Thursday, March 01, 2012

Faith in the old human brain

"Humans," said R. Daneel, "have their own peculiar make-up. They are not as reasonable, in many ways, as we robots, since their circuits are not as preplanned. I am told that this, too has its advantages."

The first and only time (till now) I read Isaac Asimov was as a kid, some 30 years ago. I read I, Robot then, and I felt my young brain stretched in exciting ways.

Since then, I learned that Asimov is revered by some as a god, and this intimidated me.

Someday, I thought, I'll get around to The Foundation Trilogy, even though it sounds so big and... foundational. But I have a coworker now egging me on to check off the sci-fi classics, and she's acting as my supplier of sorts. What a surpise to see the trilogy wrapped up in three slim volumes.

But of the handful of Asimov my coworker lay before me, I opted first for The Caves of Steel, based on the reference in a blurb to a "womb-city" and, of course, the cheesy cover art.

I was afraid it would feel dated — the language, the science — but it's highly readable and inventive (some quaint concepts of, for example, data storage are easily forgiven).

The story concerns a murder investigation, which appears to be related to strained human–robot relations.

The most surprising thing about this novel — and I think it's telling that I find it surprising at all — is the sense of optimism Asimov conveys — for science, humanity, the future. (There's a hint of religion in it, a guiding Christian principle, but I'll call it a brand of humanism.)

Baley muttered, "Eight billion people and the uranium running out! What's unlimited about it?"

"What if the uranium does run out. We'll import it. Or we'll discover other nuclear processes. There's no way you can stop mankind, Lije. You've got to be optimistic about it and have faith in the old human brain. Our greatest resource is ingenuity and we'll never run out of that, Lije."
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