Stars End S3E34

“That Thou Art Mindful of the Podcast”

Asimov’s story “…That Thou Art Mindful of Him” has an interesting pedigree. It was initially commissioned for an original collection entitled, Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology edited by Edward L. Ferman and Barry N. Malzberg. The intent of the anthology is compelling. Here’s how the editors described the premise.

The assumption was that science fiction — that branch of literature, half beast, half-civilized —sits upon perhaps, a dozen classic themes, which, in various combinations, permutations, and convolutions, underline most of the work in the field. Like the ten to twenty basic chess attacks and defenses, these themes can lead to winning combinations of great beauty or, in less talented hands, to disastrous and obvious clichés.

Some of science fiction’s most astounding writers were each given one of these classic themes and charged with crafting that theme’s ultimate story. The assignment of “Robots and Androids” could only have gone to the good doctor. Each contributor was also tasked with writing an afterword on the theme and their story.

Thus, “…That Thou Art Mindful of Him” was born. Ed Malzberg was also editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at the time. According to Peter King writing on, Malzberg, upon receiving the manuscript, was compelled to include it in his magazine first. It appeared in the ⁠April 1974 issue⁠. In his afterword to the story, The Great and Glorious Az proclaimed “…having followed matters through to the logical conclusion, I have possibly destroyed the Three Laws, and it made it impossible for me to ever write another positronic robot story.”

But then, of course, he qualified it, maybe not. And he said something similar after writing the Bicentennial Man two years later (that’s for next week). He qualified that as well, “But then again,” he wrote, “I might. I’m not always predictable.” Two novels and a bunch more short stories later, the good doctor might have been more predictable than he thought.

Anyway, we talk about it. Please tune in and join the fun! Let’s go!

Afterword to “…For Thou Art Mindful of Him.”

by Isaac Asimov, Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, Penguin Books, 1974

The first story I wrote in which the Three Laws of Robotics were explicitly stated, was “Runaround,” which appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The laws were implicit, however, in stories, I had written earlier — the earliest being “Robbie,” which appeared under the title of “Strange Playfellow” in the September 1940 issue of Super Science Stories. So I have been playing around with those Three Laws for more than a generation.

With all due modesty, (which means “very little modesty” in this case), the Three Laws were revolutionary in science, fiction development. That’s not to say that there were no sympathetic robots in the field before Robbie. There was Lester Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy” in the December 1938 Astounding Science Fiction, for instance. The Three Laws, however, and the stories I used to explore them, represented the first honest attempt at a rationalization of robots as machines, and not as symbols of man’s overweening pride leading to his destruction, à la Frankenstein. The field did me the honor of excepting the Three Laws, and though no one but myself can use them explicitly, many writers simply assume their existence and know that the reader will assume it too.

This does not mean that I wasn’t aware from the start, that there were serious ambiguities in the Three Laws. It was out of these ambiguities, indeed, that I wove my stories. In The Naked Sun, the ambiguities could even lead to robot-induced murder.

And, of course, the deepest ambiguity and the one that had the potential for giving the greatest trouble was the question of what was meant by the phrase “human being“ in the Three Laws. John Campbell and I used to discuss the matter in the far-distant good old days of the Golden Age, and neither of us ever came to a satisfactory conclusion. It did seem likely, though, that if I were allowed to dig deeply into the question of “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” as addressed to the robot, I might upset the Three Laws altogether, — and at that I always balked.

But John is now dead, and I am in my late youth, and the Three Laws have given me good, loyal, and profitable service for thirty-four years, and maybe that’s enough. So when asked to write “the ultimate story” in robotics — or as near as I could come to one — I sighed and took up the matter of that Biblical quotation (Psalms 8:4).

I think you will agree with me that, having followed matters through to the logical conclusion, I have possibly destroyed the Three Laws, and it made it impossible for me to ever write another positronic robot story.

Well, don’t bet on it, you rotten kids.

Stars End S3E33

“Use the Podcast But Not to Justify Needless Harm to Individuals”

We interrupt our regular program!

Dateline: Capitol District, Trantor

This just in: AppleTV+ has announced the premiere date for Foundation, Season 2: 14 July 2023.

That means that we, at Stars End will be wrapping up Season 3 of the podcast and strapping in for Season 4!

Release Date! Trailer! New Episodes! We’ll talk about it! You’ll listen! It’s a psychohistorical necessity!

You can watch the trailer along with us on the episode right here.

Meanwhile still in season 3, we reach the climax of not merely Robots and Empire but The Great and Glorius Az’s Robot novels collectively! Do we finally get a satisfying ending? You’ll have to listen to find out! And just how philosophical do we get this time? We’re not saying! So tune in and join us already! We promise that no co-host melted down in the recording of this podcast! Probably.

This could very well be where the climax of the novel happens!

And speaking of meltdowns, the ultimate confrontation between Daneel and Giskard on the one hand Amadiro and Mandamus on the other play out against the backdrop of Three Mile Island. In Asimov’s future, this sounds like a vast deserted wilderness and maybe it is 3000 years hence. Not so today. Three Mile Island itself is pretty small, barely big enough for a nuclear power plant or two. Fun fact: TMA-2, the reactor that suffered a partial meltdown and was shut down in 1979 is currently in a state called “Post defueling monitored storage.” It will be officially decommissioned in 2052.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. If this has been an actual emergency you would have been instructed where to tune in your area for Foundation and official Asimovalia.

Stars End S3E32

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

“The Very Word Podcast is Taboo in Polite Society”

We hit some big, philosophical issues in this episode.

As a mathematician, it seems odd that I’m frequently the one to point out that some things can’t be quantified. We’re reaching the limits of quantifiability with the Three Laws of Robotics, just as we did with Psychohistory. How do you quantify harm? Take the First Law, for example. Even within a single human, there’s psychological harm or physical harm, at least if you’re Giskard. How do you compare the two? It’s not even possible to measure the two things with the same unit. What’s bigger: 17 furlongs or 200 degrees on the Rankine scale? And there’s also social harm, financial harm, legal harm… the list goes on.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png
How is this not a copy of The Naked Sun?

It’s even trickier if the question is about the amount of harm between two humans. And what about the Zeroth Law? Quantifying harm between groups of humans? Species of humans? Collections of sapient beings that might be humans? That way, it seems, lies madness. What’s bigger: royal blue or next Tuesday? The only possible path to an answer is the ability to predict the consequences of any action. That brings us back to Psychohistory. It’s a vicious circle.

We get into it as Daneel continues to evolve into a Zeroth Law robot in chapters 15, 16, and 17 of Robots and Empire. Meanwhile, we revisit the caves of steel, experience the pomp and circumstance surrounding Gladia’s visit to Earth, meet a government functionary, and witness an assassination attempt! Plus: a space maneuver worthy of Captain Kirk himself! You’ll enjoy this one!

We also ask: do college professors think? We never quite get to the bottom of that one, either.

Let’s go!

Stars End S3E31

“Ceterum Censeo Delenda Est Podcast”

Joanne and I stayed in a hotel one night last week and I was delighted to discover a pancake robot while enjoying the continental breakfast.

I know that sounds pretty damn cool, but it was disappointing. Do you have a mental picture of a pancake robot? Whatever it is, I’d wager it isn’t a box. This one looks like a ⁠box⁠.

Today the feeling is more akin to bewilderment. I searched for a picture of the pancake robot and got a truly absurd number of hits. There are lots of pictures and cartoons that look like that mental picture from before. Another that ⁠looks like a 3-D printer making love to a hot plate⁠. Also, an annoyingly catchy song that even has its own video. I did not see any of that coming. Well, mostly.

But let’s get back to Daneel and Giskard, the more traditional science fictional robots who never seem to make pancakes even though they could.

In this episode, we continue our odyssey through the excellent Robots and Empire and talk about Part 4: Aurora, or, if you prefer Chapters 11 through 14, The Old Leader, The Plan and the Daughter, The Telepathic Robot, and The Duel.

Together we’ll see how Amadiro and Mandamus’ plan to destroy Earth starts to come together, Vasilia’s machinations to regain possession of Giskard, and watch in real-time as Daneel evolves into the first-ever 4-laws robot, saving Giskard from Vasilia and in turn, Giskard saving Daneel from destruction! It’s great and you’ll want to join us!

Also, there is some Latin. There may even be pancakes.

Stars End S3E30

“Keep Your Mind on the Podcast and Do Not Let the Trailing Off of a Single Thread Affect You.”

Join us as we continue our journey through Isaac Asimov’s masterpiece Robots and Empire, as we delve into chapters 7 through 10. 

In this episode, we take a closer look at “The Overseer,” “The Settler World,” “The Speech,” and “After the Speech,” as Asimov continues to link his major works into a future-historical tapestry.

We see how The First Law of Robotics can be undermined as foreshadowed in The Naked Sun.

We witness Gladia becoming the true successor to Elijah Baley’s legacy as she learns public speaking, articulates a political vision filled with peace and harmony, and changes the course of the rest of her life all in the space of a lazy afternoon.

And we watch as Elijah Baley lays the groundwork (dare I say “Foundation?”) for the Zeroth Law of Robotics from his deathbed.

And of course, Daneel and Giskard go on about the whole thing.

Please join us for our discussion about Robots and Empire, and where it’s taking the universe Asimov built.  Let’s go!

Stars End S3E29

“Humanity Whether in the form of Earth People or Spacers Must Podcast”

Join us as we continue to wind our way through Robots and Empire, the final book in Asimov’s Robot series, even if you count collections of short stories.

In this episode, we discuss chapters 3 through 6.  “The Crisis,” “Another Descendent,” “The Abandoned World,” and “The Crew.”  

In these chapters, the Great and Glorious Az establishes Robots and Empire as an important bridge between the Robot Stories, the Galactic Empire Novels, and the Foundation Saga; it’s both a prelude and a coda.  

Elijah Baley isn’t in this novel except in flashbacks, but his presence looms large.  Daneel and Giskard try to deduce what Elijah’s nemesis, Amadiro might try in the aftermath of Fastolfe’s death.  As they do, they’re forced to ponder the Three Laws of Robotics, which seem to be impeding their efforts.  Together, these discussions wrap up the Robot Stories.

Meanwhile, these two robots are pondering Elijah’s ability to predict, in broad brushstrokes, the future that has unfolded over the past two centuries, including an oncoming crisis.  Giskard, in particular, is trying to deduce the “Laws of Humanics” that Elijah must have understood to see so clearly.  In this, of course, we see the seeds of the Foundation.

How do the Galactic Empire Novels figure into all of this? For that, you’ll have to stay tuned.

Stars End S3E28

“I Do Not Ask You to Like the Podcast – I Ask You to Trust It”

If you’re a fan of Issac Asimov, you probably like robots, the Three Laws of Robotics, and characters having long, expository conversations about interesting ideas.

If that’s true, then Robots and Empire is the book for you!  It features, except for when the plot forces its way in, our two favorite robots, Daneel and Giskard, having long, expository conversations about the Three Laws of Robotics.  Jon is quite outspoken about how those are his favorite bits.  Dan and I are more apt to keep that revelation to ourselves.

Robots and Empire lives in between the three Elijah Baley novels and the Foundation books.  As a consequence, it never seems to get the attention of Asimov’s other major novels; it’s never, for example, been made into an official mass-market audiobook.

But if you love the three Elijah Baley novels and the Foundation books and if you’ve bought into Asimov’s project to link most of his work into a tremendous future history, Robots and Empire isn’t just essential, it might even be the most important piece.

And we’re finally talking about it, starting, in this episode, with the first two chapters, “The Descendent” and  “The Ancestor.” You don’t want to miss this one!

Stars End S3E27

“Everyone Believes in the Freedom of the Podcast – It Should Be Right There in the Constitution”

It’s human nature, it seems, to celebrate round numbers, 40th birthdays, 20th wedding anniversaries, 10th high school reunions, and so forth.  New Year’s Day 2000 was a huge deal even though, as Arthur C. Clarke was quick to point out, the third millennium CE didn’t start until 2001.

Early on, we poked a bit of fun at this tendency, culminating in episode eight, because eight is a very round number:  It’s “10” in base eight, “20” in base four, and “1000” in base two.  That was also when we tied Manimal for their number of episodes.

But now we’re celebrating our 50th episode and that is a milestone.  Fifty isn’t just 6.25 on the Manimal scale, it’s when a lot of comics and magazines (remember those?) have their first special issue! It’s a half-century, a semi-centennial, and a golden jubilee!  You might even say that we’re almost playing with a full deck!

So we celebrate, reminisce a bit, and wax some nostalgia.  And we take care of some business since there’s a trailer out for season 2 of Foundation.  

But the main event here is the most shocking of plot twists!  The most special of special guests!  It’s the one guest that no one, I say, no one, could have expected!  And not just because he’s 103 years old and refuses to leave his apartment!  It’s our interview with the professor of biochemistry, the great explainer, and the father of robotics.  He’s the founder of foundations, he’s one-third of the big three, he’s the best science writer according to the Clarke-Asimov Treaty, and he’s The Sensuous Dirty Old Man.

It is, of course, the Great and Glorious Az, Issac Asimov himself! And he joins us for a conversation! Believe it or don’t believe it, but DO NOT miss it!

Stars End S3E26

“It is from this Point On, Earth Itself that is the True World of the Podcast.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it is said, “always get their man.”  I haven’t checked, but I’m confident that’s been updated.  “Always get their human” might not work perfectly in the context of Asimov’s Robot Novels, so let’s settle on “always get the perpetrator.”  A perpetrator could be an animal, vegetable, or mineral.

In Elijah Baley’s time, millennia in the future, it isn’t clear whether New York City has grown to include parts of Canada but it isn’t likely.  If it had, Lije would have been part of this same tradition.  And yet, as we’ve noticed, Lije hardly ever “gets” the guilty party.  Usually, he has figured out who it is, but the actual “getting” part never actually happens.  It’s like watching an episode of Law & Order where the latter half kinda goes off the rails.  As we approach the denouement of The Robots of Dawn we have to ask… will Lije finally have an unqualified win?

You want to know!  You need to know! We know!  And we talk about it!  Let’s go!

And in one week… Episode 50!

Stars End S3E25

“The Law Wisely Considers a Podcast an Incompetent Witness”

Happy New Year!  Today, 2 January, is National Science Fiction Day here in the States, and not coincidentally, the birthday of Dr. Asimov, aka the great explainer, aka the Great and Glorious Az.  Happy Birthday, Issac!

It’s also National Buffet Day and World Introvert Day.  Make of that what you will.

Thus, today we’re dropping a special episode of the Stars End Podcast, our first musical episode!  Well, kinda.  There’s a bit at the end where we talk about music and songs that would be apropos to the real action, where we discuss Chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16 of The Robots of Dawn.  Don’t worry, none of us sing.

So, head on out to Golden Corral, find yourself a nice quiet corner away from the humans and read about R. Daneel and R. Giskard.  Then join us back here for our musical episode.  Or, just listen to the episode. That’s cool too.

For our part, we’re recording another episode this evening, each safely in our own space, securely separated by state and/or national boundaries.  This one’s a very special episode; it’s our 50th and we’ve got something different planned for the milestone!  Stay Tuned!

But first, episode #48.

And as a bonus, you can find our soundtrack to The Robots of Dawn on our website,  Let’s go!

That, of course, can never be complete unless we can find someone to record (The Robots Want to Wear My) Red Shoes for us.