Thursday, January 2, 2020

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Isaac Asimov

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Isaac Asimov

Today would have been (officially -- the actual day is unknown) Isaac Asimov's 100th birthday. In the past I have posted reviews of Asimov Ace Doubles -- but why not a collection of my looks at his short fiction? This is a decidedly skewed look -- it's based entirely on those stories I happened across over the last couple of decades in reading old issues of SF magazines, so it misses many of his best stories, including my clear favorite of all his stories, "The Dead Past". But it does cover a couple of his very worst stories, so there's that!

Astounding, June 1948

Notable in the June 1948 issue were Isaac Asimov's "No Connection!", about intelligent bears far in the future, and the horrible idea that the disgusting monkeys from across the planet could possibly be related to the noble primates who had previously inhabited the planet, but who had gone extinct. This may be my single favorite Asimov story from the 1940s.

Universe, December 1953

"Everest" is an Isaac Asimov short-short (1200 words) which is mildly famous for predicting that the summit of Everest would first be reached in 1952, which it was. However, for a story published in late 1953, that wasn't too terribly impressive. (He wrote the story before Hillary and co. climbed the mountain, of course.) The trick here is what the first man to get to the top would find -- not much of a surprise for an SF story.

F&SF, December 1955

"Dreaming is a Private Thing" is one of Asimov's better known stories, and, I think, one of his best. The new art here is dreaming -- creating dreams that can be recorded for other people to experience. The story doesn't really turn on plot -- it examines dreaming as art, and its affect on a couple of talented dreamers -- a young boy just showing the ability, and a highly admired professional. He also considerd pornographic dreams, and low quality dreams, and their commercial effects. It's a smart and believable story.

Super Science Fiction, December 1957

And finally, Isaac Asimov's "The Gentle Vultures" also concerns aliens who plan to dominate Earth -- they simply mean to wait out the Cold War until the inevitable nuclear holocaust occurs.  But the humans won't cooperate - won't start the war!  Again, I thought the central idea was too gimmicky, too much a setup.

Infinity, January 1958

"Lenny" is one of Asimov's later Robot stories, and one of his worst. It's about a robot that is (by an absurd mechanism) altered to remain perpetually a child. Being a child, it doesn't know its own strength, so injures someone, which could be a major PR issue. But Susan Calvin is determined to save Lenny ... and in the end comes up with a thoroughly unconvincing rationale to allow that. One of the main issues I have with the story is the violence it does to Calvin's well-established character -- this is Asimov at his most cloyingly sexist.

Super Science Fiction, April 1958

Isaac Asimov is here with "All the Troubles of the World", one of his Multivac stories, about a super-powerful computer. In this case the computer becomes neurotic after absorbing the knowledge of, well, all the troubles of the world.

Fantastic Universe, January 1959

At this stage of his career Isaac Asimov could be kind of annoying – he wrote some really slapdash stuff (in amongst some excellent work, to be sure). He had a deal with various editors of lower-end magazines whereby he would offer them a new story. If they wanted to pay the same rate the top-end magazines paid, they could have the story. If not, he'd send it to the top magazines, and if they took it fine. If not, Asimov would give the story to the lower-end magazine. I don't know if this deal applied with Fantastic Universe, but if it did, I'm fairly sure “Rain, Rain, Go Away” was a story they got at their rate, not Asimov's. (Actually Wikipedia says the idea for the story came from F&SF editor Robert P. Mills, but that he rejected it, not surprisingly.) It's about an odd family of “foreigners” who seem terribly afraid of rain. The neighbors insist on getting to know them better, including an outing on what seems a very nice day … but an unexpected rainstorm comes up. I won't give the ending away, but it's really trivial. Asimov at pretty much his worst.

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