Next Time on Stars End

In our last episode, we reached the end of The Caves of Steel. In our next episode, now in post-production, we continue our trip through the Robot Novels with The Naked Sun. We’re joined as our latest special guest by Joseph’s old friend Andy who has no discernable social media presence.

Asimov serialized The Caves of Steel in Galaxy Science Fiction because the editor, Horace Gold, suggested the idea of a human detective with a robot partner.

But three years later Asimov was increasingly interested in writing popular science and hadn’t published anything with John W. Campbell in a while. He decided to return to his roots and The Naked Sun was serialized in Astounding.

And Campbell did his best to capitalize on the famous author’s return. The month before its first segment ran The Naked Sun dominated Campbell’s “In Times to Come” column which highlighted coming attractions. Here’s what he had to say.

On the cover of next month’s issue, you’ll see Mr. Lije Baley, Earthman detective, coming out from underground into the light of The Naked Sun. Isaac Asimov’s new serial is bringing Elijah Baley and his robot partner, Daneel, on another detecting mission. But while the surface activity is that of determining who killed a man when it was self-evidently impossible, the real and important problem Baley has to solve is far more complex. Essentially, it is… “Which Way Is UP? Which way is forward?”


And this time, the problem lies on one of the Outer Planets; agoraphobic Elijah Baley has to solve a problem under the conditions least endurable to him — out under The Naked Sun

Astounding Science Fiction September 1956

For this episode, we read the same portion of the book published in the October 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. That corresponds to chapters 1 through 6.

In this section, Baley is assigned to a murder case on Solaria, the newest of the Spacer worlds. He’s reunited with R. Daneel and we see him struggling with his agoraphobia in planes, spaceships, automobiles, and also in a big fancy house built just for him. We also learn about the murder and meet Gladia (pronounced gla-DEE-ah) Delmarre who is destined to become a major character and helps put the naked in The Naked Sun.

Here are the opening pages and the remaining illustrations by H. R. Van Dongen.

Season 3, Episode 17: coming soon to the aether near you!

Resources

  • Asimov, Isaac. “The Naked Sun, part 1” Astounding Science Fiction, October 1956, pp. 8-62.
  • Asimov, Isaac. The Naked Sun, ©1956, 1957, 1983, Bantum Spectra
  • Campbell, John W. “In Times to Come” Astounding Science Fiction, September 1956, pg. 42.

Simultaneously published at…

Stars End S3E16

“Podcast and Sin No More”

It was right about this time last year; one of us got up in the middle of the night to share the latest Foundation trailer with you right here on this website.

This year there was a sneak peek of Foundation season 2 at San Diego Comic-Con.  It’s more than a week later and we haven’t seen it anywhere.  If that’s about generating interest, they’re missing the mark.

Luckily, we have our own news!

Available NOW! Our very own Jon Blumenfeld stars as Librarian Homir Munn in “Search by the Foundation, Part 1” on Joel McKinnon’s excellent Seldon Crisis Podcast!

Also, in S3E13, we talked about how Asimov said he made “extensive changes” to “Liar!” when he revised it for I, Robot.  Want to know why?  Want to know how extensive?  We plug our line-by-line comparison!

Also, also way back in S1E01, we talked about Joseph’s Grandfather’s artwork.  There’s now a website where you can see and enjoy that artwork!  Please visit JosephFranke.com and see why there’s such a fuss! 

All this plus: we wrap up our conversation about The Caves of Steel!  Jessie is revealed as a Medievalist!  Another murder rocks the NYPD… wait… is it murder? And in the final denouement, we discover who did it in this who done it!  You don’t want to miss all that!  Let’s go!

Simultaneously published at…

Next Time on Stars End

Episode 15 of Season 3 dropped this morning and episode 16 is already in post-production. in it, we’ll be finishing up The Caves of Steel, reading and discussing the third and final installment that ran in Galaxy Science Fiction in December 1953.

Our novel is not featured on the cover again, this time passed over for a nice holiday-themed illustration. Galaxy, evidently had a series of those.

In this concluding installment, Jessie confesses to conspiracy, Lije and Daneel play bad cop, uncomfortably robotic cop with a suspect and Baley cracks the case!

Here’s the promotion for this installment of The Caves of Steel from Galaxy’s November Issue.

Ed Emshwiller provides the artwork and we once again open with a two-page spread.

And here’s the rest of the synopsis if you want to refresh your memory about what’s already happened before you read the last installment or listen to our next episode.

And here are the remaining illustrations from the story. Below we see Daneel closing on Clousarr during the interrogation (left), and R. Sammy as a murder vic… uh… property damage (right). We should keep our legal terms straight.

The final image shows Baley projecting the crime scene for Daneel and the commissioner.

Season 3, Episode 16 will be available soon!

Simultaneously published at…

Stars End S3E15

“I’m sure that if non-Asenion podcasts were ever designed or if the mathematical theory were worked out we’d hear of it.”

We’re not an etymology podcast even though we sometimes make up our own words.  Nevertheless, if you follow our blog you’ve recently read about the origins of the words “robot” and “robotics.”  Asimov has been known to make up his own words too.  In fact, he’s credited in the Oxford English Dictionary as the originator of the word “robotics.”  

In this episode, we learn the origin of the word “Asenion” through a miraculous combination of brilliance, scholarship, and real-time detective work which the uninitiated might dismiss as mere Google-fu.  Did the Great and Glorious Az invent the word “Asenion?”  You’ll have to listen to find out!

Meanwhile, we ruminate over the second section of

the Caves of Steel in which Baley throws around some wild theories, learns the sinister,  not-so-sinister, or not-sinister-at-all designs of Spacetown, and sees an object eerily similar to a slide rule.  If you think that sounds like fun, you’re in for a wild ride!  Join us!

Simultaneously published at…

Liar!

If you follow Stars End: A Foundation Podcast you know that we’ve discussed Asimov’s reluctance to rewrite stuff many times. Even more frequently we’ve discussed… let’s call it the Great and Glorious Az’s ability to write female characters. We’ve speculated that, after attending Boys High School in Brooklyn, Seth Low Junior College, and Columbia University, neither of which were co-educational, it’s possible that Asimov simply hadn’t spent time with many women. Aside, of course, from his mother and sister.

The Robot Chronicles

We were therefore intrigued by the following quote from “The Robot Chronicles” as published in Asimov’s Gold: the Final Science Fiction Collection. At this point in the essay, Asimov writes about his individual Robot stories and what made them significant. Here’s what he had to say about “Liar!”

In the very next issue of Astounding, that of May 1941, my third robot story, “Liar!” appeared. The importance of this story was that it introduced Susan Calvin, who became the central character in my early robot stories. This story was originally rather clumsily done, largely because it dealt with the relationship between the sexes at a time when I had not yet had my first date with a young lady. Fortunately, I’m a quick learner, and it is one story in which I made significant changes before allowing it to appear in I, Robot.

You can find the story in any edition of I, Robot or The Complete Robot and you can see the original version in the May 1941 edition of Astounding here.

The original artwork for “Liar!” by Charles Schneeman

If you haven’t read it, “Liar!” tells the story of Herbie, a robot accidentally created with the ability to read minds. As the roboticists at U. S. Robots and Mechanical Men work to find out what caused this ability we get a first-hand look at how Herbie’s ability to read minds interacts with the three laws. We also get to see how Herbie’s subsequent behaviors affect the humans around him.

For those of us on the podcast, it was nice to get some confirmation for the theory we’d proposed on the show. For anyone who considers themself an Asimovologist, the changes to “Liar!” are intriguing for two reasons. The first is to see how Asimov’s treatment of women progressed to address the clumsiness that he perceived. The second asks how much of a rewrite he considers “significant.”

The Individual Edits

So let’s take a look at the changes. The first occurs in the fifteenth paragraph. Here’s the text from Astounding.

“Bogert is right,” said Dr. Calvin. “Ever since the Interplanetary Code was modified to allow robot models to be tested in the plants before being shipped out to space, antirobot propaganda has increased. If any word leaks out about a robot being able to read minds before we can announce complete control of the phenomenon, Tyrone and his demagogs (sic) could make pretty effective capital out of it.”

In the I, Robot version, the underlined part has been changed to, “pretty effective capital could be made out of it.” This change does not seem substantive. The mention of Tyrone was likely Asimov teasing a story that was ultimately never written. We would need evidence before we could say that for sure.

The next change occurs shortly after the first section break. Again and going forward, we start with the Astounding version.

“She paused to readjust the huge ‘No Entrance’ sign upon the door and then approached the robot with a friendly smile.”

Here, Susan Calvin is entering a room to bring books to Herbie. In the revised version the underlined text is omitted, which makes sense. Between this version and the publication of I, Robot, the character of Susan Calvin evolved into a no-nonsense professional thus the friendly smile seems to be a bit out of character. In a larger sense though, a disarming smile might ease interaction with another human but there is no reason to try that with a robot, much less a mind-reading one. The brilliant robopsychologist would have known this so the original neither fits the character nor the story.

Dr. Calvin and Herbie have a conversation about Milton Ashe. Eventually, we get this.

“The psychologist paused in thought and then looked up suddenly. ‘A girl visited him here at the plant half a year ago. She was pretty, I suppose—blond and slinky. And, of course, could scarcely add two and two.’”

In the book, “slinky” becomes “slim,” a more conservative and genteel description that seems more in keeping with Calvin’s personality. “Slinky” implies things about the way the woman holds herself and how she dresses. The combination of “slinky” with the remark about the young lady’s intelligence creates a different and less complimentary image of the character.

A bit later, we see this bit of conversation about Susan Calvin.

“He opened his eyes wide and frowned, “Say, Bogie, have you been noticing anything queer about the dame lately?”

The revised version replaces “dame” with “lady.” Another move toward more respectful language.

Next, we encounter one of the less substantive changes.

“Are you crazy? If you’ll reread Mitchell’s original paper in the Mathematical Journal—

“Mathematical Journal—” becomes “Transactions of the Far—.” The latter sounds more like an actual journal, but it loses the emphasis that the paper appeared in a mathematics publication. That should have been clear from the context, however.

The most substantive change comes when Milton Ashe shows Calvin a sketch of a house he’s planning to buy. All of the underlined text is removed from the later version.

“Susan Calvin gazed across at him with melting eyes. There had been a preliminary self-consciousness when she had first forced her hair into curls and lacquered her fingernails a bright red — a silly everyone-is-snickering-at-me feeling — but it always vanished when she was with him. There was nothing then but the hard metallic voice of Herbie whispering in her ear —. ‘It’s really beautiful,’ she sighed…”

It’s an edit that improves the story. This sentence seems more suited to a cheesy romance comic or a movie like Beach Blanket Bingo than it does to an Asimovian robot story. This sentence seems especially out of character for Susan Calvin as the character had developed over many stories and many years.

Most of the remaining edits were made because the “Three Laws of Robotics” weren’t carefully codified until published in “Runaround,” which appeared ten months after “Liar!” It makes sense for the collection to use the language to which the readers had become accustomed. Thus, instead of this,

She faced them and spoke wearily. “You know the fundamental law impressed upon the positronic brain of all robots, of course.”

we get this.

“She faced them and spoke sarcastically, “Surely you know the fundamental First Law of Robotics.”

There’s the additional change from “wearily” to “sarcastically.” That’s more in keeping with Calvin’s character and because the two men she was talking to would unquestionably know the three laws; this isn’t a case of having to remind someone of the three laws; Calvin is making a rhetorical point.

But it’s also an opportunity to remind the reader of what the first law says, so while we initially got this,

“Certainly,” said Bogert. “On no conditions is a human being to be injured in any way, even when such injury is directly ordered by another human.”

After “Runaround,” we get the now-familiar wording.

“The other two nodded together. “Certainly,” said Bogert, irritably, “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow him to come to harm.”

The insertion of “irritably” follows nicely from the inclusion of “sarcastically.” We get one more edit concerning the three laws. In Astounding, the exchange above is followed by this.

“How nicely put,” sneered Calvin. “But what kind of injury?”

And in I, Robot, “injury” becomes “harm,” which seems to fit better with the revised version of the First Law.

The first use of “robotics” in “Liar!”

An interesting aside: In “The Robot Chronicles” Asimov claims that the term “robotics” first appeared in print in the initial printing of “Runaround.” The Oxford English Dictionary, notes this and gives Asimov credit for inventing the word. The use of “robotics” predates that, however, as it’s used twice in “Liar!” in addition to the time noted above, which exists only in the revised version.

The final edit in “Liar!” aside from one that appears to fix a typo, comes in the following passage at the very end of the story.

“It was minutes after the two scientists left that Dr. Susan Calvin regained part of her mental equilibrium. Slowly, her eyes turned to the living-dead Herbie and the tight smile returned to her face.”

“Tight smile” is aptly changed to “tightness,” as the operant emotion at this point is anger. This again seems to fit Susan Calvin’s character better than the original.

A Holistic Look

It’s more apparent in retrospect than it would have been in 1950 when I, Robot was compiled but “Liar!” is an important story in the Asimov canon. It’s the first time the idea of a robot with mental powers is discussed, an idea that becomes a pillar of Asimov’s later work, and the Oxford English Dictionary recognizes it as the earliest known use of the word “robotics.” more importantly though, “Liar!” is the first appearance of Susan Calvin, one of Asimov’s most consequential and well-known characters. She’s so central to the early robot stories that the framing sequence of I, Robot is written as a conversation between Calvin and a biographer. Through this conversation, she introduces each chapter. I, Robot is Susan Calvin’s story and the introduction tells us that “In 2008, she obtained her Ph.D. and joined United States Robots as a ‘robopsychologist’ becoming the first great practitioner of a new science.”

So, let’s look at the changes holistically. There appear to be three categories.

There seems to be one change to smooth out the prose, where “Mathematical Journal—” becomes “Transactions of the Far—.” This reads better because the partial title seems more believable for an academic journal.

There are several bookkeeping changes, namely the one removing “Tyrone and his demagogues” and all those updating the Three Laws of Robotics. These are exactly the kinds of edits one should expect in a fix-up like I, Robot. In any series of stories, details will never be completely determined initially. The book will feel more cohesive if small changes are made for the sake of consistency.

The changes that remain must be what Asimov was referring to when he wrote, “This story was originally rather clumsily done, largely because it dealt with the relationship between the sexes at a time when I had not yet had my first date with a young lady.

I’m not sure that these edits hit that mark and I’m certain that they fall short of being significant.

Let’s recap these changes. We have:

  • Calvin doesn’t approach Herbie “with a friendly smile.”
  • Calvin describes Ashe’s girlfriend as “slim” rather than “slinky.”
  • Ashe refers to Calvin as a “lady” rather than a “dame.”
  • The removal of the sentence where Calvin feels self-conscious about changing her hair and wearing make-up, but that feeling disappears when she’s with him.

So, are women written better as a result of these edits? When Asimov wrote about “significant” changes, it is reasonable to expect something like a fundamentally different subplot for Susan Calvin. Her subplot still resolves around a cringeworthy mistaken impression. It depends on some unfortunate tropes, like Calvin changing her hair and makeup to attract Ashe and destroying Herbie in a fit of pique. That subplot remains “clumsy,” and Asimov’s treatment of female characters isn’t significantly better. For example, although Ashe’s unnamed girlfriend is no longer “slinky,” she remains unable to add two to two.

But the changes are likely more about Susan Calvin than writing women in general or making the story less clumsy. It’s disappointing to ponder “Liar!” as Calvin’s initial appearance because it means that Asimov had the silly unrequited love subplot in mind and Calvin was created because the subplot required a female character. But over the following nine years Calvin and the characters surrounding her became the centerpiece of Asimov’s robot stories; they turned into the brilliant, serious professionals who drove the plots and resolved the problems. These edits are just enough to make this story fit with the rest of the book but is it a consistent portrayal? Let’s look at the framing sequence. In the run-up to “Liar!” Calvin tells the biographer “I was foolish once, young man. Would you believe that?” “No,” he replied.

Resources

  • Asimov, Isaac. “Liar!” Astounding Science Fiction, May 1941, pp. 43-55.
  • Asimov, Isaac. “Liar!” I, Robot, ©1950, 1977, Bantum Spectra
  • Asimov, Isaac. “The Robot Chronicles,” Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection, ©1995, Harper Collins e-books
  • Liar! (short story), Wikipedia, accessed 30 June 2022

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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E19

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E19 The Killing Game Part 2

Last time: the Hirogen had taken over the ship and were forcing the crew to act out scenarios from Earth’s history. A WWII fantasy is about to escape the holodeck into the rest of the ship. I wasn’t impressed with part 1. Hopefully, this one is better.

In a metaphor for the show’s the new status quo, Janeway & Seven know what’s going on. Everybody else is little better than a side character. The head Hirogen, who thinks holodeck tech is the key to saving his race from extinction is tying everyone else’s hands.

Along the way, there’s a nice character moment with Janeway and Chakotay but only sort of because Chakotay doesn’t know who he is. According to Paris, Nazis are “totalitarian fanatics bent on world conquest — the Borg of their day.” Ugh.

Janeway’s alone with the lead Hirogen. If this is true Trek, she’ll offer to help his plan to stop extinction. She strikes the deal. ✔

Too much time left for that to be the end. The other Hirogen must rebel. They do. ✔

But not without a pep talk first from a holographic Nazi.

Soon the one Hirogen who’s not a complete idiot is dead. The species is doomed, but not before a lot of tedious conflict. The pacing is terrible. There’s a subplot in Holodeck One with some Klingons but it doesn’t advance the story. It’s filler that provides screen time for the Doctor & Neelix.

Neelix is a ridiculously bad Klingon. Eventually, the Klingons kill some of the Nazis. That’s not too bad. Finally, there’s a truce. Janeway gives the Hirogen holodeck tech which is probably useless without the smart one.

The Hirogen, like the Nazis, are headed for the dustbin of history. There’s more action in Part 2 but it’s not interesting. What might have been one decent episode is ruined by filler as it’s stretched to two. Must have been fun to write though. I hope the writers had more fun than I.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

#StarTrek #StarTrekVoyager

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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E18

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E18 The Killing Game Part 1

In the teaser, Janeway is cosplaying a Klingon. That’s just odd. We quickly learn that the Hirogen have taken control of the ship and are programming the crew to act in holodeck simulations. I hope these Hirogen aren’t idiots.

I hate holodeck episodes. Usually, they’re an excuse for weak writing. Now it’s a WWII restaurant fantasy in occupied France. Yawn. The setup is taking too long. We see Janeway deciphering a message. “That might be fun to look at assuming it’s a real message, ” I thought. No luck.

And there’s some Hirogen philosophizing. Most of them are idiots but one of them at least is smart enough to realize that they’re all a bunch of idiots racing toward extinction. His plan to stave off extinction is too simplistic though.

The cliffhanger is marginally interesting; the crew, believing themselves to be WW2 combatants are about to encounter the rest of the ship. It’s not awful, but the whole episode reminds me of an old double album with way too much filler. There just isn’t enough here.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

#StarTrek #StarTrekVoyager

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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E04

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E04 Nemesis

Unlike E03 I remember this one from last year. The description kind of gives away the fact that there’s a twist. That’s annoying. The teaser is startlingly short. I’ll be vague but spoilers are unavoidable.

Chakotay’s shuttle is shot down and he finds himself in a war zone amongst some of the combatants. They seem decent and welcoming. A lot of effort was put into their speech patterns. Interesting & charming but somewhat stilted they give the impression of alienness.

The enemy soldiers look like Naussicans to me. When we see them they’re brutal. Too much of the episode is about Chakotay being drawn into the conflict and he’s an enthusiastic participant by the time he’s rescued. No mention of the prime directive.

In retrospect, the twist is fairly obvious in an episode about propaganda and the fog of war. Outside the propaganda, the episode gets points for neither sanctifying nor demonizing the two sides. Still, it pales in comparison to “Chain of Command” which explores similar themes.

It’s an engaging episode, but unbalanced. We see Chakotay’s descent, but not his redemption. We needed to explore the aftermath, but it’s dismissed with a banal one-liner. Entertaining in the moment, but unsatisfying unless you’re content with a punch-line.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

#StarTrek #StarTrekVoyager

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Adventures in Podcasting

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about the Stars End Podcast here. There is a couple of reasons for that. The first is that it’s a bit of a pain in the neck to copy a post from one WordPress site to another; that’s one of the few things I really don’t like about WordPress. The second is that, as the academic year progressed, I became worried about this site turning into “All Asimov all the time.” That’s better than what did happen though which was months with very little content here. If 2022-2023 turns out anything like 2021-2022 that could happen again. Long story short, I’m reversing that policy. If you want to follow the Stars End Podcast you’ll be able to do that here apart from some occasional exclusives.

So, let’s get caught up.

Last December as we were wrapping up our discussions of the Apple TV+ series we made our first collective guest appearance on another podcast, The Starbase 66 podcast from the Infinite Potato Alliance.

This was especially nice for me as the host, Rick is one of my oldest friends. He also guested on Stars End last month.

Also, you might notice that we have a spiffy new logo. The spirals were created using four logistic functions plotted on the polar coordinate system using Maple, a professional-grade mathematics program. That gives us a stylized representation of the Milky Way Galaxy. The starburst was taken from one of the early images published from the James Webb Space Telescope. It represents the location of Trantor, the capital of Asimov’s Galactic Empire. It’s as close to the black hole at the center of the galaxy as a star can be which is why Trantor is known as “where the stars end.” The background, fleshing out our stylized galaxy is a public domain image of the Horsehead Nebula.

How about all of our episodes? We’ll jump back to the beginning of the podcast in case there are some new listeners here. If you want to get caught up or get started, you can use these links.

  • In season one, Dan <@MrEarlG> and Jon <@jblumenfeld100> and I read through and discussed Asimov’s original Foundation Trilogy in anticipation of Apple TV+’s Foundation series. We also tracked show news when we could find it and had a fun segment called Asimov Trivia.
  • Our season two coincided with season one of Foundation. There’s a prelude, a discussion on each episode, a season overview, and our first-ever Hari Awards!
  • We’re in the middle of season three right now and it will continue until Apple TV+ decides to grace us with more new episodes. We’ve gone back to reading Asimov’s work; so far this season we’ve worked our way through the prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. We’ve just started reading and discussing the robot novels beginning with The Caves of Steel.

Finally, here are our latest two posts on StarsEndPodcast.WordPress.com, the start of our Caves of Steel stuff.

You can look for these here going forward.

Image Credits:

The featured image and the Stars End logo © The Stars End Podcast, 2021

My Voyager Rewatch: S4E03

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E03 “Day of Honor”

The title and description tell me this is a Klingon episode. Not wild about that; IMO the Klingons become less interesting the more we learn about them. I watched this not too long ago and remember nothing, also a bad sign.

But there’s Vorek; I do like Vulcans. Torres was going to undergo a Klingon ritual for sentimental reasons which is a nice piece of irony. Meanwhile, Seven requests a duty assignment & wants to work in engineering. That’s the set-up. The Caatati are the first thing to seem familiar.

Blood pie is orange hummus. The DoH ceremony starts with communion. Star Trek engineers are essentially warriors but Torres has no good answer to how she’s distinguished herself. When she leaves the holodeck, a character tries to force her to stay; this show has consent issues.

It’s all peculiar but then we get to leave all the Klingon nonsense behind. I have a mixed impression of the Caatani. Mostly they’re too simplistic, but they spur Seven to become more human and their forgiveness foreshadows the crew’s eventual acceptance of her.

There’s some dumb stuff as well, like using “ion turbulence” to explain an air leak when there was an EXPLODING SHUTTLECRAFT nearby. The “Torres and Paris float in space” story syncs poorly with the Caatani story. My favorite part of the episode is the final visual, where Voyager arrives to save Tom and Belanna but is only seen as a reflection in B’Elanna’s helmet.

Mostly forgettable, but it works somewhat as a vehicle to drive development for Seven and to jumpstart the relationship between Belanna and Tom. Overall, not great, not terrible. Mediocre.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

#StarTrek #StarTrekVoyager

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