I bought this anthology, The Bicentennial Man & Other Stories, from Kitabain. This online bookstore never disappoints when I want something that is different, rare, exotic, or all that and more! The books are amazingly priced and always in good condition. Since I have the beautiful hardcover edition, it was featured in my Library Languishers series, even if its stay wasn’t a long one!
This edition compiles 12 short stories by Asimov, centering around robots and other machines. Preceding each story is an anecdote by the author that tells the reader of its origins. The anecdotes are written in an amusing style and make the reader look forward to reading the story. An example:
“How is it,” she asked dangerously, “that you wrote a story for that anthology, yet when I ask you for one you’re always too busy?” “Well,” I said apologetically, for Judy-Lynn is a frightening creature when she is moved, “the idea of the anthology interested me.” “How about my suggestions about a robot that has to choose between buying its own liberty and improving its body? I thought you said that was interesting.” At that point, I must have turned approximately as white as talcum powder. A long time before, she had mentioned such things and I had forgotten. I said, “Oh, my goodness, I included something of the sort in the story.” “Again?” she shrieked. “Again you’re using my ideas for other people? Let me see that story. Let me see it!”
The Prime of Life
A poem that talks about how most people who met the author exclaimed surprise at his still being alive!
Fun to read.
A dying robotics firm tries to turn public opinion positive towards robots by building a “female” robot.
Susan Calvin was my favorite character, of course!
Competing for funding isn’t a laughing matter, whether it is a pioneering experiment on the moon or on the ocean floor.
The ending was expected and completely unneeded.
That Thou Art Mindful of Him
“I understand, Mr. Harriman. Enough differences remain to show me that there are here many different forms of plant life.” “Undoubtedly. Dozens.” “And each coequal with man, biologically.” “Each is a separate species, yes. There are millions of species of living creatures.” “Of which the human being forms but one.” “By far the most important to human beings, however.” “And to me, Mr. Harriman. But I speak in the biological sense.” “I understand.”
Just as God is said to have designed humans in a form that resembles him, human beings design robots in their image. Things could undoubtedly get problematic! For instance, look at this conversation between two George robots:
Of the reasoning individuals you have met, who possesses the mind, character, and knowledge that you find superior to the rest, disregarding shape and form since that is irrelevant?” “You,” whispered George Nine. “But I am a robot. There is in your brain paths a criterion for distinguishing between a robot of metal and a human being of flesh. How then can you classify me as a human being?” “Because there is in my brain paths an urgent need to disregard shape and form in judging human beings and it rises superior to the distinction between metal and flesh. You are a human being, George Ten, and more fit than the others.” “And I find that of you,” whispered George Ten.
Stranger in Paradise
In a time when being related by blood is an embarrassment, two brothers try working together for the betterment of humanity.
The Life and Times of Multivac
A supercomputer, Multivac, has taken over the world and tries to protect humanity from itself. A man thinks his fellow humans want to be free of its influence. Or do they?
Loved the ending:
He was gasping, but forced himself steady, and said solemnly, “I have given us our freedom.” And he paused, aware at last of the gathering weight of the silence. Fourteen images stared at him, without any of them offering a word in response. Bakst said sharply, “You have talked of freedom. You have it!” Then, uncertainly, he said, “Isn’t that what you want?”
A global food crisis is starving people of the world slowly when a scientist comes up with a revolutionary lipoprotein. The government, on the other hand, decides to use it as a sort of chemical weapon!
Probably my favorite out of the whole bunch! The ending was expected but still well done:
There’s no cure or antidote, but don’t worry. It’s a quite painless death, and it will be the finger of God, as one of you told me. It’s a good lesson, as another of you said. For those of you who survive, there may be new views on triage.” Affare said, “This is a bluff. You’ve eaten the sandwiches yourself.” Rodman said, “I know. I matched the LP to my own biochemistry, so I will go fast.” His eyes closed. “You’ll have to carry on without me—those of you who survive.”
The Bicentennial Man
A robot like no other adopted by a family like no other. The story follows Andrew on its journey from the Sesquicentennial Robot to the Bicentennial Man.
The movie based on this short story remains a favorite of mine. Here are some scenes from it:
A musician helps reaffirm the belief of neurologists in the healing powers of music.
Short but sweet!
“A revival hymn?” Dr. Cray stared at him, wide-eyed. “Sure. What I used in this case was the best of them all. I gave her ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’” He sang it softly, finger-snapping the beat, and by the third bar, Dr. Cray’s toes were tapping.
Two astrominers get stuck orbiting a black hole and have to come up with a solution to get help sent to them.
Nothing unique but fun nonetheless.
The Tercentenary Incident
The president is a robot. The president killed a robot. The robot killed the president. A robot is the president. Any of these might be true when it comes to what’s going on this story.
Weakest out of the whole bunch.
Birth of a Notion
That the first inventor of a workable time machine was a science fiction enthusiast is by no means a coincidence. It was inevitable. Why else should an otherwise sane physicist even dare track down the various out-of-the-way theories that seemed to point toward maneuverability in time in the very teeth of General Relativity?
A scientist tries out his invention in this story.
The science in a couple of the stories took me by surprise. I used to think that making my stories too sciency might be a bad idea but I enjoyed reading it just as much as I enjoy writing them!