Foundation And Other Works
THE SCIENCE FICTION OF ISAAC ASIMOV
Isaac Asimov, were a scientific commentator, a major SF writer; and a card carrying Humanist. His Three laws of robotics are very humanistic. Real life robotics engineers have taken them up. The laws, which are crucial to any understanding of his work, are ?/. No robot can injure a human being, or through inaction, cause human beings to come to any harm 2/. Robots must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders conflict with the first law. 3/. Robots must protect their own existence, unless this protective behaviour conflicts with the first two laws. ' Some of Asimov's short stories are very moving; in All The Troubles Of The World, a computer agony aunt called Multivac manipulates a young boy into switching it off. It wants to die it says. Its task of grasping human tragedy and despair provokes its own suicidal depression. Asimov proved that stories about robots could be imaginative even without having them killing scores of people. His robots have wisdom programmed into them; we have to learn our humanity the hard way. We can't be programmed to do that which is morally ethically right, we should envy Asimov's robots. Asimov's ambitious Foundation novels (the first, Foundation, appearing in 1951) present a whole future history, spanning thousands of years It takes up the idea of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and applies then to a future space federation, staving off gradual decline towards barbarism. His work is full of wonderful assertions about crimes against humanity; "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" he said in Foundation. Asimov often saw humanity as no more advanced in the computer/robotics age than we were in prehistoric times. The Caves Of Steel (1954) takes its title from the idea that futuristic city dwellings are just a new kind of cave, and that we are every bit as savage as we imagine our cave-dwelling Neanderthal forbears were. Here, a detective who despises robots ends up with one as a co-worker. They have to work out how the three laws of robotics seem to have been violated. It turns out to be a human behind it, though in later stories, Asimov did give in to temptation and create killer robots. In Fantastic Voyage (1966) Asimov tells of a journey into inner space when a team of medics are shrunk and sent on a voyage through a human patient in order to perform delicate microsurgery from within. A low budget but not-unclever film version followed. Asimov not only wrote some of the best imaginative SF, but also many excellent articles and books on science, culture, art, religion, and psychology. Many pulp magazines included scientific articles in between the SF stories. Einstein was a keen subscriber to many such journals. Asimov wrote a staggering 329 non-fiction science essays for Fantasy And Science Fiction magazine alone. Many readers of the science articles, and even the fiction itself have gone on to take a career interest in science as a result. Asimov was unusually cheerful, and often comical as an SF writer. Many works seemed to undermine and upset our sense of value and meaning. The post war years were a time of social uncertainty strongly reflected in SF. Invaders from other worlds became pitiless and inhumane, like Lovecraft?s Cthulhu, generally simply attacking Earth for the sake of it, or for no more reason than that they could. Asimov rarely went down such a path, but still presented much of the finest SF ever penned.