Sunday, June 06, 2021

Fortnightly Book, June 6

 Having done several heavy tomes for the fortnightly book so far this year, I'm feeling the need for lighter fare. So I've decided to do some re-reading of some of Isaac Asimov's works, a bit like I did for Agatha Christie a few years back -- that is, there will be some I will definitely read, and then, since I'm liking to get through them quickly, I will just add another to the stack. I've already done the Foundation novels and Lucky Starr; I think I'll set aside the Robot novels (but not short stories), as well. I'm inclining against adding any mysteries (although I'll possibly do them at some point, since Asimov is a greatly underappreciated mystery writer), but we'll see. The works that I will definitely read are:

The End of Eternity

The Gods Themselves

The Complete Robot

Asimov is generally seen as having a very optimistic view of science; this can be exaggerated even for the works with which it is true, but both The End of Eternity and The Gods Themselves deal with pitfalls in the scientific process. In the first, an organization called Eternity, having a monopoly on time travel, changes reality, and Asimov explores the way in which such a power would alienate one from one's humanity. The second, which I think in some ways is Asimov's single best science fiction work, considered as science fiction, is based on a particular translation of a line in a play be Schiller (which it has made famous): "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." This is indeed the theme of the work -- the role of stupidity, in a wide variety of forms (self-aggrandizement, credit-stealing, public lionization of particular figures for superficial reasons, academic string-pulling and politicking, petty personal resentments, political tensions, recklessness), in scientific progress. The Complete Robot, of course, is an anthology of robot stories, grouped by theme, with some comments by Asimov; contrary to the title, it is not strictly complete (there are, I think, six stories that were written after), although it covers thirty-one stories from 1939 to 1977. It basically includes I, Robot (without the framing) and The Rest of the Robots with a few others.

Others that might get added, as time allows, are The Currents of Space, Pebble in the Sky, The Stars Like Dust (if I can find my copy of it), and Nightfall and Other Stories.