The Currents of Space

“The Currents of Space is a 1952 novel by the American science fiction author Isaac Asimov. It is the second of three books labelled the Galactic Empire series. Each occurs after humans have settled many worlds in the galaxy after the second wave of colonisation that went beyond the Spacer worlds and before the era of decline that was the setting for the original Foundation series. Each of the three is only loosely connected to other works, being separated by a fairly large gulf of centuries.”

That’s the description from Wikipedia. This book is completely separate from The Stars Like Dust, in that while it might use the same universe the characters are entirely different and there quite a distance between the books in the time line of the series. Really, they’re separate novels entirely.

I found it quite hard to get into this book, and I don’t think it is as well written as The Stars Like Dust. The problem might have been that I found it pretty hard to care about Rik, and the Florina / Sark division was a bit shallowly constructed. Its hard to imagine a segregation system which is as completely effective as the one described. How did it ever occur? Why didn’t people fight back? Did people never randomly fall in love with the “wrong” set of have affairs?

I persevered however, and the second half of the book is much better that the first, including some twists I didn’t expect. Overall an ok book, but not fantastic.

[isbn: 0553293419;0449015416]

The Stars, Like Dust

This is a short book, and quite different from the other Asimovs I’ve read recently. Specifically it doesn’t have any robots, and isn’t a murder mystery. Its also set about 1,000 years into the future from the previous Robot Mysteries. Its a good book, with a style similar to the original Robot Mysteries (distinct from the newer ones written 40 years later). Its short and an easy read. I liked it.

Update: I originally thought the space between the Robot Mysteries and this book was much bigger than apparently it is meant to be. According to Wikipedia’s page on the empire series:

“Some sources further this argument by asserting that The Stars, Like Dust takes place about one thousand years following the events of Robots and Empire.”

[isbn: 0449023737;0345339290]

Isaac Asimov’s Inferno

Inferno is the second Asimov universe book written by Roger MacBride Allen. Much like Asimov’s Robots and Empire and Caliban, its what I will call an “issue book”. In Robots and Empire the issue at hand was that having a long life results in risk adversity and therefore the stagnation of society as a whole. In Caliban the issue was the over protection of humans by robots, and the ultimately corrupting nature of living in a society built on slavery (even of machines), as well as stagnation caused by the risk adversity of the robots themselves. In this second Allen book, the issue is the exploitation of the “new law” robots who ultimately become the new slaves in return for a chance at freedom later. This exploitation is a criminal offence, so of course they end up with a society in which pretty much everyone has dirty hands of some form.

Overall this was a good read, and probably a better book than Inferno. I certainly found it easier to read and more enjoyable. I read the majority of the book on a single set of flights between the US and Australia because it was such a good read.

Its interesting that the Amazon reviews for this book are mostly negative, and I can see the point they’re trying to make. There are certainly opportunities for Prospero’s psychology and the overall political situation created by the massive disruption of the society to be explored more. Additionally, the murder mystery is resolved very rapidly at the end of the book after crawling progress during the majority of the book. Then again, that’s just like Caves of Steel and Naked Sun, which both are resolved rapidly at the end of the book and gloss over issues which aren’t core to the story. I guess you can chose to tell a story many different ways, and just because Allen didn’t chose to tell it the way that the Amazon reviewers thought he should doesn’t make his choice incorrect.

Isaac Asimov's Inferno Book Cover Isaac Asimov's Inferno
Roger MacBride Allen
Fiction
March 1, 1998
320

A second work in a trilogy that examines Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics finds Caliban, the only robot without guilt or conscience, suspected in the murder of a politician and challenged to lead the New Law robots in a rebellion that threatens humanity. Reprint.

Isaac Asimov’s Caliban

This is a “robot mystery” in the style of Asimov, but actually written by Roger MacBride Allen. Wikipedia assures me that Asimov approved the outline for this book, as well as the other two by Roger:

“Shortly before his death in 1992, Asimov approved an outline for three novels (Caliban, Inferno, Utopia) by Roger MacBride Allen, set between Robots and Empire and the Empire series, telling the story of the terraforming of the Spacer world Inferno, and about the robot revolution started by creating a “No Law” Robot, and then New Law Robots.”

Roger is an interesting author, and appears to have written quite a few books, with a strong tendency for basing them in other author’s universes. Its interesting to meet an author who is so seemingly willing to base his work on that of others.

This book didn’t strike me as well written as Asimov’s, but that’s a pretty high bar to meet. It should be noted that Amazon reviews disagree with me on this point. Its rendition is certainly competent though, and the story is a good one.

Isaac Asimov's Caliban Book Cover Isaac Asimov's Caliban
Roger MacBride Allen, Isaac Asimov,
Fiction
1997
312

When an experiment with a new type of robot brain goes awry, the result is the creation of Caliban, a conscienceless robot that is not monitored by the Three Laws of Robotics that keep humans safe. Reprint.

Robots and Empire

I find the newer Asimovs harder to read for some reason — I think it might be because they are more inclined to introspection that the earlier ones, but that might not be all of it. Overall I enjoyed this book, although I did find that I lost enthusiasm briefly in the middle. Overall, worth the effort though.

You can tell that Asimov was getting old at the time that he wrote this book, as he dwells extensively on the importance of living an interesting and worthwhile life, instead of necessarily a long life. Overall he makes the argument that this is what is wrong with Spacer society — life is so long that its inconceivable to take risks early in life that might shorten that life. Later in life its too late however, as you are by then trapped in your comfortable rut. Its an interesting concept, and one which bears further consideration.

[isbn: 0586062009;0345328949]

Robots of Dawn

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]

Naked Sun

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]

Caves of Steel

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]

I, Robot

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.