June 22nd, 2015


Links I found interesting for 22-06-2015


The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov

I think I had read almost all of these before, in one collection or another; this books takes all of the  various stories about robots, most of which feature the Three Laws of Robotics (first mentioned in "Runaround", set on the planet Mercury in 2015) and mostly dating from Asimov's earlier career before he went big into non-fiction leavened by the occasional novel.

And they are pretty dated. I hate the cliché of cute anthropomorphic robots with a deep deep loathing, and Asimov is largely responsible for giving it more literary credibility than it deserves. The Three Laws are essentially a narrative device for Asimov to show how clever he is for inventing them and then for thinking of ways that they can be tested, rather than anything realistically relating to AI as it is likely to develop. Susan Calvin is introduced as a freakishly unfeminine woman, who is nonetheless redeemed in one story by discovering motherhood. The collection climaxes with the abysmal Hugo and Nebula winning "The Bicentennial Man". There are still stories being written in this tradition, but they are tired and clichéd.

In one or two places, Asimov does steer close to allowing the situation of robots to parallel that of people in our world who lack full citizenship. Many of these stories were written at a time when slavery in the United States was still within living memory. But I think the parallel is actually rather offensive.

It's odd to re-read this in the shadow of Puppygate. Presumably this is the kind of good old-fashioned SF that some regret is no longer being written. But the reasons why it is no longer being written this way become obvious when you read this collection.