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Reading Isaac Asimov's sci-fi classics
(This is adapted from an email I sent to Dave Rupert.)
Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite sci-fi authors. He definitely has faults; sometimes there’s too much awkward exposition or character weirdness. But in general I really like thinking about the ideas he brings up and the way he explores them.
He has TONS of books but his most-known works as the Robot series and the Foundation series. The Foundation series is considered a sci-fi classic and includes my favorite works of his.
- I, Robot is a collection of short stories. It’s easy reading and introduces you to his “3 laws of robotics” (A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws) which feature heavily in the later books.
- Caves of Steel, Naked Sun, and Robots of Dawn are the next in the series and are excellent. Naked Sun especially addresses some interesting topics around what personal presence will mean as technology improves. They also explore the robotic laws and what they mean when they interact with society. Some parallels to current events (thinking about “robots” in a broader technology sense) are clearly there.
- Don’t read Robots and Empire until you read the Foundation series.
- The original Foundation trilogy is really the best place to start with Foundation in my opinion. He later made sequels and prequels. Some people like to read them in chronological order, prequels first, but I personally think it’s better to start with the core set - Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. To me these 3 together are the best of Asimov and I thought the sequels were comparatively weak.
There’s also an “Empire” series which is kind of interesting but not as good, and a few standalone novels. Of the standalone novels, I loved End of Eternity because I’m personally into time paradox stuff. I also liked but didn’t love The Stars, Like Dust. And Pebble in the Sky is loved by a lot of people but I haven’t read it yet.
Dune isn’t an Isaac Asimov book but it’s must-read sci-fi in my opinion also. You’ll understand references in the first half a lot more on the second read.