Asimov is one of the greats for his ideas, if not exactly his prose. There's a lot to quibble about with respect to the artistry in this book —in part...moreAsimov is one of the greats for his ideas, if not exactly his prose. There's a lot to quibble about with respect to the artistry in this book — in particular, the yawn-worthy, pseudo-Socratic exposition (only a scientist could think that two scientists talking to each other makes for a fascinating story). But getting past those stylistic inadequacies, and a few anachronisms, it's still interesting to think about the technical, ethical, social and political problems presented by robots and "machine men."
One of the things that struck me as odd is the persistent insistence by characters — who are typically scientists or engineers — to call various outcomes or reasonings "impossible," only to be shown that such outcomes or reasonings are, in fact, quite possible. I have not decided yet whether this repetition is a grand insight on Asimov's part, i.e., a commentary on the tendency of humans to set artificial boundaries against their own imaginations, or whether it is simply a quirk of the author to need characters who express objection in the superlative to provide some level of tension in an otherwise rather mundane and technical conversation.
Much is made of Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," which are invoked significantly throughout the stories in this book. While I've run across the laws in others of Asimov's stories, I was a little dismayed to find that in this book they aren't treated quite as rigorously as I had been led to believe. In fact, there seems to be some inconsistency in how exactly the laws function. In some of the stories, it is stated that the laws are, somehow, integral parts of the positronic brain, and that it is "impossible" (there's that word again) for robots not to follow them. In other stories, we got robots who are deliberately modified to ignore parts of the three laws or who are damaged in some way so as to not be able to follow the laws appropriately. I suppose one could explain "positronic inherency vs. programmatic function" with a "nature vs. nurture" metaphor — but I'm not sure it quite works.
Overall, this is a decent collection that mostly holds up. If nothing else, it provides some insight into the ideas that science fiction writers in the early to mid 20th century were thinking about. If they take a different form than today's ideas, well, we can't blame them for that....
Incidentally, it's unfortunate that the terrible, terrible Will Smith movie is featured on the cover of this edition, not only because the movie itself sucked, but also because it has almost nothing to do with any of the stories in this book, beyond a common title.(less)
Neil Gaiman continues to amaze me with his stories. Overall, I very much enjoyed this collection of "fragile things." I particularly enjoyed "A Study...moreNeil Gaiman continues to amaze me with his stories. Overall, I very much enjoyed this collection of "fragile things." I particularly enjoyed "A Study in Emerald," "October in the Chair" (notwithstanding my birthmonth), "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless," "Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox" (reminded me in a way of Stephen King's "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away"), "Sunbird" and "The Monarch of the Glen" (a sequel to American Gods).
I would've rated it a five based on those stories alone, but there were a few other stories that didn't quite work for me. "The Problem of Susan" is, well, problematic, not in the idea (which I think is a worthy one) but the execution. There was an awkwardness to the grit of "Keepsakes and Treasures." Some of the poems, like "The Day the Saucers Came," seemed a bit throwaway.
But overall, a good collection. Anyone who already enjoys Gaiman should find a lot in this book to sustain their opinion. And those who aren't that familiar with his work will probably find a few pleasant nuggets as well.(less)
As an attempt to offer a survey of (mostly 20th century) short science fiction, this anthology is quite successful. Since with a book like this it's a...moreAs an attempt to offer a survey of (mostly 20th century) short science fiction, this anthology is quite successful. Since with a book like this it's almost impossible to make any significant assessment that doesn't boil down to simply preference, I will simply list those stories I liked best out of the collection, followed by some choice quotations.
Stories I liked
Please do not take this list as an endorsement that only these stories should be read. All of the stories in this book are worth reading. These are just the ones that struck me in a particular way. They are listed in chronological order (the order they appear in the book).
(Taken out of context, not necessarily related to the list above, and presented in the order they appear.)
Why spend physical energy in combative strife for something we do not wish…? – "The Conquest of Gola," Leslie F. Stone
No planet, no universe, is greater to a man than his own ego, his own observing self. – "Thunder and Roses," Theodore Sturgeon
I finally realized that I was not speculating about masks in general, but about what lay behind one in particular. That's the devil of the things; you're never sure whether a girl is heightening loveliness or hiding ugliness. – "Coming Attraction," Fritz Leiber
…but there are times when a scientist must not be afraid to make a fool of himself. – "The Sentinel," Arthur C. Clarke
…the old are often insanely jealous of the young. – "The Sentinel," Arthur C. Clarke
Live in the world around you. – "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," Harlan Ellison
…but face it, most of the things we call "sexy" are symbolic, you know, except perhaps an exhibitionist's open fly. – "Day Million," Frederik Pohl
It is people that make stories, not the circumstances they find themselves in. – "Day Million," Frederik Pohl
There are times when you must walk by yourself because it hurts so much to be alone. – "Aye, and Gomorrah…," Samuel R. Delany
"I want you because you can't want me." – "Aye, and Gomorrah…," Samuel R. Delany
We can't afford to tease and run. – "Passengers," Robert Silverberg
An overcrowded world is the ideal place in which to be lonely. – "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," Brian Aldiss
Did repetition of the individual negate individuality? – "Nine Lives," Ursula K. Le Guin
When one culture has the big guns and the other has none, there is a certain predictability about the outcome. – "When it Changed," Joanna Russ
Nobody wants to spend eternity alone. – "Closer," Greg Egan
You know, all the evil in the world, all the sadness comes from not having a good answer to that question: what do I do next? – "Everywhere," Geoff Ryman
…through the act of reading my words, the patterns that form your thoughts become an imitation of the patterns that once formed mine. And in that way I live again, through you. – "Exhalation," Ted Chiang(less)
I will take this opportunity to once again reiterate that Bradbury is at his best when keeps his stories tightly focused. These incisive imaginings ar...moreI will take this opportunity to once again reiterate that Bradbury is at his best when keeps his stories tightly focused. These incisive imaginings are incredible, and he rises to the challenge of offering us a world that is familiar-yet-strange. It's impossible not to feel feel the heavier air at the bottom of the uncanny valley every other page or so.
I remember reading "There Will Come Soft Rains" in high school, and having now read the rest of the Chronicles, it remains one of my favorites. Add to that "The Earth Men," "Usher II," "The Off Season" and "—And the Moon Be Still as Bright" ("We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things") to get my top five favorites. However, all of these stories are great, as is the thread twining them all together.(less)
"Smith of Wooton Major" is a delightfully short tale about a blacksmith named Smith. (We find out some of his friends are named Cooper and Miller -- I...more"Smith of Wooton Major" is a delightfully short tale about a blacksmith named Smith. (We find out some of his friends are named Cooper and Miller -- I wonder what they do....) As a boy he eats a magic star that gives him a passport to the land of Faery, where he wanders and has some mostly harmless adventures, until one day he is told he must give up the star to another child.
The story is quite un-Tolkienian in the sense that he barely explains anything. Which is good. I mean, I love the guy, but sometimes he's just too damn wordy.
"Farmer Giles of Ham" is another playful short (though, a bit longer than "Smith") about an agriculturist who accidentally becomes a hero, and as such he is democratically chosen by the townspeople to face a dragon, much to his chagrin.(less)