Back in 2007, I discovered Isaac Asimov’s short stories and became a trifle obsessed with him, to the point that I have an entire bookcase devoted to his short stories, essays, novels and books. Lately I’ve been feeling the itch to read some old-fashioned SF, and that vein have thought back to some of the dear doctor’s more memorable pieces:
1. “The Feeling of Power”
In the near-distant future, Earth suddenly achieves a revolution in space warfare when a rogue scientist invents…math. Those fellows on the other side will find their mere automatons outmatched!
On a planet with several suns, night never falls. Or…does it? Lately archaeologists have begun to see a pattern in sites through the world, as if global civilization destroys itself in spectacle of fire every two thousand years.
3. “Gentle Vultures”
They’ve seen it before. An intelligent society comes of age, invents nuclear arms, and then destroys itself. After the collapse, however, our gentle main characters, aliens, step in to help rebuild a nuclear-free future — for a fee. Now Earth has achieved nuclear arms, and …well, they haven’t gotten around to destroying themselves. Surely they will. Perhaps they need a little..push? Best to get it over with so the rebuilding can start, right?
4. “The Obvious Factor”
The Black Widowers are a club of six professional men who meet once a month at a New York restaurant and enjoy dinner in a private room. Each month, a guest joins them, and invariably the guest has a mystery. But now comes a mystery that — seemingly — defies logic and rationality.
5. “Bicentennial Man”
My first encounter with Asimov was watching the Robin Williams movie inspired by this tale of an android who seeks to be human. (This is not to be confused with Positronic Man, also an Asimov story.)
One of a series of stories about two human engineers who trouble-shoot mining robots, this one features artificial intelligence gone awry. That’s unusual for Asimov, because he believed from the beginning that robots were human tools, and would be by design created for safety. All of the stories about these two engineers are favorites, but “Runaround Sue” is another worth naming.
On their seventh birthday, boys and girls learn to read by being hooked up to a machine. On their sixteenth birthdays, they are analyzed by the machine again and given the knowledge they need for whatever career the machine decides Earth needs. But what if someone can’t be molded so easily?
A self-driving car? Hah! Try a self-aware car.
9. “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”
Something is wrong with little Johnny. He wants…to go outside. Outside! In the open air , without any climate control, with no roof nor walls about him, where insects and mud lie in waiting around every corner. Kids these days!
The future of voting? In 2008, elections have become so computerized, so influenced by the planet-master MULTIVAC computer, that only one man’s input is needed. Every year, the computer in its wisdom finds The Average Voter, the one man or woman who most epitomizes what Americans want in the election, and asks them a few questions. From such an interview, the next president is chosen.
Now, time to see if there’s an Asimov short story I haven’t read! Let the hunt begin.