Science fiction short story recommendations.

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October 5th, 2017 at 1:37:09 PM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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"Little Lost Robot" by Isaac Asimov

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Get lost!

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: What happens when you tell a robot to "Get lost!"? It becomes more human.

Shock factor: None.

My reaction: A perfectly tight little mystery.

Plausibility: Plausible.


Bonus: Think of Asimov's Laws of Robotics as basis for logic problems and you'll enjoy the robot stories a lot more(*). In this one he tampers with the First Law, and a robot manages to get lost. You can hardly even see the handwavium.


(*)Seriously, fifty years on, they were still important in the last robot novel (Robots and empire).
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October 6th, 2017 at 9:15:05 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 345
Posts: 12535
"Runaround" by Isaac Asimov

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: "Go get the selenium" seemed like a perfectly reasonable order.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: well, yes. But:

1) A robot may not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given it by a human being, except when such orders conflict with the first law
3) A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws.

Shock factor: None.

My reaction: What the hell is a Gilbert & Sullivan?

Plausibility: Plausible.


Bonus: This is a classic Powell and Donovan Asimov robot story. Man, but they keep getting into sticky situations for no good reason. The handwavium is as subtle as an Orange Twit's Tweet, but if you're young, or understand the simplification imposed by story-telling, you can just casually suspend your disbelief and enjoy the story.

Fundamentally it's a logic problem, like most Powell and Donovan stories are. But keep in mind solving the logic problem does not solve the story's problem. You can see this as a "reverse-House" plot. Rather than arriving at several wrong diagnoses before getting the right one, here the diagnosis is right first time but a number of wrong fixes are tried first. P&D quickly determine why the prototype robot their survival depends on is malfunctioning, but getting it to work right takes up more time.
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October 7th, 2017 at 2:40:31 AM permalink
Pacomartin
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Quote: Nareed
"Runaround" by Isaac Asimov


Marvin Lee Minsky (August 9, 1927 January 24, 2016) was an American cognitive scientist concerned largely with research of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts concerning AI and philosophy.

Minsky was very influenced by the story Runaround which was published when he was age 14.
October 9th, 2017 at 8:50:38 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 345
Posts: 12535
"The Feeling of Power" by Isaac Asimov

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: You can do math without electronics????

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: What if you could do math without electronics?

Shock Factor: high at the time, meh by now.

My reaction: a pocket computer for that??

Plausibility: Zero, that is Z-E-R-O. As in: seriously, it's easier and more convenient to have some basic math skills.


Bonus: the merit in this story is that it foresees something that wouldn't be a problem for years yet. Namely that with a readily available device that does mathematical operations, humanity's ability to do these operations would be degraded. This does happen, but not to the point that no one will know how to add 2 and 2. Still, the story is form 1958, long before calculators were ubiquitous. Hell, back then even college students carried slide rules (whatever they are).

Double Bonus: Asimov's 50s era stories suffer from his penchant for using accurate terms. The word "computer" does mean a person or device that makes mathematical operations; not, as is currently the case, a machine that processes information. Ergo in this story people carry a "pocket computer," and in his novel "The End of Eternity," the high officials tasked with calculating realities (don't ask) have the title of Computer.

I first read it in the early 80s. Even then, there was the infamous Radio Shack Pocket Computer, which did considerably more than calculate tips (it actually could be programmed in BASIC). So the term "pocket computer" threw me off.

Anyway, you can read the story here: http://downlode.org/Etext/power.html
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October 10th, 2017 at 5:00:29 PM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 345
Posts: 12535
"Superiority" by Arthur C. Clarke

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Our superior weapons are no match for our ambitions.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: When wishing makes it so, it doesn't make it so.

Shock Factor: Little bit. It's spoiled because Clarke springs it right off the bat.

My reaction: You forgot to mention abject stupidity as a contributing factor.

Plausibility: I think the premise has already happened.

You can read it here: http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiority.html
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October 12th, 2017 at 6:52:40 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 345
Posts: 12535
"The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov.

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: The universe keeps running down, running down, running down.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: How can one reverse entropy?

Shock Factor: High if you've never come across this type of story before, otherwise not so much.

My reaction: Oh, so now there is.

Plausibility: I'm certain entropy cannot be reversed as shown in the story.

You can read it here: https://www.physics.princeton.edu/ph115/LQ.pdf

Bonus: I consider this to be one of the best opening lines ever: "The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time
when humanity first stepped into the light."

Double Bonus: Another classic Asimov quirk: gigantic computers. As the story progresses, they get smaller, then bigger again (though the Good Doctor uses handwavium to get you to think differently). also centralized computers. Again there's the same progression. First one gigantic computer, then lots of smaller ones, then one gigantic computer again.

Reading his stories, one is not surprised he referred to the one computer he ever owned as his "word processor." You'd think SF types would be early adopters, or at the least enthusiastic users of modern technologies. Asimov was neither.

Triple Bonus: The story dates from the late 50s. Its cosmology does sound a lot like modern cosmology, though, as Asimov has the universe end in heat-death (that's the death of heat, not death by heat), rather than a Big Crunch. Of course, the story wouldn't have worked with the latter.
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November 3rd, 2017 at 9:41:26 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Posts: 12535
"Good Taste" by Isaac Asimov.

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: You put what in my mouth?.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: One man's small change is another man's poison.

Shock Factor: Kind of high.

My reaction: Oh, please.

Plausibility: Likely.

It's more a short novel than a story, with a very developed background (which was never used again). even the language in the dialogue has a peculiar style, kind of archaic-sounding. The setting is a space colony in orbit of Earth called "Gammer" (which is derived from "Gamma"). A very conservative place, where change is highly suspect. But they love tasting. Not eating per se, but a great deal of variety and subtlety in their meals.

Then the protagonist goes on a grand tour of the other space colonies in orbit, much against the wishes of his father, and comes back with a little change in mind. He winds up exiled.

Of course, what they consider exquisite food is a bit different from what we'd think of as food.
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January 12th, 2018 at 6:41:48 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 345
Posts: 12535
"Strike Breaker" by Isaac Asimov

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: But he's got cooties!

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: The human need to hold a prejudice.

Shock factor: High(ish).

My reaction: Honestly I don't recall.

Plausibility: It's already happened, just not that way.


In his notes for the story, Asimov states the idea was a logical progression. Faced with a subway strike in NYC, which left a major transit system in chaos, Asimov learned the strikers were a relatively small, but crucial group. So he wondered whether a strike by one person could be as bad.

To this end he imagines a society that colonizes the inside of an asteroid (not in the Solar System, as I gathered). Naturally the gravity, air, etc. are artificial or imported. But they manage to keep carving out more room inside, to the point they could eventually have as much living area as Earth, and all of it useful.

Until one man goes on strike, which threatens the survival of his society.

The story is ok. the background is explained quickly and without getting in the way. But the characters are lacking. In particular the striker, who is not sympathetic at all. But it's worth reading. Maybe there should have been more emphasis on the group of people who'd rather indulge in their prejudice than act to save their own lives.
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