“Super Neutron” by Isaac Asimov

The title of Isaac Asimov’s short story “Super Neutron” sounded typical for a writer known for science fiction and much of the story consists of science that may or may not be fiction.  That’s the point of the story.  One could say that this small story brilliantly illustrates the fun and intrigue that goes along with science fiction.

The narrator belongs to a club of four members known as The Society of Ananias.  While Asimov does not specifically explain the reason for the name, he implies that it is a “tribute” to an infamous liar in the Bible.  Lying is the purpose of this society.  One Sunday each month, the four members get together and take turns spinning a “yarn” for the other three.  The rules insist that the story be a lie and that the teller must immediately and sufficiently answer any questions that the others ask in trying to dispute the tale.  The person appointed as moderator passes final judgement on the answers.  The storyteller buys lunch if anyone stumps him.

The storyteller for this meeting pulls a surprise for the rest of the group in telling them that the world will end during their meeting.  The science involved and the questions asked build to an intense ending – did I say that this story is brilliant?  It’s fun, too.

Isaac Asimov’s “The Hazing”

“The Hazing” by Isaac Asimov blends comedy and philosophy in a story of three sophomores at Archturus University, each from a different planet.  One of the sophomores is green.

These three college boys capture ten Earth freshmen and take them to another planet (via spaceship, of course) and leave them to fend for themselves among the sub-Humanoid savages native to the planet.  The sophomores look down their noses at the Earth freshmen not just because they are freshmen but also because they are from Earth.

The Earth freshmen show some ingenuity and cause the hazing to backfire on the sophomores.  They con the natives (that have prehensile tails) into thinking they are supernatural.  The natives capture the sophomores, but then they call the freshmen’s bluff and everything backfires on everyone.

The Earth freshmen seem to not be as civilized as others think they should be and seem to be proud of that fact.  I’m not sure whether Asimov portrays them this way as a compliment or a criticism to humanity.  Maybe I’m biased, but I enjoyed the Earth freshmen so I’ll take it as a compliment.

“The Little Man on the Subway”

Now Patrick Cullen was an intelligent Irishman.  That is to say, he admitted the existence of banshees, leprechauns, and the Little Folk, and kept an open mind on poltergeists, werewolves, vampires and such-like foreign trash.  At mere supernaturalities, he was too well-educated to sneer.  Still, Cullen did not intend to compromise his religion.  His theology was weak, but for a mortal to claim godship smacked of heresy, not to say sacrilege and blasphemy, even to him.

Isaac Asimov wrote his short story “The Little Man on the Subway” along with an author friend who went by the name of James MacCreigh.  It was published in 1950 in a small magazine called Fantasy Book.

A little man practicing to be a “god” hijacks Patrick Cullen’s subway.  The little man, named Crumley, calls his followers Crumleyites.  Cullen’s disbelief in Crumley’s claims disappears with a simple Obi Wan Kenobi-style wave of Crumley’s hand.  Other Crumleyites don’t get converted that easily; they have to go to factories to be made into Believers.  Several Disciples (super-Believers) rebel against Crumley and unwittingly create their own “god”, considerably worse than Crumley.

Crumley ultimately releases Cullen from his spell sending him back to New York and back to his subway.

While Asimov could be considered to be poking fun at religion in general with this story, I get the impression that his humorous irreverence is aimed mainly at the organizations that  can result from religion.  For some, there is a difference.

This is the second short story by Asimov that I’ve read.  This one has a little more serious undertone than “Christmas on Ganymede”, but I also have to describe it as, well, cute.  It’s not how I thought I would be describing Asimov’s stories.  Both of the stories I’ve read were written early in his career.  Perhaps I need to contrast these with stories written later on?  Or perhaps all his short stories are cute and I just didn’t know it?

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s novel, I, Robot, consists of a number of shorter stories that tie together.  An elderly Susan Calvin is being interviewed about her career as a robopsychologist with one of the premier developers of robots.  Each of the stories take place during a different stage of history in which robots and later, machines, have a greater degree of influence on the world portrayed in the novel.

The novel was written in 1950 and some of the future dates in the book are presently in the past, but it’s not difficult to make the adjustment.  Like much science fiction written several decades ago, it’s always fun to see what kind of things “came true”.  While much of the technology in the book probably exists in some form today, the story to me still seemed like the future.

I don’t know whether this was part of Asimov’s plan or whether it’s just me, but I had a difficult time relating to the humans in the story.  None of them seemed very likable – with the exception of the little girl, Gloria, who had a robot (Robbie) as a nursemaid.   On the other hand, I loved the robots, especially the one who read human minds and romance novels.

I did develop an appreciation for Susan Calvin.  As time went on, she seemed to gather a considerable amount of insight regarding robots and humans and the world in which they both lived.  When the relatively peaceful world could not determine whether the machines were making right or wrong decisions, in spite of technological advances, she came up with this conclusion:

…it would be harmful to humanity to have the explanation known, and that’s why we can only guess – and keep on guessing.

“Christmas on Ganymede” – in July

Against Jupiter’s great yellowness was outlined a flying sleigh, complete with reindeer.  It was only a tiny thing, but there was no doubt about it.  Santa Claus was coming.

There was only one thing wrong with the picture.  The sleigh, “reindeer” and all, while plunging ahead at a terrific speed, was flying upside down.

I don’t mind posting about Isaac Asimov’s short story “Christmas on Ganymede” (written in 1941) in July because years on Ganymede are not the same as years on Earth.  This little fact plays into the conclusion of the story that I would describe as enjoyable, funny and, I’ll say it, cute.

Mild-mannered Earthman, Olaf Johnson, works on Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, for a company that ships Ganymedan natural resources to Earth.  When Olaf unwittingly tells the Ganymedan natives (also employed by the company) about Santa Claus, they refuse to work until they see him, putting the company’s quota in jeopardy.

The rest of the story consists of Olaf’s reluctant plan to let the Ossies (that’s what the native Ganymedans are called, you’ll have to read the story to find out why this is so) see Santa Claus – in order to appease his boss, a sort of outerspace Scrooge if I may allude to another more famous Christmas story.

This is the first writing of Isaac Asimov’s that I’ve ever read.  I have a feeling that not all of his stories are as light and fun as this one, but I was exactly in the mood for this story.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Summer Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  It’s a fun an interesting way to get to know other book bloggers and what they are reading.

This week the topic is “books on my summer reading list”.  Here it is and its subject to change without notice.

1.  Calico Joe by John Grisham: I’m not a huge Grisham fan and I think I’ve only read one of his books, The Innocent Man.  As this one is about baseball and it seems baseball stories are difficult to come by, I thought I’d give it a try.  Besides, it’s short.

2.  The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling by David Gilmour:  As I’ve been reading Kipling as a part of my 2012 reading project, I wanted to read a biography.  I’m in the middle of this one right now and so far he strikes me as a complicated person.

3.  City of Bones by Cassandra Clare:  Not my usual genre but Daughter, The Eldest highly recommends it so I thought I would see what its all about.

4.  Hard Times by Charles Dickens:  The second part of the year will include works by Charles Dickens.  I’m starting with this one.

5.  Bleak House by Charles Dickens:  This one has been on my shelf for a while.  I’ve read the more “popular” works by Dickens so I’ll read some of his lesser known works this year.

6.  Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein:  Last year I read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress  and enjoyed it.  I’ve gotten several high recommendations for this novel.

7.  I, Robot by Isaac Asimov:  Isaac Asimov is another one of my reading project authors for 2012.  I’ve read absolutely nothing by him, so this will be the first unless I read one of his short stories before this one.

8.  For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway:  This will be a re-read, but it’s been a long time.  I re-read The Sun Also Rises last year and it was as great as it was when I was in high school – which was a little while ago.  Looking forward to this one.

9. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: This will round out Brooks’ novels for me.

10.  Sign Talker by James Alexander Thom:  As I’ve come to appreciate the effort that goes into good historical fiction with the works of Geraldine Brooks, I thought I’d give Thom a try as he comes highly recommended.