Asimov estate authorizes new I, Robot sequel trilogy

Paul Raven @ 02-11-2009

Isaac Asimov's second Foundation in paperbackPerhaps I haven’t been paying attention, but I haven’t seen news of this in the places I’d most have suspected to see it – apparently the estate of the late Isaac Asimov have given the go-ahead to a new sequel trilogy of books in the I, Robot canon, to be authored by Mickey Zucker Reichert [via SlashDot; image by ToastyKen].

Renai LeMay (author of the post linked to above) is pretty incensed by the idea:

Firstly, who the hell is Mickey Zucker Reichert? I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy novels for the past three decades and I’ve never heard her name mentioned. To think that a low-profile author could do justice to some of the best-loved work by one of science fiction’s grand masters is simply preposterous.

Secondly, these books are absolute classics of the genre and stand on their own. As some of the first fiction to explore the possible ethical implications of relationships between robots and humans, they should be left on their own as a signpost in the genre. They should not be followed up and continued. Isaac Asimoc died forty years after they were first written. If he had wanted to follow them up, he would have. The author’s intentions need to be respected here.

This is one of the most ridiculous attempts I have yet seen in the speculative fiction genre to cash in on some of a dead author’s most famous work.

That’s some masterly bluster right there; I could almost hear the spit hitting my monitor. I’ve seen Reichert’s name about the place; while I’ve never read her stuff, she’s hardly an unknown. And as LeMay’s commenters point out, this is hardly the first time a similar posthumous cash-in move has been made on a popular science fiction franchise… hell, it’s not even the first time it’ll have happened to Asimov’s material. LeMay’s distress is understandable, but more than a little overstated, perhaps.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for other-author sequels. I thought the recent Dune additions were shamefully bad… but then they seem to sell rather well, so that opinion is evidently far from universal. But is it really that big a deal? Should we be defensive of the literary legacies of our favourite late authors on their behalf, or should we shrug off copyright exploitation for the inevitability that it is, and wait for reviews from sources we trust to determine whether to invest our time and money in the end result? Do bad sequels inevitably and irreversibly poison the original work, somehow?

A connected (and somewhat more contentious issue) is whether Asimov’s estate should be allowed to exploit his work in this manner. It’s one thing for his family to receive money from work Asimov did himself, but to receive money for work by someone else based around the ideas and characters he created is something rather different. You could look at it as something similar to commissioning (presumably) high-quality fan-fic on a profit-share basis, perhaps – completely legal, certainly, but a llittle more fuzzy from an ethical angle.

Any Asimov addicts in the audience? Will you be buying or boycotting Reichert’s robot books when they get published?


Does Asimov’s Foundation trilogy hold wisdom about the current crisis?

Paul Raven @ 08-05-2009

Asimov's Foundation Trilogy in SpanishMartin Börjesson has just been re-reading Asimov’s famous Foundation Trilogy, and found himself wondering whether the books are any use as a way of reframing the current global situation with regard to economics and geopolitics.

Here it is worth noting that the main inspiration too this novel, which started as a series of short stories by a 22 year old Asimov, published from 1942 and forward, came from Gibbon’s famous work “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. When I see it in this perspective I can’t avoid thinking of the role of the monasteries which worked as knowledge capsules during the dark ages.

What does Dr Seldon say about what causes the fall of the Empire:

  • a rising bureaucracy
  • a receding initiative
  • a freezing of caste
  • a damming of curiosity
  • …a hundred other factors

And the effects will be:

  • its accumulated knowledge will decay
  • the order it has imposed will vanish
  • interstellar wars will be endless
  • interstellar trade will decay
  • population will decline
  • worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy
  • …and so matters will remain

Do these bullets sound familiar?

Well, of course they do; the ways that big systems collapse are well-known to historians and science fiction writers alike; it’s the political types and economists who seem to have the wilful blind spot in this case.

Can books like Foundation help us see things more clearly? Sure – if you’re the sort of person who’s willing to look for those analogies and think them through for yourself. As a tool to bring the message to the masses, though, I doubt they’re of any greater utility than a celebrity cook-book. [image by draXus]


Asimov’s Three Laws of Weigh-Ins

Edward Willett @ 04-03-2008

Alice Wang's half-truth scale Isaac Asimov‘s robot stories were based around his famous Three Laws of Robotics, the first of which states that a robot may not injure a human being.

Asimov got lots of stories out of the many unanticipated behaviours his three laws might provoke in robots under various scenarios. His robots, though, were high-tech sentient creatures with “positronic brains.” I don’t think he ever contemplated applying his laws to everyday household products.

Designer Alice Wang has, though, and regarding Asimov’s First Law, wonders, “Are there existing domestic objects that already break this law?”, and comes up with a surprising answer–bathroom scales:

Scales, although don’t perform physical harm, have been subtly damaging us psychologically. Should objects like these exist in a complex society like ours where people are more emotionally fragile?

She has therefore designed three scales that might reduce the emotional harm caused by the mean old scale. The first, called white lies, allows the person being weighed to lie to him or herself: the further back you stand on it, the lighter you become. “The user can gradually move closer and closer to reality,” she notes. (Via Gizmodo.)

The second, called half-truth, can only be read by a person who is not on the scale: its readout is at the front edge, perpendicular to the floor. “Suitable for cohabiting partners,” notes Wang.

Finally, there’s open secrets, which doesn’t show you your weight at all: it sends a text message to a specified mobile phone, instead. The recipient of the message can then decide whether to share your weight with you immediately, the next time you meet–or not at all. “Suitable for pre-cohabiting couples,” says Wang.

Up next: the Heinleinian Starship Troopers scale, which will only consent to weigh you if you first serve two years in the military.

(Photo: Alice Wang.)

[tags]Asimov,robots,technology,design[/tags]