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Retro Reads #2 – Great Sci-Fi From the Golden Years

October 10, 2012

This is the second list of some of the speculative fiction from the golden era, books that have remained classics throughout the years.  It’s not hard to find good science fiction, but there are certain works that we should read or re-read to remind ourselves of the stories that sparked our own desire to write about an imagined future that holds a place in our hearts.  This will be an ongoing series of posts that will spotlight books that influenced the development of thought during my formative years.  There is nothing magical about this list, it is nothing more than a compilation of my own personal tastes.  I hope you find something that piques your interest.  And so, here’s a little Isaac Asimov.

Foundation

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Sheldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a fututre generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun—or fight them and be destroyed.

I, Robot

The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders givein to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world–all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov’s trademark.

Caves of Steel

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history:  the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain.  Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together.  Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.  But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer.  The relationship between Life and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start.  Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner:  R. Daneel Olivaw.  Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot–and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!

One of Isaac Asimov’s SF masterpieces, this stand-alone novel is a monument of the flowering of SF in the 20th century. It is widely regarded as Asimov’s single best SF novel and one every SF fan should read.

The End of Eternity

Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, a member of the elite of the future. One of the few who live in Eternity, a location outside of place and time, Harlan’s job is to create carefully controlled and enacted Reality Changes. These Changes are small, exactingly calculated shifts in the course of history made for the benefit of humankind. Though each Change has been made for the greater good, there are always costs.

During one of his assignments, Harlan meets and falls in love with Noÿs Lambent, a woman who lives in real time and space. Then Harlan learns that Noÿs will cease to exist after the next change, and risks everything to sneak her into Eternity.

Unfortunately, they are caught. Harlan’s punishment? His next assignment: kill the woman he loves before the paradox they have created results in the destruction of Eternity.

This is not, by any means, a definitive list, but it represents a nice cross-section of Asimov’s work. The next Retro Reads post will pick up with a look at the works of Arthur C. Clarke.

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