Tag: Isaac Asimov


Review – The Complete Robot

Posted 29 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Complete Robot by Isaac AsimovThe Complete Robot, Isaac Asimov

I’ve always liked Asimov’s work — one of my favourites has always been the expanded version of one of the short stories in this volume, The Positronic Man — and so this was a nice familiar read for me. I’ve read some of the stories, while some were less familiar, but it is a bit like comfort eating: with Asimov, I know exactly what I’m getting. It’d be a bit much to start here with Asimov, I think, and read all the short stories start to finish. I’d pick a smaller collection, rather than a collected one. But if you’re a fan of Asimov’s robot stories, then this is definitely worth picking up — there’re some in here I wasn’t really aware of.

I think what’s really great about these stories is that Asimov set up some rules, and then he bent them until they became almost meaningless within the constraints of the story. You can program a robot to never harm a human being, but if it decides you are not a human being, that rule no longer applies. Who is the judge of humanness? Or the stories where the hierarchy of rules fights against itself, with a robot trapped between compulsions. I love the way Asimov explored that. He didn’t just come up with a clever idea and then write robots you could sympathise with all the way; he liked stories that sympathised with robots, and he also saw how our society would really react to robots, and he got to work and told us stories that fit with what he saw.

I find it hard to talk about character or anything in Asimov’s stories, about not portraying women properly, etc, because I don’t think he portrays anything truly except robots. That’s what he was interested in, and that’s what he achieved. I can understand not liking them for that reason, but to me as a reader, it’s irrelevant.

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Books that define me

Posted 20 December, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

I’ve talked about books I reread, and authors for whom I will read anything they produce, which must go some way towards helping even the casual reader get to know me. But when I was thinking about possible posts for this blog, I wandered off into thinking about books that I’d give people to help them understand me — not non-fiction books, which would be too easy, but the fiction books which have shaped me or given a voice to something in me.

So I’ve come up with a little list of five and some explanations; you may also see these as recommendations.

  • There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards. If there’s a book that defines my whole childhood, I guess this is it. As far as I was concerned, there was a hippo on my roof too, and if there wasn’t, there should be. (And a giraffe in the garden.) My life is still filled with teddies, many of them hippos, and I keep a copy of this book in sight of my desk. And there’s still a hippopotamus on my roof, although sometimes now he worries about his weight, and trades in the cake for a diet of mushrooms. (Why mushrooms? That’s another story.)
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. I probably love The Lord of the Rings more than The Hobbit, but this is the book that enchanted me when I was a bit too old for Cat and Mouse or hippos on the roof. I could’ve read this endlessly, and often did. I remember one night when my parents were particularly determined to make me go to sleep, and I was equally determined not to, I read this book by the light of the streetlights down past the end of our garden, shining in just a little through my window. My imagination became full of dragons and trolls, and dwarves and gold, and wizards. And they’ve never left me either.
  • The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov. Once upon a time, my mother got me some Asimov books out of the library on her account, because they wouldn’t let me into that section and I’d read everything they didn’t drag out of my clutching little hands. I have no idea what the library fine was when I finally allowed her to take this one back, but it’s fair to say it was probably the most epic fine I’ve ever wracked up — and I did manage some epic ones in university. I loved Andrew and his struggle to become human, and still do, even if I’d happily move the other way. Also, Andrew’s struggle for his rights, for the respect of the people around him, certainly speak to me now on a level I wasn’t aware of back then. I had no idea at that age that civil rights would become an issue for me, or that they were an issue for people like me.
  • The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. I didn’t read this until I was about fifteen, sixteen, despite what everyone expects when they see my battered to death copy. I reread it just about every year, around this time; it seriously got under my skin. It’s magic with consequences: Will is an adult and more than an adult in a child’s body; Bran is isolated, motherless, starving for love; the Drews grow up over the course of the books; John Rowlands loses the love of his life, learning that she’s not the woman he thought she was… Things don’t really come alright at the end. And, of course, it draws on some of my heritage, Welsh legends, and deals with some of the tensions between Welsh and English. And there are themes about racism and bigotry, and some amazing passages about all sorts of things from justice to Englishness to responsibility.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton. I read this and thought, this is me. Of all these books, if you want to get to know me, this is the most important. Sure, there are ways in which I’m very unlike Mori, but her love affair with books, her thirst for them, some of the Welsh/English issues going on, many of the things she’s dealing with… I recognise them. For Christmas, I gave each of my ex-housemates a copy of this book. On reading the back, they all mentioned the immediate parallels between me and Mori…

Honourable mentions go to Enid Blyton’s Tales of Brave Adventure (I owned two much-loved, faded copies: one my father’s, one my mother’s), C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth.

And, perhaps surprisingly even to my mother, the old chapter-a-day retelling of the Bible for children which I had. I’m not a Christian, but I still think that a lot of the goodness in me, I learnt there.

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Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted 22 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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