Oct 10, 2016

Alternate Asimov

As mentioned in my previous blog post, stories from the Golden Age of science fiction were sometimes re-published in magazines such as Fantastic Stories. In the case of Asimov's The Stars, Like Dust, a story which he created just after the end of the Golden Age, the first publication was in Galaxy magazine (under the name Tyrann) and then it also appeared in book format that same year.

In the 1950s, pulp magazine science fiction was in decline and authors such as Asimov were experimenting with a newly developing system of science fiction book publishing.

My introduction to The Stars, Like Dust came in the 1970s when I had discovered printed science fiction by way of Asimov's novels. One day I came across a paperback copy of the book with cover art by Paul Lehr.

cover art by Paul Lehr
The Stars, Like Dust may have been one of the first science fiction books that I bought. I was in my own personal Golden Age of discovering the science fiction genre and The Stars, Like Dust helped teach me that I despise political science fiction. At the end of World War II, it was probably difficult for someone like Asimov to watch Eastern European nations be sucked into the Soviet Union and I'm not surprised that he would write some science fiction stories about the importance of freedom.

I still have in my possession some other novels by Asimov that I bought in the 1970s (such as his original Foundation Trilogy), but I long ago disposed of my copy of The Stars, Like Dust. It was not until the arrival of the Internet Era that I had any inkling of the many different published versions of The Stars, Like Dust that came out since 1951 (see this list).

Alternate Asimov
Alternate Asimov
I've long been amused that Asimov collected some alternate versions of several stories, including The End of Eternity. As a fan of Asimov's science fiction, I can't resist imagining alternate Realities in which he (or his analogue) wrote somewhat different stories. In general, those stories that I imagine get little further than an imaginary book or magazine cover. However, I suppose the ultimate sacrilege will come on the day when I try to write a newly imagined story in the style that I imagine Asimov himself would have employed had he actually written the story himself.

The Alternate Asimovs translated
by Gaetano Staffilano as "Fantasimov"
I love the recursive book cover by Vicente Segrelles that is shown to the right on this page. Imagine some future robot who is a fan of Asimov's fiction!

Blind Alley
For me, a tempting place to "re-write" Asimov is presented by his story "Blind Alley". During the war, while serving in the military, Asimov may have at times felt like he was expected to be an automaton with his life guided by the Three Laws of Bureaucracy. Of course, both Asimov and Supervisor Antyok were smart enough to find ways to escape from the confines of bureaucratic momentum.

Ángel Roffo
In "Blind Alley", Antyok finds himself assigned to supervise the only aliens ever found in our galaxy. Upon arrival on planet Cepheus 18, he meets Zammo, a smoking physiologist. By 1938, statistical analysis had shown that tobacco smokers, on average, had shorter life spans than non-smokers. By the early 1940s, tobacco tar had been shown to be carcinogenic. By 1946, physiologists could measure the deleterious effects of smoking on the cardiovascular system. By 1950, multiple studies were showing statistical correlations between tobacco smoking and cancers of the respiratory tract.

The Nicotine Laser
I like to imagine that the nicotine or other substances in tobacco were able to modulate the interface between human brains and their zeptite endosymbionts, with profound effects on human behavior.

By including characters who were smokers in his stories, was Asimov mocking Astounding editor John Campbell?

I've been blogging recently about the history of how telepathy came to play a central role in both Asimov's robot stories and his Foundation saga. Asimov set "Blind Alley" in his imagined future of a Galactic Empire that came to have Trantor as its capitol planet. In "Blind Alley", the aliens who Antyok must supervise on Cepheus 18 have some mysterious type of telepathic communication.

mechanism of telepathy
Zammo wants to study these aliens and reveal the secret of telepathy. Zammo asks: "What is the mechanism of telepathy? What is the physiology and the physics of it?" What marvelous questions for a science fiction story! And of course, Campbell was a sucker for stories about telepathy.

Zammo is unhappy with the fact that in order to experiment on the aliens, he must follow existing policy and get their consent. Only a few of the mysterious aliens have ever given consent. Antyok suggests a possible path forward. Since it is a matter of concern to the Emperor is that the aliens have stopped reproducing, if Zammo can find out why the aliens won't breed, then it might become possible to get a change in policy and imperial support for Zammo's desired program of more extensive experimentation on the aliens.

the Emperor
No changes in policy are envisaged
Of course, the default route for the bureaucracy of the Galactic Empire is to never change existing policy. Antyok does not even try to deflect the bureaucracy from its ponderous course.

Asimov's preferred writing style was to present to his readers two philosophically opposed groups. In opposition to the scientists like Zammo, Asimov placed supporters of the Aurelion Philosophy who advocated allowing the aliens complete freedom and gently fostering a relationship of cooperation between humans and the aliens. In contrast, Zammo wanted to be free to treat the aliens like animals, even dissecting them in order to study their telepathic ability.

"A capable man can work within the limits of the rules and accomplish what he wishes" -Antyok

Foundation and Aliens
Working quietly within the confines of existing policy, Antyok arranges to set the aliens free, sending them off to another galaxy where they will be able to establish their own interstellar empire.

The Foundation Reality
I like to think that it was not by chance that the telepathic aliens we meet in "Blind Alley" were the only non-human intelligent species discovered in our galaxy by the people of the "all human" Galactic Empire.

Not only did Antyok give the gift of freedom to the aliens, but these aliens were put in contact with him for a very good reason. At this time, Daneel was trying to develop the planet Gaia and his goal was to integrate humans into the group mind of Gaia.

cover art by Stephen Youll
Even while Daneel was guiding Humanity towards Gaia and Galaxia, behind the scenes, R. Gohrlay was guiding Daneel. R. Gohrlay's positronic robots had driven out of the galaxy all aliens who had not already been strategically withdrawn by the pek. R. Gohrlay was able to reach a deal with the telepathic aliens of Cepheus 18: a trade of transport to the Magellanic Clouds for help in boosting the telepathic ability of some humans. In "Blind Alley", Asimov hinted that Antyok had some ability to make telepathic contact with the aliens. We can imagine that after the end of "Blind Alley", Daneel took Antyok off to Gaia where his alien-augmented telepathic abilities were put to good use.

in the Ekcolir Reality; original cover art
by Stephen Youll and Virgil Finlay
I love the cover art that Stephen Youll created for some of Asimov's novels.

Ekcolir Reality
In the Ekcolir Reality, Asimov was deeply involved with preparing humans for the arrival of the alien Fru'wu on Earth. In that Reality, he wrote a story called "The Aurelion Philosophy" that tried to explain the Rules of Intervention. That story provided an account of how replicoids in the Hierion Domain could communicate with humans via the Bimanoid Interface.

In the Ekcolir Reality, one of the major challenges facing Earth in the 20th century was global warming. In that Reality, science, technology and use of fossil fuels was accelerated in comparison to our world, here in the Final Reality.

in the Ekcolir Reality; original cover art
by Anna Montecroci, Boris Vallejo and Edmund Emshwiller
In the Ekcolir Reality, Asimov published To Cool The Sun, which told of using hierions to reduce the rate of fusion within the Sun. That novel was published simultaneously with Alien Empire by Roben Dee. Alien Empire described the role that Grendels had played in shaping the human species on Earth.

According to Gohrlay, "Roben Dee" was an alias for Roben Skapp.

Next: 1953 in science fiction
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