I, Momentus

If you’ve been listening to Stars End Episode 7 you know that this comic, Superman #355 (January 1981) came up during our Asimov Trivia segment. It looked pretty interesting and so we spared no expense to obtain a copy and bring it to you.

In it, Asa Ezaak, a thinly veiled parody of Issac Asimov, struts around arrogantly and eventually uses his scientific genius to turn himself into a muck monster of some sort. Scratch that. He becomes the self-titled “Momentus, Master of the Moon!” That’s exactly the sort of name someone who refers to himself as “a person of note, sane and rational, fearless and intrepid, witty and forceful, and above all devilishly handsome” might choose for himself. Also there are werewolves. Don’t know what’s up with that

We’ll probably come back to this one and spend more time with it, giving you a better overview of the story once I’ve, well read it. And we’ll ponder the origins and the inspirations for the story. Is it a fair portrayal? And why a muck monst… er, excuse me “Moon Master?” *Cough.* That will appear here and on our podcast website StarEndPodcast.Wordpress.com.

In the meantime, here’s a short unboxing video to whet your appetite.

If a podcast about the Foundation Series and other things Asimovian sounds interesting to you, check out our show below.

Foundational Readings

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If you’re following our podcast Episode 6 dropped on Wednesday and in it, we discuss “The General” from Foundation and Empire. If you’re reading along you can find the book in all sorts of places. I’m sure that Apple and/or the publishing company have made sure that it’s available in all sorts of places and there is of course your public library or Archive.org.

The Empire was the theoretical obstacle to the growth of the Foundation in the first book. In “The General” we meet Bel Riose a general loyal to the Empire who will be the first to oppose the Foundation directly. What will this mean for Seldon’s Plan? You’ll have to read it and then listen to our podcast to find out.

And if you’re looking for a more nostalgic or, dare we say interestingly atavistic (to borrow Emperor Cleon’s description of Bel Riose) way to read “the General” we can again turn to Archive.org.

This story appeared for the first time under the title “Dead Hand” in the April 1945 issue of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. The cover proclaims “A Foundation Story by Isaac Asimov!” Evidently, the series has developed a following as well as the Author.

The story as it appears it’s very similar to the book’s version. Mostly the text is word-for-word the same, but there are some differences. The Encyclopedia Galactica entry, seemingly obligatory in the books is absent. In its place, we get this preview.

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The Foundation had always been weak — but heretofore the sharp wits of it’s leaders had protected it. But this time — Foundation’s leaders were stupid men , and a clever general, under a strong Emperor teas attacking.

As well as this abbreviated prologue.

Four centuries of internal wrenchings subsided into another faint interval of quiet and order, that was half-exhausting, and for twenty-five years under Cleon II the Galactic Empire experienced the milky feeble gleam of a last Indian Summer.

The other big difference is the internal artwork, four nice images by Paul Orban who seems to be settling in as the Foundation series illustrator.

The presentations of the image have evolved here. The opening drawing depicts the most exciting moment in the story rather than something that happens towards the beginning. In previous installments, the illustrations are square or nearly so. Here the second and third images are “L” shaped; strategically placing some white space allows for larger images without sacrificing space for the story. The final image is tall and narrow, taking up an entire column on one page. It seems that Campbell is allowing Orban more freedom to change up his layouts to good effect.

You can find the entire issue here: Astounding Science Fiction, April 1945 while the interior artwork can be found below.

References:

If you haven’t already, this is a perfect time to check out our podcast.

Stars End Episode 6

Orginally published at <StarsEndPodcast.Wordpress.com>.

Episode 6: “A Podcast is a Good Weapon but It Can Point Both Ways” is now available! This week, Dan starts his tenure as quiz master, Joseph learns what wasn’t covered in his Shakespeare class (way back in 1988) and as always Jon tries to keep us all on track.

We also have breaking news! So breaking that we had to add an addendum in post production! That means Monday.

And of course, we start discussing “The General,” the first section of Foundation and Empire. This one is almost like Asimov himself was replying to our discussions of the “Great Man” theory of history vs. the “Bottom Up Theory.” Join us!

Visit our site for the Stars End Podcast!

Foundational Readings

The internet has since its inception been a remarkable tool for gathering and sharing information. Lately it’s been both better and worse than it used to be and one of the reasons that it’s both is Archive.org.

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It’s a literal treasure trove of information. Think of it as an internet library. If you’re looking for something, especially something out of print, there’s a good chance that it’s there, scanned and ready to be checked out. Archive.org was especially gracious during the lockdown. In May 2020, when I taught Science Fiction, all the novels we covered as well as most of the short stories were available there for my students to use free of charge. It was a huge help.

So, why better and worse? Well, having access to “a literal treasure trove of information” has a bit of a downside. When I’m researching something like, for example, Asimov Trivia there are things to find that I’ve never even heard of and didn’t know I needed. Sometimes this is helpful, like when I discovered Isaac Asimov Presents: SuperQuiz (See Episode 5). Other times it’s not; I take a long and winding road that doesn’t lead anywhere. Next thing I know I’m 6 books over and barely even aware of where I started or what I was doing. That’s fun, but it’s not productive unless serendipity lends a hand. No kidding. Paragraph two got put on hold while I looked up something random.

Suffice it to say that Archive.org is, well, astounding. But “What does this have to do with Foundation?” you might be wondering. If you’re following Stars End: A Foundation Podcast or even if you’re merely looking forward to the forthcoming Apple TV+ series you might be wanting to reread the books. They’re all there for sure.

But what I’m really excited about is that Archive.org has many issues of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. That’s the seminal SF pulp that defined the genre. There we find the original Foundation stories 8 years before they were collected into book form. This is the DNA of the Foundation series. As the story was developing, while Asimov was figuring out how psychohistory works, we can see this universe evolve in Astounding. And as an added bonus, we can read the stories with their original artwork, enjoying them as few have been able for almost eight decades. So here are the pieces of Foundation as they appeared in Astounding Science Fiction. Not too different. With his prodigious output, Asimov was known for writing rather than rewriting but I’ll note the changes that I noticed.

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Foundation isn’t actually a novel, it’s what is known as a “fix-up,” a collection of short stories linked together with a framing sequence. “The Psychohistorians” is that framing sequence and is the only part of Foundation that was original to the book. It introduces Hari Seldon and sets up the universe replacing a much shorter introduction that ran as part of the next story.

The Encyclopedists” originally ran in the May 1942 issue of Astounding under the title “Foundation.” Other than the short introduction that was supplanted by “The Psychohistorians” it’s largely the same as the version from the book.

There are two lovely illustrations by Manuel Islp and the issue also features “Asylum” by A. E. Van Vogt and “Beyond this Horizon” by Robert Heinlein writing as Anson MacDonald.

Here’s the entire issue Astounding Science Fiction, May 1942.

The story continues just a month later as “The Mayors” was published under the title “Bridle and Saddle.”

John W. Campbell showed a lot of enthusiasm for this story. Taking up half of the previous issue’s coming attractions, it was the lead story for the month, it was featured on the cover and was graced with 4 (Count ’em! 4!) lovely illustrations by Charles Schneeman. You can click on any image in the gallery for a better look.

For a science fiction adventure story the art work sure shows a lot of people sitting in chairs.

The issue also includes “My Name is Legion” by Lester Del Rey, “Proof” by Hal Clement and “The Slaver” by L. Ron Hubbard who actually wrote some Science Fiction before branching out into… let’s call it other areas.

Astounding Science Fiction, June 1942.


The Traders,” the shortest section of Foundation was published as “The Wedge” in Astounding’s October 1944 issue with little or no fanfare. This story has the most significant difference between the magazine and book versions. Here the main character is named Lathan Devers rather than Limmar Ponyets as it is in Foundation. The story has three illustrations by Frank Kramer.

Astounding Science Fiction, October 1944

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“The Big and the Little” appeared in the August 1944 Issue of Astounding and once again it’s very similar to “The Merchant Princes.” There’s a difference that’s noticeable immediately though, rather than opening with a quote from the Encyclopedia Galactica, it begins with a different quote that prefigures the names of the sections of Foundation.

“Three Dynasties molded the Beginning: the Encyclopedists, the Mayors, and the Traders…”

Ligurn Vier, ‘Essays on History’

We never really see the traders as a formal dynasty leading the Foundation but perhaps we can infer one; in this story, we meet the third major figure in Foundation History after Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin the first of the Merchant Princes, Hober Mallow.

Like “Bridal and Saddle,” “The Big and the Little” is both the lead and cover story for this issue. It is illustrated with six pictures rendered by Paul Orban.

Astounding Science Fiction, August 1944

We’ll be back soon with the stories from Foundation and Empire. Meanwhile, I’m inspired to work on a project that uses Archive.org.

References:

If you haven’t already, this is a perfect time to check out our podcast.

Stars End Episodes 3 and 4

There have been two new episodes since I shared Stars End episode 2 here. Is a podcast the last refuge of the Incompetent like the title to Episode 4 claims! Find out! Time to get caught up! Please like, review and share!

Episode 3: As foretold! Mayors! Bridles! Saddles! Oddly, no actual horses! And the ultimate answer to the ultimate cliffhanger! Also show news, we react to the trailer for the Apple TV+ series and and more Asimov trivia!

Episode 4: We talk about “The Traders,” part four of Foundation. This story first appeared, with surprisingly little fanfare in the October 1944 issue of Astounding under the title “The Wedge.”

In addition we have our second Apple Plus Minute and another edition of Asimov Trivia with a new contestant and a new quiz master!

You can find all the episodes here:

Episode 2

The second episode of Stars End: A Foundation Podcast, which I do with Dan and Jon is now available. Please check it out!

Stars End: A Foundation Podcast

Our second episode, entitled “Podcast must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Episode” is posted, available wherever fine podcasts blossom or will be when Anchor gets around to up loading it for us. Of course, we are now begging the question… what will the fourth episode be called?

We start discussing the first novel, Foundation, in earnest and get all the way through the first two stories, “The Psychohistorians,” and “The Encyclopedists.” We also try our hand at doing a new segment, “Asimov Trivia.” You can join us on the link below.

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Adventures in Podcasting

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I’m experiencing reverse deja vu. I just finished reading “The Mayors,” the third ‘chapter’ of Asimov’s Foundation and the only part of the trilogy that I’ve revisited since 8th grade or so. It was terrific, perhaps especially because I remembered so little of it; it was almost, except for a few flashes of vague recollection, like reading it fresh. But that’s not the reverse deja vu part.

The last time I read this particular story, coincidently enough, was 7 years ago on 1 May 2014. How do I know? Well, back then I was preparing to discuss the story in class and iBooks saved and dated my highlighting and my notes. As I’m reading, I’m having a lot of what I think are original thoughts, like “Oh, this reminds me of this other story…” or “I bet this is John W. Campbell’s influence right here.” Most of them though, were sitting there waiting for me. Seven-Years-Ago-Joseph had thought of it first; that guy seems pretty smart. And that’s the reverse deja vu part, having thoughts that I believed were new only to find I’d had them before.

But I’ve buried the lede here. Why am I rereading Foundation? Well, Apple TV is working on an original teevee series based on the original Foundation Trilogy and one presumes the sequels and the prequels. I’m looking forward to it and the rereading is part of gearing up for the teevee series.

And so is starting Stars End – A Foundation Podcast, which I’ve done with Dan <@MrEarlG> and Jon <@jblumenfeld100>. We’ll be talking about the books and about Asimov and the Apple TV series. It’s been a lot of fun so far and our first episode (A Podcast must not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm) was released on Monday.

Please give it a listen; it’s on Anchor, and Spotify, and PocketCasts, and RadioPublic. It seems to be a long process, but soon, you’ll be able to find it wherever fine podcasts are sold. Or given away. Or however that works, I haven’t exactly figured it out yet.

You can also follow the podcast on Twitter at <@StarsEndPodcast> or you can find all our episodes and learn more about the podcast and us at the podcast’s webpage <https://starsendpodcast.wordpress.com/>.

Image Credits:

The featured image is a picture of the Galactic Center in the Public Domain and found on Wikimedia Commons. Author: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI

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Clarke or Asimov?

It’s 2 January 2021, Isaac Asimov’s 101st birthday and in the U . S. today has become, unofficially at least, “National Science Fiction Day.” To mark the day, I present an answer I wrote for Quora in 2019. Enjoy!


Who is the better writer, Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov?

Clarke and Asimov are two of my favorite authors and I have to admit I’m a bit conflicted. Upfront I should tell you that Clarke is my all-time favorite writer but when I put something I’ve written for my students into “I Write Like” the answer I hope to get back is “Isaac Asimov.”

So I think it breaks down like this.

In my opinion, Clarke is the better Science Fiction author.

Art from the paperback edition of Rendezvous with Rama

When you’re looking for a sense of awe, Clarke delivers. You get big ideas well executed. Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey make you believe that Humankind’s potential is truly limitless. Rendezvous with Rama (not so much the sequels) presents you with the awesome undertaking it must be to cross interstellar distances in a universe that doesn’t allow faster than light travel. It then metaphorically smacks you with our place in the cosmos; it turns out that the vessel wasn’t even aimed at Earth, it was merely using our sun to refuel. That Rama encountered humans was an accident; a cosmic coincidence and nothing more. Fountains of Paradise is one of the quintessential hard science fiction novels, carefully laying out the technological advances we’d need to make to build a space elevator and then turning that fantastic notion into a believable engineering project. In the Star Clarke convincingly puts you inside the mind of a Jesuit priest who is questioning his faith. There are lighter-weight works that are less impressive, but the best of Clarke is unassailable.

Cover art for the novelization of “Nightfall.”

Asimov, too, has written some great Science Fiction but it’s simply not as great. Asimov’s most famous work, the Foundation Trilogy is based around the idea of “psychohistory” which is like statistical inference without the limitations, feed enough data into the model and the theory can predict upcoming events with amazing accuracy. It’s a fascinating idea, but the execution is a little stiff. I, Robot, as great as it is, boils down to a series of logic puzzles using the three laws of robotics. The Robot Novels are good detective stories. The Galactic Empire novels are good space opera. The thing I was most impressed with in Asimov’s SF output was the Gods Themselves because it gave us believable aliens who were truly alien and not just the recognizable humans from imaginary planets with the literary equivalent of an interesting forehead prosthetic. The last time I read the Gods Themselves the aliens seemed a little less alien and a little less believable. Although lots of Asimov’s fiction is great, very little of it is transcendent, thus advantage Clarke.

It’s worth noting that if your metric for evaluating great science fiction is whether you’re compelled to read it under the covers with a flashlight so your mom won’t catch you staying up all night, the answer is Robert Heinlein.

Returning to the topic at hand: I think Asimov is the better writer of non-fiction.

With non-fiction, clarity is king, and both Asimov and Clarke excel at writing about highly technical subjects in straightforward understandable prose. But Clarke’s non-fiction hews closely to his science fiction. Speculations about the realities of space flight is a common topic. Clarke also wrote several books about undersea exploration after he developed an interest in scuba diving. Much of what remains is about the future of technology and the limits of speculation. All excellent but also all themes that are explored in-depth in his science fiction.

Possibly as a result of being so astonishingly prolific, Asimov’s work covers an astonishing variety of topics. Within the sciences, he wrote books on Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Ecology, and probably more that don’t spring to mind. There’s also Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Asimov’s Chronology of the World and Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor to barely scratch the surface.

But the thing that gives the edge to Asimov for me is the column on “science fact” that he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. These are both delightful and informative; the column ran for 399 issues and more than 33 years.

Collections of Asimov’s essays from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Asimov had a way of starting an essay with an anecdote that would draw the readers in and get them interested in the topics and then lead them into the main part of the essay. Well written, substantive, and most importantly engaging, these were perfectly targeted at the audience while not compromising the subject matter with oversimplification. Advantage: Asimov.

And then there’s the Clarke-Asimov Treaty, which is spelled out in the dedication to Report on Planet Three. It reads, “In accordance with the terms of the Clarke/Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer.” That sums it up pretty well.


And there you have it. Happy National Science Fiction Day!

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