Robots of Dawn

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This book is the third in the third in the Robot mystery series, and is once again set on a Spacer world. This one was written 30 years after the first two, and Asimov’s style has noticeably changed between the 1950s and 1980s.

The book starts off slowly, with a lecturing tone which I found quite annoying. For example, devoting an entire page to a discussion of whether the deliberate death of a a robot (even a human shaped on) is murder. Often the first part of the book feels like it is going excessively slowly.

However, its only the first third of so of the book which suffers this flaw. Its as if Asimov realized after a while that he also had a story to tell, and got on with it. The book then improves massively and has a good story.

So, overall I liked this book, although the first part of the book wasn’t as good as the rest of the Asimov I’ve read.

[isbn: 0553299492;0345315715]
[award: nominee hugo 1984]

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Naked Sun

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Bill Clarke was kind enough to lend me a compendium of Asimov that contained the next book in the series I’m reading at the moment. I’ve had to skip over some of the earlier collections of robot short stories, because they’re quite hard to find. Specifically, I haven’t been able to find anyone with a copy of The Complete Robot for sale, even new.

This book is the next in the Robot series, and the second which features Detective Baley. Again Baley is solving a murder, although this time its occurred on a Spacer world instead of his own Earth. Along the way he has to confront his own fear of open spaces, as well as other’s fear of proximity to other humans.

This was again another excellent book. I enjoyed it a lot.

[isbn: 0553293397]

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Caves of Steel

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Caves of Steel is interesting because it is a murder mystery set in the future, which at the time this book was written was a novel concept. It also presents an interesting almost-communist view of the future, where individual liberties are surrendered one by one in order to improve economic efficiency in order to support Earth’s ever growing population. Implicit in that is the assertion that capitalism is inherently inefficient, but I’ll leave that discussion alone.

This book is a really quick read. It took me a day (including actually going to work) to knock it over, which was fun. The book is a good, light read.

[isbn: 0553293400]
[award: nominee hugo 1954]

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I, Robot

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The 1950s must have been a great time to be a science fiction author. WW2 was finally over, and seemingly massively stupid ideas like mutually assured destruction, nuclear rifles so powerful that they were as much a danger to those firing them as those who were on the receiving end, and Brylcreem were all the rage. Into this atmosphere of run away idiocy comes Asimov’s I, Robot, the book which defined the three laws of robotics, and some how managed to not suggest that humanity should nuke each other all into submission. This book is still an excellent read almost 60 years later, and I think still shows us some of the future. Its a little depressing to think how little we’ve achieved towards Asimov’s proposed future world, given the time line laid out in this book.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is Asimov’s failure to predict things which seem so mundane now, but must have not been obvious to an observer in 1950. For example:

  • The commonness of computers now. One of the short stories revolves around a secret batch of robots, and the need to debug them. The protagonists can’t use a computer though, because that would draw too much attention. Why not use a laptop? Because Asimov failed to predict them.
  • The use of wire recorders to record sound. No optical media (or whatever we’ll have in the future) here.
  • The assumption that robots contain vacuum tubes.
  • The failure to account for inflation. This one should have been obvious! A batch of 63 robots for instance is valued at $2 million dollars in one of the stories, a sum so great that no one can conceive of deliberately destroying the batch.

A good book.

I, Robot Book Cover I, Robot
Isaac Asimov
Fiction
Spectra
2004
224

The development of robot technology to a state of perfection by future civilizations is explored in nine science fiction stories.

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Bill The Galactic Hero

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This book is an interesting read, but for unusual reasons. Its as if Harrison sets out to write a terrible book, and learns new techniques to achieve this terrible along the way. An example of his mastery of the art:

A hundred bucks a month was good money, though, and Bill saved every bit of it. Easy, lazy months rolled by, and he regularly went to meetings and reported regularly to the G.B.I., and on the first of every month he would find his money baked into the egg roll he invariably had for lunch. He kept the greasy bills in a toy rubber cat he found on the rubbish heap, and bit by bit the kitty grew.

It seems to me that this book is so terrible it has to be deliberate, and its good to see that Wikipedia agrees:

Bill, the Galactic Hero is a satirical science fiction novel by Harry Harrison, first published in 1965.

It is a response to Heinlein’s controversially militaristic Starship Troopers. The overall plot is similar, the details rather less so; and Harrison makes the most of an opportunity to spoof the work of other authors including Isaac Asimov, “Doc” Smith, and Joseph Heller. Harrison reports having been approached by a Vietnam veteran who described Bill as “the only book that’s true about the military”.

This book is a study in bad writing, and that’s what makes it great. This book is entertaining, stupid, and funny. You wont to be a better person at the end, but you wont be bored while reading it either. To be clear — I loved this book and its paranoia-like universe.

[isbn: 0743423763;0380003953]

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The Complete Hammer’s Slammers Volume 1

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It occurred to me over the weekend that it was odd that I was updating books I had recently read on a book site like goodreads, given that all I’m doing by entering data on their site is blogging someplace that not even I remember to read. I’m therefore going to move all of that stuff over to here, and then try to remember to blog about books I’ve read recently in the future. Don’t worry though, I don’t get much time to read in between work, study and kids, so it wont be too many posts.

Dad got me this and the second volume for my birthday last year, and they were awesome. The books are about a future tank squadron which takes on mercenary jobs, none of which ever seem to be clean or simple. Along the way you end up learning that they’re all just misfits who haven’t managed to find any other job which is a better fit for them. Worse than that, I’m left with the impression that in the back of their minds they all realize that they’re running on borrowed time. David Drake has a unique position to comment on what its like to fight in a war, given he is a Vietnam veteran. These stories are fantastic science fiction, and often leave you with a realization that war often isn’t simple, or fair. I first encountered David’s writing when I was a kid reading a remaindered anthology called “Battlefields Beyond Tomorrow”, which was a collection of short war science fiction stories. Luckily for me 15 or so years after I first encountered them I still think they are great stories. These books are highly recommended.

Stories included:

  • Under the Hammer
  • Supertanks
  • The Butcher’s Bill
  • The Church of the Lord’s Universe
  • But Loyal to His Own
  • Powerguns
  • Caught in the Crossfire
  • Backdrop to Chaos
  • Cultural Conflict
  • The Bonding Authority
  • Hangman
  • Table of Organization and Equipment, Hammer’s Regiment
  • Standing Down
  • Code-Name Feirefitz
  • The Interrogation Team
  • The Tank Lords
  • Liberty Port
  • Night March
  • The Immovable Object
  • The Irresistible Force
  • A Death in Peacetime

[isbn: 189238969X]

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A Stainless Steel Rat is Born

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This was another book I read as a kid and had fond memories of. When I found it at Powell’s books for under $4 I just had to pick it up. Harrison seems to focus on “pulp science fiction” — all of the stuff I have seen from him has been short and easy reading, as is the case with this book. What do you do if you’re stuck on a farming planet, smart, and bored out of your brain? Apparently the answer is to turn to a life of crime for entertainment. That’s what James DeGriz does, and he is a great anti-hero while he’s at it. Great book.

[isbn: 0553279424]

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Exciting news

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Today email arrived with the contract for my second book (following on from The Definitive Guide to ImageMagick). This one is a still-secret project hatched with Stewart Smith, and I don’t want to mention the topic in public just yet. There are two reasons for that — there’s always a risk that the whole project will be a massive train wreck, and because Stewart and I haven’t talked yet about how we want to do the announcement. This book will be done with Apress, which I guess means that I thought they were pretty good to work with the first time.

Anyway, just keeping you up to date on the gossip…

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