Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gold

Gold
© Nightfall, Inc. / The Isaac Asimov Estate
345 pages

"At present, when there are a great many writers attempting to scale the mountainside of science fiction, it must be rather annoying for them to see the peak occupied by elderly has-beens who cling to it with their arthritic paws and simply won't get off. Even death, it seems, won't stop us, since Heinlein has already published a posthumous book and reissues of his old novels are in the works." - p. 146, from "Inventing a Universe".

Frequent readers know how big a fan I am of Isaac Asimov, and how much I especially love his short-story collections, so I was very much looking forward this to collection of previously uncollected work. The book is possibly a companion piece to Magic, as both were published in the same year, both share the same format, and both have similar cover art. Like Magic, Gold is a collection of short stories and essays by the late and great Isaac Asimov. Like Magic, Gold is devided into three sections: stories, essays, and more essays. The difference here is that the first set of essays deal with science fiction in general while the second set of essays deals with writing, and writing science fiction in particular.

The stories rate as some of the best I've read from Asimov so far, although to be fair my enjoyment may have been heightened by anticipation. The titular piece, "Gold", is especially good: Asimov tells the story of an artist in the future who composes "compudramas" -- works of art that seems to be somewhere between Pixar-type animated works that are serious, IMAX experiences involving both music and etheral images, and a holodeck. The artist is best known for bringing King Lear to life for his "modern" audience despite the cultural gap, and is approached by a relatively unknown science fiction writer who wishes our artists to create a compu-drama based on a very esoteric work of "hard" science fiction where the lead characters are so far from normality that the artist has to push his creative boundaries to make them alien yet relatable to the human audience. Asimov takes us through the artist's process -- something that seemed to me would be difficult to do even for a seasoned author such as Asimov. Some of the stories are elaborate pun setups, and one of them in particular -- "Cal" -- features a robot who discovers something greater than the Laws of Robotics.

The second section consists of essays on science fiction as a genre and seems to pull from anthologies that Asimov edited, using his introductory essays. These are unedited, meaning the reader will experience Asimov referring to volumes of stories they have no access to. At first this seemed clumsily done -- why not edit the references out? -- but it doesn't retract from the essays too much. Some essay topics include the problems with proposed ways to travel the galaxy, robots, women and science fiction, psychohistory, "golden ages", flying saucer literature, and the influence of science fiction. The third and final section seems to consists of editorials from one of Asimov's magazines in which he writes in response to readers' questions (as he does in "Religion and Science Fiction") or muses on his own subject. These concern the writing process -- plot, use of metaphor, and the importance of dialouge.

The collection was a true joy to read: Asimov is as ever funny, lovable, intelligent, and inspirational. Here was a man who loved life, loved his craft, and loved his readers. Gold is a a fitting tribute to him.

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