How I saved the Internet from Isaac Asimov’s ghost

As my fingers moved across the black keys of my text input board, which was tethered to my computational engine only through an invisible wireless signal, I reflected on the sequence of events that had brought me to this present junction.

It had started, of course, with the decision to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, a book of the sci-fi genre held in very high esteem from what I had heard. I read it not on a printed paperback, which was a medium rapidly falling out of fashion, but a new digital eReader which used magnetic conduction to move tiny particles of metal into the shapes of letters. Although this book had been recommended to me as a classic of its genre it was now my unfortunate task to submit a negative review through wireless signal to my private digital journal. Even though I was writing it in my home country of Ireland, which is an island nation to the far west of Europe, people all over the world would be able to access it and I was most anxious that it should be well constructed and entertaining.

Suddenly, the ghost of Isaac Asimov appeared in the room!

“Great Scott!” I cried, leaping from my chair to face the intruder.

“I am the ghost of Isaac Asimov.” said Isaac Asimov’s ghost, who had the same thick spectacles as his photograph, which I had seen in a digital encyclopedia some time before.

“How are you here?!” I asked in alarm. “I thought you died in 1992!”

“Never mind that now.” said the apparition dismissively. “I understand you are preparing to render a verdict on my science fiction classic Foundation, which was published in 1951 as several separate short stories. Tell me, what do you think of it? I was born in Russia by the way.”

“I was born in New York.” I stroked my chin thoughtfully. “Well, it certainly is very wide in scope. Very wide indeed! And the political wrangling between the various parties can be quite absorbing.”

“Ah yes, I’m quite proud of that.” said Asimov, smiling proudly.

“However!” I exclaimed, thrusting a finger into the air for emphasis. “I am afraid that as to the proposition of extending to your book a positive endorsement….. I must emphatically decline!”

The look of shock that crossed Asimov’s face was comical in the highest. I felt the corner of my mouth tug upward into a sardonic smile.

“Why the devil not?” He asked in wonderment. “Are you not aware of the prestige my work has garnered? Why, it is considered one of the pre-eminent works of science fiction in the genre’s history!”

“Yes, quite impressive.” I said sarcastically. “But I’m afraid it doesn’t change the fact that the writing in your novel is beyond sub-par. If science fiction fans hold up this work among the canon of hallowed literature they must be a sorry lot indeed!”

At this Asimov folded his arms angrily and glared at me from behind his spectacles. “I demand an explanation!”

“Very well.” said I. “The first, and most grevious, of the charges to be laid against your book is the fact that characters more often than not speak in a robotic and wooden manner, often while employing dialogue of unnecessarily ponderous length, such as would be quite unthinkable coming from the mouth of a real person.”

“Secondly” I said before Asimov could interrupt me, for he appeared to have every intention of doing so, “for a book that spends so long on tedious world-building your world is very poorly sketched out! Why, I could barely tell where the characters were supposed to be half the time, and objects and characters frequently seem to appear from thin air whenever the narrative requires them.”

I leaned back against the stuffed polar bear in the corner and took my glass of brandy from Jeeves, my butler, who was holding it out for me. His duties fulfilled, he turned silently and left the room to attend to stoking the ship’s positron chutes.

Me: I almost get the feeling you don’t enjoy writing very much!

Asimov: Nonsense! I am a writer by trade, am I not?

Me: At one point you dispense of prose entirely and simply begin transcribing your character’s dialogue.

Asimov: It was a trial scene! No one wants to read that. The reader should thank me for getting through it so quickly.

“Many gripping stories have been constructed of nothing but trials.” I observed, switching writing styles again for no reason. “Dispensing with your prose, we come to the issue of the grievous flaws built into the very structure of the novel. The first section, for example, which does nothing but convey information that will be repeated later. The pages would be much better spent expanding character and engaging the reader.”

“Poppycock.” Declared Asimov. “That story was intended show the reader the wondrous technology and science of my fictional world.”

“By Jove, if I hear one more word about your wondrous science….” I said, rolling my eyes. “I nearly fell asleep standing up when Seldon and that other twit started rattling off mathematical phrases.”

“Harumph!” Said Asimov. “Very well, move on with your list of trifling nit-picks.”

“Next we come to the book’s inclusion of women.” I said, ignoring the slight. At this Asimov frowned deeply.

“I must admit I am quite baffled by that charge. Quite baffled! You see I do not remember putting any females into Foundation.”

“I wonder why that could be.” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm to indicate that I stated this in an ironic fashion. “74 pages, Mr. Asimov! 74 pages for a woman to appear as anything more a number in an unseen, faceless mass of wives and daughters. And then only a secretary with but one line of dialogue!”

“My dear boy,” said Asimov patronisingly. “It was the 50s and I was writing about scientists. You must be aware that attitudes were different back then.”

“So you admit you were a sexist when you wrote Foundation?” I said, jumping to grasp the verbal prize which had presented itself to me from out of the whiteness.  Asimov became quite flustered at this.

“Er. Well. That’s not quite what I….. What I mean to say is……” He composed himself. “Anyway, everyone else was doing it too! It was a different time, as I say.”

“Ah, but was it so different? Did you not have contemporary female sci-fi authors writing alongside you? Was not the modern feminist movement already well awakened at the time? Surely a prognosticator of the future such as yourself could have charted the curve of history to its obvious conclusion and written your novel accordingly?”

This seemed to be the final straw for Asimov. He swept the glass of Brandy from my hand and hurled it into the fireplace, where it exploded dramatically.

“I will not stand for this! You speak as though accusing me of being some kind of crude, chauvinistic hack!”

At this I folded my arms and smiled smugly, pleased to see my opponent render my own verdict in such a succinct fashion. Asimov’s face grew dark as he grasped my thesis.

“Well then, if that’s how you wish to play this…..” Grinning wickedly he pulled from his pocket a small antenna-like device with green and red lights blinking on its surface.

“An electro-magnet I presume?” I asked, unconcerned. “Such as would be capable of rendering the storage device of my computer quite useless, no doubt. A clever ploy, but it will be of no use. You see, my review has already been transferred by wireless signal to the digital communications network, or internet, that now covers our entire globe! Destroy however many computers you like. It will do you no good!”

Asimov smirked.

“You under-estimate me. This is no electro-magnet. It is a muon relay particle vacuum, capable of deleting the entire internet with a single button press!”

Zounds! The internet- deleted!

Ruminating gravely on the many dire consequences of allowing this to happen and examining each of the variables governing the present situation, it seemed clear to me that my window of action was severely restrained. There was but one course of action to take!

*********************************

I thrust my hand into the cerulean ocean and scooped up the dead fish. Dinner for the following night was secure.

Drifting in my row-boat in the middle of the Atlantic ocean I began for no particular reason to reminisce on the time, ten years in the past, when I had thwarted the ghost of Isaac Asimov from deleting the internet. What a thrilling conclusion the tale had! The reverse psychology I had employed to trick him into lowering his robot’s anti-matter shield, the way I had ingeniously used the stuffed polar bear, the emotional plea I had made to convince the mayor to allow for the detonation of the nuclear device- truly my finest moment!

But enough of that. While I was sufficiently bored to recollect arbitrary events from my past, I saw no reason to explain them in any great detail. The sharks were still circling my boat and I would need every ounce of cunning I had for when Emperor Galactus returned in his Reaper-Ship to finish me off.

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5 thoughts on “How I saved the Internet from Isaac Asimov’s ghost

  1. Daneel

    “As my fingers moved across the black keys of my text input board, which was tethered to my computational engine only through an invisible wireless signal, I reflected on the sequence of events that had brought me to this present junction.”

    I stopped reading after this. You’re trying too hard.

    Reply
  2. Tim

    Asimov on women (“The Foundation of SF Success,” from “Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories Volume 1”)

    (…) Then eschew all thoughts of passion of a man-and-woman fashion from your hero’s thoughtful mind.
    He must spend his time on politics, and thinking up his shady tricks, and outside that he’s blind.
    It’s enough he has a mother, other females are a bother, though they’re jeweled and glistery.
    They will just distract his dreaming and his necessary scheming with that psychohistory.

    And all the fans will say
    As you walk your narrow way,
    If all his yarns restrict themselves to masculinity,
    Why, what a most particularly pure young man that pure young man must be.

    The best you can say about him is he wasn’t Arthur C Clarke, who was the same but with even more of a tin ear for dialogue. 3001 is the most painful stack of nothing.

    Reply
    1. Tim

      Also “text input board” doesn’t get you Asimov points, the guy totally failed to realise that there’d be any steps in computer UI between punched tapes and speech recognition. There’s stories in the complete stories collections where people are communicating with sentient computers using punch cards, it’s ridiculous.

      Reply
  3. sonamib

    This was hilarious!

    I remember buying this book quite engaged by the premise – far future! crumling galactical empire! – but I grew increasingly bored the further I read into it. The prose is terrible, and the plot doesn’t make any sense. That “psychohistorians” bullshit was too much to handle.

    Reply

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