I feel like such a brat. I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading Asimov: I, Robot,Foundation, and a few shorts. My favorite is Nightfall (The short, not the book with Silverberg). I read it in college and loved the premise, loved the ending. It resonated. So, I tell myself, I need to read more Golden Age Asimov if I’m a TRUE FAN of science fiction right?
Well, I don’t regret reading his works, but I’m just not very enthusiastic about them. Whether it’s the Laws of Robotoics or the laws of Psychohistory, I put his books down feeling like I just read a textbook. Here are some rules, here are some possible, cold and calculated, eminently logical results of those rules, and then the book ends. The characters are like chess pieces instead of breathing people. We don’t, as readers, get to see much of what Hari Seldon really wants (I admit that I will add to my vocabulary, “For Seldon’s sake!” when I’m mad).
Perhaps the format of Foundation does not lend itself to good characterization, but after reading a Canticle for Leibowitz, I’m convinced that this format can be done well, and I don’t think Asimov quite made it. The premise requires constant jumps in time. One crisis averted, on to the next! I had the same trouble with I, Robot. Susan Calvin is an extremely interesting character, the thread that ties all of the robot stories together, and yet she’s not very likable. Asimov shows us one instance of her personality peeking through when her love interest dashes her hopes. She responds by vindictively (and understandably) lashing out at a robot who led her false. Every other view of her is her professional opinion, and she dies without leaving much of an impact. Just a cog in the wheel of history, a figure we are supposed to view as a museum relic.
And maybe that’s what Asimov is to my generation: a text showing the beginning of something great, because this speculative fiction thing has to start somewhere, right? I can now appreciate how derivative other works are, even if , in today’s world, Asimov doesn’t strike me as fresh. I think that’s ok.