It’s the last Thursday of November and that means I get to write a review and pass it off as a Motivational blog post!
I have been reading the Robot Trilogy by Isaac Asimov this month, and it’s been a lot of fun to visit science fiction that influenced so damned much in its genre and just about everywhere else. The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn are books I had actually not read yet because I’m a terrible genre reader despite writing science fiction a fair amount.
These books follow the exploits of an Earthman detective in the far future where space exploration and other world settlement has already happened, and thinking robots have become a standard practice on all worlds, to varying degrees. On Earth they are distrusted and treated almost like immigrants stealing our jerbs.
The Earthman, Elijah Baley, is tasked with each novel to solve a murder that appears to be impossible to solve, or to have only one possible answer but that answer doesn’t jive with motives. Elijah Baley is forced to work with a robot, Daneel Olivaw, from a different world, in order to help solve these murders. Daneel is the most sophisticated robot in existence, mimicking human appearance and behavior better than any robot before him, and only through careful attention or having it pointed out does one become aware of his robotic nature.
So these are older books, published for the first time long before I was born, and as such they are not precisely good in a modern sense. There are a lot of crazy archaic things happening and they haven’t aged especially well.
So when I went into them, having only Asimov’s Foundation series to draw on for his style of writing and the era of science fiction in which he was pioneering, I knew what to expect.
And was summarily proven wrong on my expectations.
The books are a masterclass in world-building, logical puzzles, and interesting characters that are so stubborn and set in their beliefs and ways that to believe anything else is simply impossible. Elijah Baley crashes through hundreds of years of cultural divide, fumble-fucking every cultural norm on the way that provides endless entertainment as he comes to terms with his own biases and changes his own way of thinking while shattering silly social orders with his humble Earthman ways.
I find the stories to be frustrating in some ways, but mostly they’re just really fun to read and provide an almost endless litany of philosophical debate and interesting questions.
Asimov’s main strength to me has always been his capacity to draw you into a world through sheer logical constructs, giving you characters who are as myopic as they are willing to question their own belief structures to get what they want or need.
I felt that way about Foundation’s stories, and I feel that way about the Robot trilogy.
Maybe I’m not writing logically airtight science fiction when I do, but Asimov’s stories are definitely in the back of my mind when I start building worlds in technological and spacefaring ages. He does it well, and so consistently well!
So if you want to see a father of modern science fiction, or even a grandfather at this point, give Asimov’s Robot stories a whirl, learn what you can from them, and always remember to write the hell on.