I've also recently blogged about 1) the fact that we are now at a point in time 200 years after the publication of Frankenstein and 2) 100 years into the Vance Era and 3) we are now also 50 years into the Star Trek Era. With all this gazing into the past, I want to explicitly explore the idea that science fiction stories are ephemeral products of their time and they all come with an expiration date.
|'Runaround' (first published in 1942)|
Science fiction often has additional related problems. Some science fiction stories are set in a future time. Then, when readers of an old story find themselves living in those future times, they can feel disappointment that the imagined future of the old story failed to align with reality.
|That's no moon!|
For younger readers here in the 21st century, Asimov's story and these technical constraints might be nearly incomprehensible and unbelievable. They are likely to ask: you went all the way to Mercury, but you could not bring along the kilo of selenium that you would need for the photo-cell banks? It will take you weeks to install and start using the new ultrawave equipment? And, of course, Asimov imagined humanoid robots who would speak English. He did not imagine a future like our 2016 with the type of non-speaking, non-humanoid radio-controlled robots that are actually out there exploring the Solar System.
Not only are Donovan and Powell severely limited in their ability to communicate with Speedy, but they are depicted as being cut off from communicating with Earth. This kind of communications deficiency for spacemen was also part of Asimov's story 'Reason'. While on their mission at a solar power station in space, Donovan and Powell never send or receive radio messages from Earth or spacecraft.
Lucky for me, none of the many "flaws" in Asimov's robot stories ruin them for me. 'Runabout' is a "hard science fiction" romp, a kind of thought experiment for exploring the potential implications of the Laws of Robotics. Asimov's language from the 1940s still feels alive and it is not cluttered with too many dead and dying words.
|cover art by Chris Moore?|
|cover art by Robert Schulz|
For me, proto-science fiction (such as the 'Scientific Romance' stories of H. G. Wells) is slipping away beyond the science fiction event horizon. Wells was writing for an audience that could be amazed by scientific advances and new technologies, but that was just an industrial age extension of the same sense of wonder that had for centuries before been stimulated by magic and pre-science-age fantasy.
When H. G. Wells wrote about a time machine, he made absolutely no effort to explain how it worked or how one man, working alone, built it in his back room. There was no science behind the time travel in The Time Machine.
|cover art by Stephen Youll|
|H. G. Wells in an alternate Reality|
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