Asimov’s Robotics

I don't actually know what the fuck this cover image has to do with the content

At my parents’ I read Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun, after picking it up when I was looking around my local library, which is pretty fucking sparse when it comes to decent SF. I am reliably informed by goodreads that it’s the third in a series of Robot novels.

It’s funny how easy it is to forget how clever a lot of the Robot works are. They’re flawed, especially in a way that the gender and identity politicians among you must despise the Golden Age of SF for. However in that regard this text is hardly atypical for the era so critiquing an individual work on just that basis would be pointless for me and this blog.

I’m also not talking about the often-mentioned wisdom in the Three Laws of Robotics – don’t get me wrong, they’re very cool – but in the end, they’re nothing more than an easy framework in which to present a discussion of logic and flaws in programming abilities. It’s a discussion which can be fun to read, but as a product of the computer age, its unnecessary for me.

What really struck me about this book is the appropriateness of its allegory of ‘viewing’ to the internet age.

‘But about the other thing,’ she went on earnestly, ‘it’s just viewing you see. After all, you didn’t mind talking to me when I was in the drier and I wasn’t wearing anything then, either.’
‘Well,’ said Baley, wishing she would run down as far as that subject was concerned, ‘hearing you is one thing, and seeing you is another.’
‘But that’s exactly it. Seeing isn’t involved.’ She reddened a trifle and looked down. ‘I hope you don’t think I’d ever do anything like that. I mean, just step out of the drier, if anyone were seeing me. It was just viewing.’
‘Same thing, isn’t it?’ said Baley.
‘Not at all the same thing. You’re viewing me right now. You can’t touch me, can you, or smell me, or anything like that. You could if you were seeing me. Right now, I’m two hundred miles away from you at least. So how can it be the same thing?’
Baley grew interested. ‘But I see you with my eyes.’
‘No, you don’t see me. You see my image. You’re viewing me.’
‘And that makes a difference?’
‘All the difference there is.’

Chapter 5, pg 52-53

This idea of screens, and how you are perceived. This difference between viewing (visiting each other through what is essentially wireless video telephone) and seeing (IRL). This idea that it’s not real, or as important, to see someone through a camera lens. It’s an interesting idea. Certainly its relatable to a lot of the fascination and strange behaviour associated with camwhoring and chatroutlette etc. Take the different planets for ideas of different classes and you start to get some interesting (if a little predictable) comments on society. The matter-of-fact portrayal of this foresight especially draws my interest, how it is part of the everyday.

The story itself is nothing spectacular. It’s a typical robotics story, with Asimov mixing it up a little into the detective genre, complete with the old-fashioned “gather everyone in the one room and have your reveal” in the tradition of Doyle and Christie. It’s a fun and satisfying read, and most of the world building is interesting enough in that “dawwwwwww, 50 years ago people’s visions of the future” way.  It has to be the most domestic of the Asimov books that I’ve read, in that pretty much every scene of this book is set in households and children’s creche equivalents, but unfortunately he does little of note with this.

I have to admit, this post is as an excuse to quote a few paragraphs that I found quite interesting. I don’t have that much in the way of clever commentary about either the book or the subject I have brought up. There’s more to be said here with this idea of images and viewing, as well as other topics within the book such as the child raising system later in the book, but I’ll leave that for someone more analytical than myself, I think.


3 thoughts on “Asimov’s Robotics

  1. I was thinking “I didn’t notice the internet thing when I read it” then remembered that back then the internet didn’t really exist :)

    • heh. Point. It is very much a parallel that is only obvious in hindsight. Also a parallel that probably only applies to web2.0.

      PS. You are oooooooooooooold dude. :P

  2. I’m not sure if it was specifically this book, but he wrote several of his mysteries in a direct response to another author suggesting you couldn’t write proper mysteries in SF because inevitably the technology would lead to a “I pull the solveriser device and presto” situation

    Which always has been my greatest amusement with the proliferation of CSI etc shows nowadays that suffer from that exact flaw.

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