... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, February 27, 2012

530: Another Asimov post

  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 to 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.

After a few month hiatus, way too long, I have returned to Asimov, thank the Lord, Hari Seldon and R. Daneel Olivaw! Tens of thousands of years before the events of the Foundation series, and thousands of years from the non-fictional present day, take place the events of Robots and Empire. Tensions are building between the two factions of humans; the Spacers who first left Earth hundreds of years ago, colonised fifty worlds to live vastly elongated lives, in decadent luxury, served by armies of robots; and the Settlers, the most recent emigrants from Earth, who live normal lengths and despise and fear robots. Due to the Spacers' long lives and their dependence on robot labour their cultures face threat of stagnation, whereas the Settlers are on the rise. Spoiler alert: eventually the Settlers are to become the Galactic Empire which will rule for thousands of years and control 25 million planets. The Spacers will disappear from history, only to reappear in mysterious circumstances hundreds of years into the Foundation Era. Hope you're keeping notes.

I'm only half way through Robots and Empire, but due to having already read all the Foundation books I have a vague sense of where certain plots and themes may be heading. Maybe not within R&E but at some point, one day, in the far far future... R. Daneel Olivaw (the R is for Robot) appears as a driving force, an unseen guiding hand, at various points throughout the Foundation Era, and immediately prior to it. He may act similarly during the Empire but I haven't read any of those history books. Acting under the Zeroth Law of Robotics he attempts to guide humanity in order to protect it from arm. I sense that in the events of Robots and Empire R. Daneel Olivaw, during his discussions with the powerful telepathic R. Giskard Reventlov, formulates the Zeroth law as an addition to the fundamental Three Laws of Robotics. There's this little problem, with the plot to destroy Earth, that needs to be avoided, and only two plucky, free-thinking robots can prevent it!

The scale of Asimov's fictional universe blows my mind (for want of a less cliched cliche). From the present day spoken of in the Robot short stories, the Robot novels reaching to 12,500 CE (1 GE), the Galactic Era to 24,063 CE (12,063 GE), the Foundation Era to 24,583 CE (520 FE).... and even on to the end of time, past the death of all the stars in the universe, in the short story The Last Question in which the godly combination of trillions and trillions of human minds, and a super advanced computer which exists outside of normal spacetime, ask the question "can the workings of the Second Law of Thermodynamics be reversed", and answer with the command "Let there be light".... I don't understand how he managed to put such a work together. Even though the robot stories, Empire novels, and Foundation series were originally conceived separately, they gradually fit together so perfectly, exactly like a genuine epic narrative history would. I love Asimov.

poster design by Jake Huhn

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