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Nightfall Isaac Asimov
Nightfall Nightfall is a story that is very much the essence of science fiction. What would happen if something was different? Take away a part of our world that we take for granted and see how things would develop. Then give it back.

The planet Lagash has six suns. Its inhabitants have never experienced the darkness of night. What would total darkness feel like if you had never experienced it? How would you combat it if it never occurred to you that it was a problem?

Isaac Asimov was one of the first writers I was introduced to in the science fiction genre. Like Arthur C. Clarke he was a giant whose stories embraced science. Nightfall is thick with it. The law of universal gravitation and heliocentric orbit are part of the plot. More importantly, the process through which these theories were developed is part of the plot. For it is not facts that make up science, rather, it is the scientific method that investigates observations and develops them into facts - and then develops those facts into better facts.

The story’s protagonists - its heroes - are archaeologists, astronomers, and psychologists. The events leading up to Nightfall entail the uncovering of a previously unknown danger. Archaeologists on Lagash discover a periodic destruction of civilization on the planet. Astronomers find anomalies in the orbits of the suns that coincide with that destruction. A psychologist learns something about the human mind.

All of this leads to a startling conclusion of three parts.
  • Every 2,000 years the suns align such that the sky goes dark.
  • People are unaccustomed to the dark, and react with extreme fear when faced with prolonged exposure.
  • People will do whatever they can to expunge the darkness, including lighting fire to everything in sight.
The villains are those who seek to belittle inquiry. A media outlet ignorantly wages a public campaign against the scientists. A religious cult has reached the same conclusion as the scientists but ascribes it to divine intervention, not natural laws. Asimov is clever in his refutation of religious dogma. His scientists actually went to the cult for help when they could not square their data. Accounts from sacred books gave them the knowledge they needed to accurately predict the coming events. While they confirm the dire predictions of the religion they actually refute the mysticism behind it. It is vintage Asimov.

This is a review of the short story version of Nightfall, a story I count as one of the better short stories I’ve ever heard.
91 minutes
This product was released around September 1941 by Escape Pod
I consumed this around August 2014
More: Nightfall
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 8/28/2014 9:25:04 PM
The Caves of Steel Isaac Asimov
The Caves of Steel The Caves of Steel, the second of Isaac Asimov's Robot series, is a crime mystery rolled into a Scifi novel. Lije Bailey, a human detective from Earth is forced to team up with a humanoid robot, R. Daneel, from the Spacer colony to investigate the murder of a prominent Spacer. The Spacers are those that have colonized the galaxy. They are trying to push a "robot" economy similar to their own on the weaker Earth. This breeds xenophobia on the overpopulated Earth and leads to friction and rivalry between Lije and Daneel. Daneel's superior makeup makes it a one-sided rivalry.

Earth is a hyper-urbanized society. In the "self contained cave of steel and concrete" (pg 21) that is the city, dense populations give up space and much free will for efficiency, economy and security. Even kitchens and bathrooms are shared among the masses. Everything is provided for the people, piped in from the outside world. That outside world is feared by those in the city. No one ventures out into the wilderness. Collectivism has destroyed rugged individualism. "The City was the culmination of man's mastery over the environment" (pg 21). It was a "semi autonomous unit, economically self sufficient" and the support apparatus could provide for its massive population.

While everything is provided to people there is still a problem. Change is coming via the Spacers. They are pushing their economy onto the Earth populace. Robots threaten jobs and, with the rigid social hierarchy and low mobility, the social standing of the population. No one is willing or able to change or take risks. No one will venture outside of the city. Certainly no one will take the chance to colonize new worlds. Contentment has bred stagnation and the Spacers want to break that.

Bailey is one man capable of breaking the prevailing mode of thinking. He first has to break his own suspicions, xenophobia and memories of his father's demotion in society. But he has an understanding of history so he can see change coming. He also thinks outside of the box. This gets him in trouble numerous times but ultimately gets him on the right path. He is able to see when change is needed and that is why the Spacers are willing to work with him and use him in their plans.
270 pages
This product was released around 1954 by Bantam Books
I consumed this around 2004
More: The Caves of Steel
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 9/16/2007 3:37:20 PM
Second Foundation Isaac Asimov
Second Foundation The novel starts off with the Mule searching for the illusive Second Foundation along with a converted Captain Han Pritchard and a new comer, Bail Channis, leading the way. Channis is uncoverted. Many of the Mule's loyal men have been converted by the Second Foundation. Even Pritchard is questioning his senses. This takes up the first half of the novel. It shows cracks in the Second Foundation's secretive plans. Stopping the Mule has lead them to resort to too much action at the human level, where psychohistory doesn't work.

There are many twists throughout the course of the novel - almost too many. By the second part I was expecting twists at every major confrontation or piece of explanatory dialoge. Other than the brain wave patterns and plateaus of "encephalography" there is little new science introduced into the novel. Most of the novel's science was established in the first Foundation novel. So much of the excitement depends on the plot twists, not the science.

I liked the portrayal, in the second part, of the rebels. They operate in the time where the First Foundation is in control but their goal is to scuttle the coming of the hidden Second Foundation. While they are fighting against a group we are to see as a benevolent force of good, I found them to be sympathetic. They fight out of fear of an unknown, invisible, hyper-intelligent and all around superior enemy. The Second Foundation is on a different plane of intelligence than these rebels. There is nothing evil about them. They play the game as best they can, knowing the odds are against them, fighting for what they believe is right.

The third novel in the Foundation series brings us back to the husk of Trantor, Kalgan after the Mule and the site of the First Foundation, Terminus. In Preem Palver we get a glimpse of the the old traders. Like a good end to a trilogy, these references to people and locations from the earlier two novels give us answers to questions very important to the Foundation universe.
233 pages
This product was released around 1953 by Ballantine
I consumed this around 2006
More: Second Foundation
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 3/13/2007 6:32:23 PM
Foundation & Empire Isaac Asimov
Foundation & Empire In Foundation & Empire Asimov pushes Hari Seldon's psychohistory to the limit with the general Bel Riose and the mutant Mule. Riose's ambition stretches the Foundation's defenses. Later, the Mule's mutant powers overwhelm the superior physical technology of the Foundation.

A theme througout the novel is the decay of empire. First the Galactic Empire, then the beloved Foundation fall into disrepute. Both fall into tyranny, despotism, beauracracy and finally incompetence. The strong leadership of Hardin or Mallow that guided the Foundation through past crises is gone. As a result, the Foundationers from a position of awe inspiring strength to a rag tag band of rebels on the run.

A feeling of desperation begins to set in as they flee from the Mule and search for the Second Foundation. The Mule shuts down every avenue of escape, constantly chases them and easily defeats any of his opponents. The darkness that Seldon spoke of in the first Foundation novel begins to set in. The beauracratic, metallic hub of the galaxy, Trantor, is virtually abandoned. Only a small percentage of its 40 billion people remain. Once the center of the galaxy, Trantor is turned into a farming world with no technology. It's reduced to selling off its own infrastructure - the vast metal resources that covered the world - to survive.
240 pages
This product was released around 1952 by HaperCollins
I consumed this around 2005
More: Foundation & Empire
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 3/13/2007 6:25:19 PM
Foundation Isaac Asimov
Foundation Foundation, the first of the Foundation novels, is as much a political novel as it is science fiction. Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian, has predicted - proven actually - the future, and it doesn't look good. The Galactic Empire will decay and fall apart for 30,000 years unless Hari Seldon's mathematically proven plans are executed - in which case the fall will last only 1,000 years. We follow several generations of men - politicians, traders, scientists, leaders - faithfully executing a plan, the details of which are unknown to them. Seldon's prediction is bold and intriguing and piques your interest for the remainder of the novel.

Hari Seldon is concerned with the fall of the Galactic Empire centered around Trantor, its beauracratic hub. For instance, he predicts Trantor will become vulnerable as it becomes "more specialized" [pg 22] in its beauracracy. Seldon (and Asimov) are more concerned however, with the stagnation of the empire. "[R]eceding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damning of curiousity" will kill the empire. Communication, diplomacy and trade will break down. Wars will tear the empire apart [pg 36-37]. Salvor Hardin, after the first "Seldon crisis", sees this vision of complacency. He takes the lead to make Terminus and the Foundation a powerful technological innovator. He must battle with well meaning, but staid, scholars who are unconcerned with rising threats. They are only focused on documenting and "worshipping" past symbols of strength like "Empire" or "Emporer" and not on building on that knowledge. Hardin even notices the Galactic representative is unable to grasp dynamic situations. The representative cannot contemplate moving forward and obtaining new knowledge and perspective. "Lord Dorwin thought the way to be a good archaeologist was to read all the books on the subject" [pg 87].

There's a strong argument for capitalism, free markets, competition and a level of disorder over socialism, contentment and peace being made in Foundation. Hardin defeats these stagnant elements because he can think and act dynamically. It is he who has the least faith in Seldon, yet he adapts to Seldon's pyschohystory the best of all because he does not have "a diseased attitude - a conditioned reflex that shunts aside the independence of your minds whenever it is a question of opposing authority." [pg 87]

Thirty years after Hardin overcomes the stagnation of thought in the Empire, Terminus has become powerful with its technology and economy rather than its non-existant military. Hardin's main goal is to prevent war while others clamor for it. The technology that the Foundation exports is more valuable than a conquered Terminus. "I made Terminus of more value to them as a flourishing world than as a military prize" [pg 107]. But science had "failed the outer worlds. To be reaccepted it would have to present itself in another guise" [pg 114] - and that new form was religion. Terminus enslaves the four kingdoms with its mystical religion of science. This is reminiscent of the United States' "soft power". Although the US has a strong military it also wields considerable power exporting trade, technology and culture to "old imperial regimes" that fear all three as contesting the status quo. The religion of the Foundation is like American culture. The soft power pierces through an old, poor economic system (communism) or a backward, technology fearing culture (conservative repressive religious regimes). Like Mullahs or Communist Party heads, the king of Anacreon or Korell will do anything to keep it away from the masses. In the end, even though they may not believe in the ideology, they want power so they must embrace and diefy that ideology in order to hold on.

The traders who engage in the commerce that makes the Foundation strong are like multinational corporations. Their strength crosses borders and their allegiance to their Foundation is questioned sometimes. Their biggest enemy is "strict regulation of the traders and stricter prohibition of the missionaries" [pg 217]. Soon they, under Hober Mallow, gain enough power with the masses to gain control of Terminus and the Foundation over the more nativist and militaristic elements, lead by Jorane Sutt. Even as the soft power of religion fails, the economic power of technological trade keeps the militarily vulnerable Foundation powerful. It is the "power of trade" [pg 290] that is king.
296 pages
This product was released around 1951 by Bantam Books
I consumed this around 2004
More: Foundation
Posted by: Jeff Egnaczyk at: 3/13/2007 6:14:09 PM

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