Thursday, April 30, 2009

Early Isaac

Since I'm in a science fiction-y kind of mood I thought I'd spend some time with the guy who first got me into the genre, Isaac Asimov. Little Glenn started with I, Robot, which I read over and over. I thought that Donovan and Powell were cool. Susan Calvin was beyond cool and well into the icy, but she was interesting. The positronic brain and the three laws were an analog for human ethics. Little Glenn realized that Asimov was dealing with human morality but had separated it from humanity in order to look at it in a new way. I was hooked.

That is the sort of thing the Good Doctor did best. But not everything he wrote was at that level. Some of it was more in the realm of the science fiction action story, with a little romance thrown in. That's okay too. Even weak Asimov is still fun, and The Stars, Like Dust is pretty weak.

I get a kick out of reading old science fiction. In those days the tropes that we take for granted needed to be explained. They don't just say “put us into hyperdrive” or “open the jump gate.” In those good old days the writers would take the time to explain the science behind the imagination. Asimov shows us the mathematics behind celestial navigation. The reader gets the thrills of action, adventure, daring-do, and a lengthy explanation of the difficulties of searching for a star that might have a planet in a large area of space. Fortunately there is a girl along to ask the dumb questions.

That's another thing about reading 50s genre fiction. The girl is there to be beautiful, occasionally petulant, brave and loyal, but in need of rescuing. She also helps out with the exposition, because you've got to explain things to girls, you know. Dr. Asimov was a great and wise man, but at this early stage of his career he had not yet been enlightened by the growing feminist movement.

For an old SF fan like yours truly, The Stars, Like Dust is pleasantly quaint. It's a literary stroll through a simpler, if not better, time.

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