Monday, August 18, 2003

My Love Of All Things Sci-Fi

Finding nothing else to do this past weekend, I found myself rereading my well used copy of “The Complete Robot” by Isaac Asimov. From the very first sentence I found myself rediscovering my love for his work after being away from his books for some time now. My prior absences was partly self inflicted as I wanted to expand my circle of reading materials to non science fiction work so it has been quite some time since I read his wonderful stories. I’ve actually forgotten how much I enjoyed their simplicity and profoundness.

I have always been partial to science fiction literature. I guess that this choice was a logical offshoot of my obsession with the fantastical world of comic books. As a child, I was given paperback versions of classic sci-fi books like “The Time Machine” by HG Wells and “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” by Jules Verne to read. My parents were of course happy to get me these books as it meant, at the time to them, that I was finally ready to be weaned off comic books. Of course they would later realize that my growing obsession with sci-fi literature did nothing to dampen my appetite for my monthly comics fix.

It was from these classic works of science fiction that my reading preference began to develop. I continued to devour all science fiction books that I could get my hand on from either my parents or from the public library. It became the only type of book other then my school textbooks that I would read and enjoy. While other people my age then was reading about the Hardy Boys, I was deeply engrossed in Frank Herbert’s Dune series. While the other boys were reading about how to plan a camping trip, I was learning about the theory of relativity as basis of faster than light travel in science fiction books. It was during this period of literature discovery that I found myself gravitating towards stories written by Isaac Asimov.

I have to say that I can’t remember which story that I read that made me into an Asimov fan. What I remember is that for a time, his work was the only thing that I was looking forward to reading. If I have to put my finger on what it is about his writing that I enjoy, I would say that it was the deceptive simplicity of the way he tells his deeply philosophical stories to the readers. Having getting started in the business as a pulp magazine writer, Asimov had to write succinctly to continue to maintain his readership. His economy of words continued in his latter works even after he stopped writing for the magazine and became a full fledged writer. It was from this early necessity that his writing developed into one that is simple to enjoy and yet has several layers of understanding once you digest it in subsequent readings.

Isaac Asimov is most famous for his “Foundation” series which tells the story of the evolution of a galactic civilization from its humble beginnings. This expansive saga has been told in the form of 3 trilogies for each period of the development. I have yet to complete the final set of trilogy and although the latter books were not written by him personally, others agree that they continue to be true to the spirit of the original vision. The other item that people most often attribute to Asimov is his robot series and especially the “Three Laws of Robotics”. I remember reading somewhere that these three laws have since been included into the core philosophy in the study and development of robotic design in major universities in the world. This is just another example of how science fiction in time does indeed become science fact.

Asimov did live a full and productive life in terms of his writing. His final book “Forward the Foundation” was written months before his health declined to a point too far to allow him to continue writing. In it he writes about the end of an era and the hopeful beginning of a new one that should be embraced with open arms and mind. In a way, he must have known that his time is near as many see his final book as his good bye message to his family and loyal fans. I still remember that on the day that I heard that he had died, I felt like a part of my childhood had went along with him. Fortunately, I still have his books and stories to always remind me how it felt like being a kid in the public library reading about robots and other worlds.

Three Laws of Robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
- Isaac Asimov 1942

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