Monday, December 7, 2009

Asimov: The Complete Stories, Volume I

Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Volume I
© 1990 Isaac Asimov
614 pages

I finished this book over a week ago, but academic responsibilities have seen my writing limited to papers for class and my creativity beyond that slightly dampened. I acquired this book a few months ago and have read from it ever since, little by little. The set it is part of was never completed: only two of the three planned books were ever released. Volume I contains two of Asimov's short-story collections, Earth is Room Enough and Nine Tomorrows. The former is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, while the latter is straight science fiction with humorous and -- as always with Asimov, self-depreciating -- poetry rounding things out. This collection contains some of my favorite pieces by Asimov, and of course I would recommend it to any fans of the good doctor or to classical science fiction fans. Here are a few of the stories you might be interested in:

  • The classic "Nightfall", a short story about a world with six suns and a history of civilization-destroying madness. Scientists and cultists both predict the end of the world is at hand. 
  • "The Feeling of Power" depicts Earth in the future, where reliance on computers has grown to the point that humans can no longer do simple arithmetic: computers themselves design and manufacture the newer generations of computers. A technological historian sorts out how to work through simple mathematical formulas and begins teaching them to his fellow citizens, only to be horrified when the military realizes math's uses.
  • "Profession" is one of the more interesting stories, at least for me, and shows an Earth similar to the Earth in "Feeling of Power". Technology is used to teach children to read and to train them for their professions, but when one man tries to beat the system and learn on his own, strange things happen.
  • "The Last Question", one of Asimov's favorites: can entropy be beaten? 
  • "The Fun They Had": children in Earth's far future puzzle over the existence of books and communal classrooms in an age where they are taught by robotic tutors.
  • "The Immortal Bard": William Shakespeare is plucked from his own time and finds himself in an English class devoted to analyzing the collected works of Shakespeare.
  • "The Gentle Vultures": Aliens puzzle over why Earth has not yet destroyed itself in a nuclear war.
  • "All the Troubles of the World" features Asimov's "Multivac", the ultimate computer that knows all...which turns out to be too much.
  • "Breeds There a Man?" is another interesting one, also involving aliens and nuclear physics. 

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