As my gaming exile continues, my effort to read all the sci-fi classics that I have missed proceeds according to schedule. This month, I have finished two '50s-era novels which couldn't be more different, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
Certainly the more literary of the two offerings, A Canticle for Leibowitz chronicles a thousand years of history as it relates to a monastery in the American southwest centuries after a global nuclear war. Divided in three parts, corresponding approximately to the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and the Modern era, the book explores the cyclical nature of history and the conflict between faith and reason. While not exactly a page-turner, Canticle is clearly an important work in science-fiction. Many of the tropes we've come to expect in the post-apocalyptic genre were clearly articulated first in this book. Interestingly, A Canticle for Leibowitz was the only novel Miller published in his lifetime. A follow-up, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was released posthumously, nearly four decades later.
Asimov's I, Robot is more appropriately described as a short story anthology, although each story is presented in a linear chronology as a complete narrative through the reminiscences of a "robopsychologist" who participated in most of the events described. The narrative basically describes the history of robotics from the humble beginnings in the late 20th-century to a time in which robots basically run everything in the latter half of the 21st-century. Like Canticle, I, Robot is somewhat dated and, at times, a bit of a dry read. One amusing "Austin Powers" moment arose when the main character, fearing a rogue robot which had somehow broke out of its programming was hiding among a shipment of some 60 identical robots, recommended that the entire shipment be destroyed. Others in the company argued against it as it would cost the company TWO MILLION DOLLARS! So, in about 20 years the unit cost of a sentient robot will be roughly on par with a base model minivan. Still, I, Robot is, without question, an influential book, and if you can get past the fact that Wil Smith is prominently displayed on the cover these days (mercifully, it bears little resemblance the film), it's worth a read.
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