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?