This month I thought I’d go back and read one of the masters of science fiction, Isaac Asimov. If I want to flow with the trends I’ve read on the Internet, I’d now partake in Asimov-bashing (not enough strong female protagonists, not enough characterization, lack of sex, lack of aliens, lack of sex with aliens, stilted dialog, too much teaching, too much preaching, and finally “my eyes hurt because the writing was so bad” as someone, who shall remain unnamed, said). Gee, there’s so many criticisms of Isaac Asimov out there, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
So I won’t. Robot Dreams is a collection of short stories published from 1947 to 1986, and I expected many of the stories to be dated. As for the writing styles he showed in earlier years, we should remember that Asimov was writing for a different population. For several decades, he wrote popular fiction for readers who had longer attention spans and broader vocabularies than today’s readers. (If you want to disagree, take a look at what newspapers have had to do through the twentieth century.) Asimov was also a futurist, as many science fiction authors, and he was off in a few areas; for instance, he didn’t foresee miniaturization (in early stories, “MultiVac” becomes so large that it runs for miles underground.) Be sure to read his introduction, where Asimov himself readily admits to missing the technology mark in some of the stories.
However, the concepts are not dated. The central ideas in many of his stories comment upon the human condition and thus, they’re still entertaining to read. In “The Machine that Won the War,” we see how human intuition and luck weighs more than massive amounts of data massaged into meaninglessness (also known as GIGO). In “Franchise,” it’s not so hard to believe that Americans would forgo the effort of voting personally in favor of a well-supported analysis of what will, or should, be the outcome. In “The Ugly Little Boy,” we see our own hubris, where we consider ourselves the only evolved species on the planet and of course, the only species deserving of rights or freedom of choice.
Personally, I was entertained by some of the dated technology. In a few places the dialogue certainly tried too hard to impart information and educate me, but overall, many of his short stories are worth reading because their central concepts are still relevant.