interesting journey and I’ve been struck by a few things.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)It’s probably been twenty-plus years since I read Ender’s Game, so I figured it was time to visit this one again. I did wonder how knowing the twist at the end of the story might change my reaction to certain scenes and characters.

While knowing where it’s all leading certainly lends a different light to certain portions of the story, it still didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel this time around. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Prelude to Foundation by Issac Asimov

preludePrequels are difficult. Just ask George Lucas or Brannon Braga.

While there is a great opportunity to fill in the backstory for characters and do a bit of worldbuilding, it feels like the risks often outweigh the rewards. A prequel series can also be limiting in how many surprises or revelations an author or creative team can throw the fans way before fandom starts crying foul or screaming that this detail or that one has violated continuity or a long-held character belief.

But long before Star Trek and Star Wars were looking to their past, author Issac Asimov was taking the opportunity to fill in a few gaps in his Foundation novels. Asimov’s output of the ’80s seemed to be almost obsessed with finding ways to connect various threads across his novels and short stories. And so it was that we come to Prelude to Foundation, a prequel to his popular, award-winning series that explored the early days of Hari Seldon and some of the steps in the creation of psychohistory.

Less sweeping in scope than the other Foundation entries, Prelude to Foundation focuses on an early adventure of Seldon in the days after presented a paper on psychohistory. As the Galactic Empire begins to crumble, multiple parties see Seldon’s psychohistory as their opportunity to gain, keep, or consolidate power. Most of the original Foundation trilogy puts Seldon on a pedestal and gives us the image of a wise figure forecasting the fall of an Empire and doing his best to shorten humanity’s coming Dark Age. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Foundation by Issac Asimov

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

One of my reading goals for 2021 was to re-read or experience anew the classic sci-fi series getting pop-culture adaptations — Foundation and Dune.

Halfway though 2021, and I’ve made good on part of that with my listening to Issac Asimov’s Foundation. I have to admit that listening to the novel was a different way of experiencing one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and one of the pillars (notice I didn’t say foundation) that all of science-fiction is built upon.

The good news is that Foundation still holds up. It’s a rich, episodic novel that is less concerned with space battles and space opera and more on having characters debate big ideas and moments. The Galatic Empire is failing and historian Hari Seldon says there is nothing that can be done to stop it’s fall. However, the length of the coming Dark Ages can be shortened if all of humanity’s knowledge is collected together on a single planet in a single resource.

Early on, humanity looks to Seldon to guide them through various crises, before realizing that Seldon has pulled a bait-and-switch. There is no intention of publishing an encyclopedia with all of humanity’s knowledge included. Instead, Seldon has created a group to be a beacon of light in the dark times and to possibly consolidate and wield power. And so, over the course of several thousand years, Asimov details the men who will come to power and the crises that will face civilization continuing.

It’s a fascinating series of stories — ones that never fail to intrigue me or hook me. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think Foundation is quite as solid as Asimov’s robot novels, but that’s probably because I read the Robot novels first. The first entry holds up well, though it does concern me how this might be adapted for the screen since most of (OK, all of) the huge dramatic action tends to take place off-screen and we’re treated to various characters talking about what happened and the ramifications of those actions.

I’ll still be tuned in for the upcoming series, though based on the previews, it looks like they’re adapting the first two books for season one. But after listening to this one again, I don’t hold out much hope that the series can and will be as good or as impactful as the book.

Now, time to keep that resolution and start the second installment….

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Review: Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain By Issac Asimov

vintage-sf-badgeFantastic Voyage II:  Destination Brain

In his introduction to Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, Issac Asimov tells us that he wasn’t satisfied with his novelization of Fantastic Voyage and that this novel is an attempt to correct some things he didn’t like about the first novel.

The result is this book which is less a sequel to the original and more a re-telling of the original story and concept. Asimov tries his hardest to make the concept of miniaturization more scientifically plausible, but it’s at the the cost of making the second installment far less interesting and page-turning. The first novel took about half its page length to get the crew miniaturized and inside the human being in question to try and save life. Unfortunately, so does Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. At several points, I found myself muttering “Let’s get on with the shrinking already” as our hero, Morrison expresses a sense of trepidation about the procedure he is about to undergo.

And it may be with Morrison that this book finds its biggest flaw. Asimov sets up our protagonist as a scientist whose fortunes and favor in the scientific community are on the decline. When approached by a Soviet agent about coming to the Soviet Union to help in an experiment, Morrison is quick to decline, despite the fact that he has no prospects on the horizon in the United States. Even when asked by his own government to go, Morrison declines and eventually has to be kidnapped and taken to the Soviet Union in order to become part of the team.

Morrison protests this treatment a lot over the course of the novel. It feels almost like Asimov wants to remind us every ten or so pages that Morrison has become part of this project against his will. This works to the detriment of the book. Part of the fun of the original was no matter who fantastic the situation, the participants were at least enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel inside a human being and possibly save his life. Here the motivation isn’t so much saving a life but not allowing a scientist to die without passing on vital knowledge that could make the process of miniaturization easier and more cost effective.

Yes, you read that correctly. One of the motivating factors for this journey inside the body of a man and to his brain is to unlock his secrets is entirely budgetary. A good reason, sure. But not exactly one that compels you to turn pages and wonder what will happen next. At least the first novel had the specter of the Cold War hanging over it to drive some of the character and plot motivations.

I kept hoping that once our team of scientists got miniaturized and injected into the subject that things might pick up. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and the novel plods along at its leisurely pace even once we’re injected and running against the clock. The only moments of tension come when the ship is diverted by a white blood cell and later when Morrison is forced to go to extreme measures to try and make the mission a success. (And even then, he has to be blackmailed into it by the Soviet team though threats of destroying what little is left of his academic reputation.)

The book also suffers from the same flaw that several later Asimov projects do — his desire to tie all his universes together. Thankfully it’s not quite as egregious as Robots and Empire, but there’s a coda that makes Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain a stepping stone toward Asimov’s Robots and Foundation novels. It’s only a couple of pages and it’s meant to serve as a coda, so it’s a bit easier to overlook and forgive than some of the other examples from the Asimov library, but it’s still there.

Had I not read the original novel first, I might have liked this one more. Of course, had I not read the original I might not have been willing to give Asimov the benefit of the doubt I needed to keep plowing through this one in the hopes things would get better.

This one just validates my theory that 80’s Asimov output is no where nearly as entertaining and readable as those stories from his early career. I can see what he’s trying to do here, but I still think the original novel, despite all of its scientific implausibilities, is a more entertaining and enjoyable reading experience.


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