Friday, June 06, 2008

More on Compelling Science Fiction

Disclosure: This post was written last night and scheduled to post this evening, as I am currently at the boy scout camp. I plan to take my camera and snap a ton of photos.

Yesterday, I started an impromptu essay on what makes science fiction compelling. Today, I want to continue that discussion with some Asimov. Isaac Asimov is not what I consider a hard SF writer, despite all the scence books he wrote.

Oh, he could include rigor when he wanted, but it was his social SF that really made his name. First, let's talk about I, Robot. This is nothing like the Will Smith movie of the same name. Asimov's book is a series of interconnected short stories that study one cool idea--the three laws of robotics.

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The fun of I, Robot is trying to figure out how the three laws fit into the story. The robots always follow the rules, but not necessarily in predictable ways. Once you get that concept into your mind, you just can't wait to see what's next. In that sense, I, Robot is similar to James Bond. You know he's going to win, the fun is in finding out how.

The other shining Asimov example of compelling fiction is Foundation and the sequels. It's been a long time since I read a Foundation book, so forgive any memory slips.

Foundation is different in the sense that we follow the evolution of a society over the course of many generations. (The parallel with Dragon's Egg ends here. We can never experience the Cheela from the inside the way we can with a human society.) It hinges on the development of a branch of mathematics called psychohistory, where large scale prediction of the future can be deterministically calculated. You can read a detailed summary of the Foundation series here.

Science Fiction often hinges on the "cool idea." It's part of what makes the genre so fun to write, and fun to read. Sometimes the cool idea is small, like ice nine in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. The simple idea of a form of water ice that turns solid at room temperature has enormous ramifications. (And yes, Vonnegut really is a science fiction writer.)


Today's yard plant is a Texas Ranger Sage. It isn't a true sage. You wouldn't want to use it in cooking, but it still looks a lot like one. This is one of 1 -- 2 -- 3 -- 4 -- 5 -- well, a bunch of them I have. This one is fairly small. The dogs are occasionally tied outside, like when the plumber visits. The leash gets caught around the bush and rips it up. This one was cut to the ground last year. The things can get as tall as 8 feet tall if not trimmed. Luckily, I caught almost all my sages while they were flowering.

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