Book Review: The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov

After releasing I, Robot, Isaac Asimov produced an anthology of eight stories dealing with his Three Laws of Robotics. Some of these are standalone tales published in various magazines in the 1940s, while others were written later and include some characters from I, Robot, such as Dr. Susan Calvin.

Of the eight, my favorites include:

“Robot AL-76 Goes Astray” – A confused robot, intended for work on the moon, wanders through the woods until it encounters Randolph Payne working at his shack. Although fearful at first, Randolph quickly surmises that the robot’s manufacturer would pay a handsome reward for its return since robots were not yet permitted for use on Earth. Payne convinces AL-76 that his work assignment has changed and keeps him occupied at the shack—until he realizes the robot’s true purpose…

“Victory Unintentional” – Three robots are sent to the surface of Jupiter as emissaries from the human colony on Ganymede. The inhabitants of Jupiter have continually threatened to exterminate the “vermin infesting Ganymede” as soon as they finish development on a forcefield that will allow them to leave the planet and invade the largest of the Jovian moons. However, a hilarious case of mistaken identity leads them to a change in plan…

“Let’s Get Together” – In a dystopian future where the world is divided between two superpowers, the United States government learns that the “other side” has advanced further in robotics than anticipated—to the point of creating robots in the form of humans. Further, it is revealed that certain American scientists who spent time on the “other side” might have been replaced by automatons and if brought together in the same place at the same time, would detonate a devastating bomb…

“Risk” – Orbiting an asteroid known as HyperBase, a test ship called Parsec fails to launch into hyperspace as planned. There is no way to determine if a component of the ship or its robot pilot is at fault without sending a human to investigate. However, the Parsec is unstable and could launch into hyperspace at any moment. Since every animal used in hyperspace experiments either died or returned as a mindless vegetables, Dr. Gerald Black is none too thrilled about being ordered to undertake the mission…

“Galley Slave” – In an effort to assimilate robots into society and eliminate prejudice against them, U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Incorporated chooses Northeastern University for an experiment. A robot named EZ-27 (aka “Easy”) is brought in to provide proofreading services for academic papers and textbooks written by the faculty. However, when one professor’s galley is drastically altered, ruining his reputation after it’s publication, he files a lawsuit against the company. But what happens when Easy is allowed to speak in court?

 

The Rest of the Robots by Isaac Asimov

 

“The Celestials” – A Rehoboth Beach Story

Ah, the highs and lows of the writing life. As mentioned in a previous post, my submission to the 2017 Rehoboth Beach, DE short story contest was not selected by the judges. That was disappointing since my 2016 story, “Tower 16,” took second place.

So I thought I’d post the new story on my blog for your free reading pleasure. Feedback welcome, of course.

In “The Celestials,” the death of a reclusive writer attracts some interesting characters… Click here to read!

 

Sunrise over Rehoboth Beach

About This Writing Stuff…

My attempt to restore this weekly feature on my blog was thwarted a few months into the year by a series of challenging, distressing, exhilarating, and generally overwhelming events—from editing a new speculative fiction anthology to the death of my mother-in-law, from a six-week home renovation to a partial roof collapse at my place of employment that caused 100-hour work weeks, from caring for a sick bunny (he’s better now, thankfully) to building a new website for one of the small-press publishers I work with.

My bunny, Peanut!
My bunny, Peanut!

Despite such “interesting times,” I managed to write four new chapters in my SF novel-in-progress and hammered out a 7K-word short story just this week. Honestly, that’s paltry progress compared to my usual output, but I’m grateful for anything given the mayhem of 2017—and we still have four months to go!

On a high note, my paranormal mystery novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters, was accepted by Firebringer Press and should be released next year as an eBook, audio book (recorded by yours truly), and in paperback paired up with a vampire novella written by Steven H. Wilson, fellow scribe and owner of Firebringer.

So much about this excites me beyond the obvious thrill of a new release. We plan to produce the paperback in the fashion of the old ACE doubles where you read one novella, then flip the book over read the other. Readers of a certain age (ahem) and older grew up enjoying those and I relish the prospect of producing a book in that format today.

Ace Double Novels

Additionally, the speculative fiction anthology I’m editing is actually volume three in the Middle of Eternity series, also published by Firebringer. This third book, Meanwhile in the Middle of Eternity, is also slated for a 2018 release.

Back on topic, About This Writing Stuff… might end up appearing on a monthly basis rather than weekly as I try to balance my life and catch up on my writing, editing, and publishing schedules, not to mention maintain my health and sanity. Until then, I hope you find the articles below useful.

From Digital Book World, Beth Bacon teaches us about Creative Briefs, while Gordon Warnock urges not to disregard libraries when marketing our books.  Over in the Kill Zone, James Scott Bell talks tough and Jordan Dane wants us to keep it real.

Kristen Lamb and Janice Hardy sub for Jami Gold on her blog with a deep dive into antagonists and conflict.  As an aside, Jami is battling a health issue that she openly discusses on her blog and I want to take a moment to wish her the best.

All that and a little more… enjoy!

How to Write a Creative Brief So Your Graphic Designer Creates an Amazing Book Cover by Beth Bacon

Libraries Gone Digital: 4 Ways Libraries Expand Your Reach as an Author by Gordon Warnock

Conflict: Why It Isn’t Just About Fighting by Janice Hardy via Jami Gold

3 Ways to Add Depth to a Novel by Jody Hedlund

How to Talk Tough by James Scott Bell

How a Professional Editor Can Improve Your Writing by Jim Dempsey via Writer Unboxed

Dialogue: Ten Ways to Make it Real by Jordan Dane


Antagonist Series by Kristen Lamb via Jami Gold

What is an Antagonist?

“He’s His Own Worst Enemy”

What’s Driving Our Story?

Inner and Outer Demons

The End-All-Be-All of Our Story

 

Help! I’m drowning! Or: How much detail is too much?

It’s always an honor and a pleasure to welcome Howard Weinstein, New York Times bestselling author of the new historical novel GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE (releasing September 20, 2017).Galloway's Gamble by Howard Weinstein

Howie, as we call him, has had a long and enviable writing career that includes scores of novels and comic books in the Star Trek universe, three novels from the original V television series, a bio of baseball legend Mickey Mantle, and Puppy Kisses are Good for the Soul, the true story of Howie’s journey to become a professional dog trainer inspired by his adorable Welsh Corgi known as Mail Order Annie.

Howie became a professional writer at age 19, when he sold a script called “The Pirates of Orion” episode to NBC’s Emmy-winning animated Star Trek television series in 1974—while still a college student at the University of Connecticut.

Today, he’s here to chat about research, credibility, and how to avoid being overzealous when including facts in your fiction. Take it away, Howie!


In fiction, details convey credibility—but can there be too much detail? Personally—as both a reader and writer—I say yes. Not all details are created equal.

Moby Dick PosterTake MOBY DICK (please!). Like most of us, I read “The Great American Novel” in school. Like most of us, I recall little beyond “Call me Ishmael.” What I do remember is more from the abridged but vivid 1956 movie (starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab). Like most of us, I never read the book again.

But my friend Ross Lally did. His impression: Herman Melville wrote two books—one about Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the white whale, the other a 19th-century whaling text—and smooshed them together. So the plot literally sails along, until—bang!—long detours about whales and whaling. Even done seamlessly, would less have been more?

Prepping for my first historical novel, GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE (Five Star Publishing, September 2017), I did 6 months of research into the time period (1845-1875)—collecting waaay more detail than I could (or should) ever use. To whittle down that bounty, I asked 2 questions:

1) What would my characters know?

2) What does a reader need to know?

I think fiction has more impact and intimacy when readers see through the eyes of characters, not authors. It’s not the writer’s job to dazzle with vast amounts of scintillating research—just because you found it doesn’t mean you have to use it! Details should be included if they either orient a reader in time and place; or illuminate characters’ lives by affecting what they do, and how and why they do it.                                                     Captain Jean-Luc Picard

For instance: I knew very little about 19th century firearms. So I learned a lot—and discarded most of it. The risk of writing “gear porn”—lovingly-excruciating but ultimately incidental minutiae on a given topic—is that readers who already know it don’t need it, and readers who don’t know probably don’t care, especially if the digression bogs down the story. For my story, when it came to guns, I chose a few things that mattered. The typical six-shooter popular in western movies and TV wasn’t even available until after 1873. Civil War-era black-powder revolvers didn’t use the familiar, pre-made metallic-cartridge ammunition, so they were slow and finicky to load. Repeating rifles weren’t widely available until post-Civil War; the single-shot muzzle-loader muskets used by both sides required soldiers to stand up in order to reload—less than ideal in battle. And the gunpowder of the time produced a great deal of smelly smoke.

Civil War ActorI used those facts because they shaped the story. My narrator Jamey Galloway has a visceral wariness of firearms, and questions the wisdom of standing up to reload a musket when you’re being shot at by the enemy. His older brother Jake is a marksman adept with weapons. And all that musket fire could turn even a minor skirmish into smoke-blind chaos. The details I chose sculpted the characters, in turn influencing their actions (and attitudes) that forged the story.

So, what’s the lesson for writers? A selective dash of the right details can season your recipe—but a deluge can spoil the broth.

Civil War Reenactment

A Star-Studded Monster Mania 37

It was the perfect day for a drive to Cherry Hill, NJ for the semi-annual Monster Mania horror convention. This particular show was their 37th and certainly one of their most star-studded with such celebs as Val Kilmer, Kate Beckinsale, Peter Weller, Daphne Zuniga, Jennifer Carpenter, Chris Kattan, Ke Huy Quan, Jeffrey Combs, Stephen McHattie, and oh-so-many more.

On my list were Kilmer, Weller, Quan, Carpenter, and McHattie. I was not able to have my photo taken with Mr. Weller or Mr. Kilmer this time around. However, I did meet Mr. Kilmer about eight years ago at a comic con in NYC where I did have my photo taken with him. As for Mr. Weller, maybe next time.

Happily, I was able to pose for photos with Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, Exorcism of Emily Rose), Stephen McHattie (character actor from just about every TV show), and Ke Huy Quan (Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) at their autograph tables.

My wife and I then roamed the dealer room and stopped to chat with artist friend Michael Riehl and his wife Kate Phillip Riehl at their traditional spot in the room where Mike’s hand-painted ornaments depicting characters and vehicles from TV and movies never fail to draw eager attention from the fans.

The crowd was not as intolerable as I had originally anticipated given the caliber of stars signing at this con. All told, it was a wonderful day for my wife and I to spend with friends, fellow fans, and celebrities. Onto the next!

Phil with Jennifer Carpenter

Phil with Stephen McHattie

Phil with Ke Huy Quan

Val Kilmer Autograph

Ke Huy Quan Autograph

Ke Huy Quan Autograph

Jennifer Carpenter Autograph

Stephen McHattie Autograph

Peter Weller Autograph

Book Review: Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French)

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has been claimed by invaders from the planet Sirius, the first of many extrasolar Earth colonies. Over several generations, the Sirians and their allies on many of the outer worlds turned against their planet of origin, citing social, scientific, and military superiority after generations of ethnic cleansing. Despite an intergalactic law stating that any planet in an inhabited solar system belongs to the people of that system, the Sirians have constructed a military base on Titan as their first step to attacking Earth. The Council of Science, an organization sworn to protect Earth and its neighboring planets with minimal violence, fears that the Sirians have become too powerful to defeat.

After a Sirian spy named Dorrance escapes Earth custody, Councilmen David “Lucky” Starr and and his tiny-but-mighty companion John Bigman Jones set off after him in their ship, the Shooting Starr along with several vessels from the Terrestial fleet. They pursue Dorrance into Saturn’s rings, where his vessel is destroyed. However, a Sirian vessel contacts the Shooting Starr and orders it away from Saturn, informing him that the Sirians now occupy Titan and any aggression from Earth will be considered an act of war. Starr retreats and orders the Terrestial fleet to do the same.

Later, Starr, Bigman, and fellow councilman Ben Wessilewsky return to Saturn in an unauthorized expedition aboard the Shooting Starr to find a information capsule that Dorrance had stolen from Earth. When Sirian ships again detect their ship and pursue, Starr “crashes” the Shooting Starr on Mimas, Saturn’s closest moon. There, he leaves Wessilewsky behind and takes off again with Bigman–only to be captured by Sirian forces. The leader of the Sirian base on Titan, an irascible tyrant named Devoure, attempts to coerce Starr into confessing to espionage and to testify against Earth at an upcoming peace conference on the asteroid Vesta. Devoure offers to spare Bigman’s life in exchange for Starr’s compliance.

Will Lucky Starr betray Earth at the conference and join the Sirians? What of Councilman Wessilewsky on Mimas? Will the other planets vote against Earth and allow the Sirians to occupy Titan as a prelude to war?

Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn is the final volume in a series of six. Much like its predecessor, Moons of Jupiter (reviewed here), Rings of Saturn takes on a noticeably darker tone than the first four books.

I was forced to wonder if perhaps Asimov started off with the intention of creating a light-hearted space adventure, but later allowed real world tensions of the time, such those between USA and the USSR, to inform his fiction. The tension and stakes in Rings of Saturn are higher than they’d been in the previous books, but it could also be construed that each story builds upon the last to culminate in this final confrontation between Earth and Sirius. Though it’s easy to see the potential for future adventures in this universe.