Tribute to Isaac Asimov

ia-rodBest known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books, the American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, Isaac Asimov was born January 2, 1920. He was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His works have been published in all ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (although his only work in the 100s—which covers philosophy and psychology—was a foreword for The Humanist Way).

Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series. The Galactic Empire novels are explicitly set in earlier history of the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series. Later, beginning with Foundation’s Edge, he linked this distant future to the Robot and Spacer stories, creating a unified “future history” for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He wrote many short stories, among them “Nightfall”, which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.

Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much non-fiction. Most of his popular science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as works on astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing and chemistry. Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as “brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.” He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association. The asteroid 5020 Asimov, a crater on the planet Mars,a Brooklyn, New York elementary school, and one Isaac Asimov literary award are named in his honor.

Most of Asimov’s robot short stories are set in the first age of positronic robotics and space exploration. The unique feature of Asimov’s robots are the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in a robot’s positronic brain, which all robots in his fiction must obey/follow, and which ensure that the robot does not turn against its creators.The stories were not initially conceived as a set, but rather all feature his positronic robots — indeed, there are some inconsistencies among them, especially between the short stories and the novels. They all, however, share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality. Some of the short stories found in The Complete Robot and other anthologies appear not to be set in the same universe as the Foundation Universe. “Victory Unintentional” has positronic robots obeying the Three Laws, but also a non-human civilization on Jupiter. “Let’s Get Together” features humanoid robots, but from a different future (where the Cold War is still in progress), and with no mention of the Three Laws. The multiple series offer a sense of completeness, because they all are interconnected in some way.

The first four robot novels The Caves of Steel (1953), The Naked Sun (1955), The Robots of Dawn (1983), and Robots and Empire (1985) make up the Elijah Baley (sometimes “Lije Baley”) series, and are mysteries starring the Terran Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. They are set thousands of years after the short stories, and focus on the conflicts between Spacers — descendants of human settlers from other planets, and the people from an overcrowded Earth. “Mirror Image”, one of the short stories from The Complete Robot anthology, is also set in this time period (between The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn), and features both Baley and Olivaw. Another short story (found in The Early Asimov anthology), “Mother Earth”, is set about a thousand years before the robot novels, when the Spacer worlds chose to become separated from Earth. Because many of the Robot novels were written prior to 1962, they were not eligible for science fiction awards, such as the Hugo, which only arrived on the scene after that year. Two of the later novels, however, were written late enough to receive such accolades. Robots of Dawn was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1984, and Robots and Empire was shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1986

Tribute to E.M.Forster – Howards End

English novelist E. M. Forster OM, CH was Born 1st January 1879. He was also a short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. Forster had a humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy. His 1908 novel, A Room with a View, is his most optimistic work, while A Passage to India (1924) brought him his greatest success.

Howards End tells a story of social and familial relations in turn-of-the-century England. Howards End is generally considered to be Forster’s masterpiece. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Howards End 38th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. The book is about three families in England at the beginning of the 20th century: the Wilcoxes, rich capitalists with a fortune made in the Colonies; the half-German Schlegel siblings (Margaret, Tibby, and Helen), who have much in common with the real-life Bloomsbury Group; and the Basts, a struggling couple in the lower-middle class. The Schlegel sisters try to help the poor Basts and try to make the Wilcoxes less prejudiced. The Schlegels frequently encounter the Wilcoxes. The youngest, Helen, is attracted to the younger Wilcox brother, Paul. The eldest, Margaret, becomes friends with Paul’s mother, Ruth Wilcox. Ruth’s most prized personal possession is her family house at Howards End. She wishes that Margaret could live there, as her own husband and children do not value the house and its rich history, So Ruth, who is terminally ill, bequeaths the cottage to Margaret causing great consternation among the Wilcoxes. So Mrs Wilcox’s widowed husband, Henry, and his children decide not to tell Margaret about her inheritance.

Not knowing about the inheritance, free-spirited Margaret becomes friends with Henry Wilcox and eventually marries him. However Henry’s elder son Charles and his wife try to keep Margaret from taking possession of Howards End.On Henry’s advice, Helen tells Leonard Bast to quit his respectable job as a clerk at an insurance company, because the company stands outside a protective group of companies and thus is vulnerable to failure. Bast then loses his tenuous hold on financial solvency. and Helen tries to help young Leonard Bast (perhaps in part out of guilt about having intervened in his life to begin with). Sadly it all goes terribly wrong when it is revealed that Bast’s wife had an affair with Henry in Cyprus ten years previously but he had then carelessly abandoned her.Margaret confronts Henry about his ill-treatment, and he is ashamed of the affair but unrepentant about his harsh treatment of her. In a moment of pity for the poor, doomed Leonard Bast, Helen has an affair with him. Finding herself pregnant, she leaves England to travel through Germany to conceal her condition, but eventually returns to England when she receives news of her Aunt Juley’s illness but refuses to meet with Margaret but is tricked into a meeting at Howards End Henry and Margaret plan an intervention with a doctor, thinking Helen’s evasive behavior is a sign of mental illness. When they come upon Helen at Howards End, they also discover the pregnancy. Margaret tries in vain to convince Henry to forgive Helen. Unaware of Helen’s presence Mr. Bast arrives at Howards End wishing to speak with Margaret, whereupon Henry’s son, Charles, attacks him, and accidentally kills him, Charles is charged with manslaughter and sent to jail for three years. The ensuing scandal and shock cause Henry to reevaluate his life…

A Room with a View by E.M.Forster

rwav-emfA Room with a View is about a young woman in the repressed culture of Edwardian era England. Set in Italy and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked A Room with a View 79th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

The first part of the novel is set in Florence, Italy, It features a young woman named Lucy Honeychurch who is touring Italy with her overbearing older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett. At their hotel, “The Pension Bertolini.”they meet Mr. Emerson and his son, George Emerson, and also meet an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe. The next day, Lucy embarks on a tour of Florence with another guest, Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who shows Lucy the back streets of Florence and subsequently loses her in Santa Croce, where Lucy meets the Emersons again and while in Santa Croce Lucy sees the seedy underbelly of Florence and faints but George Emerson catches her, As a result Lucy takes a bit of a shine to George. Lucy decides to avoid George, partly because she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep her cousin happy. Later on in the week, a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch make their way to Fiesole In the fields, Lucy asks her driver where Mr. Beebe is. Misunderstanding, he leads her to a field where George stands. George is overcome by Lucy’s beauty among a field of violets and kisses her, but they are interrupted by Lucy’s cousin, who is outraged. The two women leave for Rome the next day before Lucy is able to say goodbye to George.

The second part starts off in Rome, where Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, who proposes to Lucy twice in Italy; but she rejects him both times.Lucy then returns to Surrey, England to her family home, Windy Corner. Cecil proposes yet again at Windy Corner, and this time she accepts. Cecil is a sophisticated and “superior” Londoner who is desirable in terms of rank and class, even though he despises country society; he is also somewhat of a comic figure in the novel, as he gives himself airs and is quite pretentious. The vicar, Mr. Beebe, announces that new tenants have leased a local cottage; the new arrivals turn out to be the Emersons. Fate takes an ironic turn as Lucy’s brother, Freddy, meets George and invites him to go skinny dipping in a nearby pond with himself and Mr Beebe. They are interrupted by Lucy, her mother, and Cecil. Freddy later invites George to play tennis at Windy Corner. Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corner that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. George points out that Cecil only sees her as an “object for the shelf” and will never love her enough to grant her independence, while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm. until events come to a head andshe immediately breaks off her engagement to Cecil She decides to flee and accidentally encounters Mr. Emerson senior who finds out Lucy has been in love with his son George all along.

In some books, an appendix to the book is given entitled “A View without a Room,” written by Forster in 1958 as to what occurred between Lucy and George after the events of the novel. It is Forster’s afterthought of the novel, and he quite clearly states that “I cannot think where George and Lucy live.” They were quite comfortable up until the end of the war, with Charlotte Bartlett leaving them all her money in her will, but World War I ruined their happiness according to Forster. George became a conscientous objector, lost his government job but was given non-combatant duties to avoid prison, leaving Mrs Honeychurch deeply upset with her son-in-law. Mr Emerson died during the course of the war, shortly after having an argument with the police about Lucy continuing to play Beethoven during the war. Eventually they had three children, two girls and a boy, and moved to Carshalton from Highgate to find a home. Despite them wanting to move into Windy Corner after the death of Mrs Honeychurch, Freddy sold the house to support his family as he was “an unsuccessful but prolific doctor.”

After the outbreak of World War II, George immediately enlisted as he saw the need to stop Hitler and the Nazi regime but he unfortunately was not faithful to Lucy during his time at war. Lucy was left homeless after her flat in Watford was bombed and the same happened to her married daughter in Nuneaton. George rose to the rank of corporal but was taken prisoner by the Italians in Africa. Once Italy fell George returned to Florence finding it “in a mess” but he was unable to find the Pension Bertolini, stating “the View was still there and that the room must be there, too, but could not be found.” He ends by stating that George and Lucy await World War III, but with no word on where they live, for even he does not know

A Passage to India by E.M.Forster

apti-emfA Passage to India (1924) is a novel by English author E. M. Forster set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. It was selected as one of the 100 great works of English literature by the Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Time magazine included the novel in its “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”. The novel is based on Forster’s experiences in India. E.M.Forster borrowed the book’s title from Walt Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass.

The story revolves around Dr. Aziz, his British friend Mr. Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, A young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore,who visit the fictional city of Chandrapore, British India. Adela is to marry Mrs. Moore’s son, Ronny Heaslop, the city magistrate.Meanwhile, Dr. Aziz, a young Indian Muslim physician sees a strange Englishwoman at his favourite mosque, who turns out to be Mrs Moore, and the two chat and part as friends. Mrs Moore relates her experience at the mosque to Ronny Heaslop, her son. Adela, is intrigued, and attends a party held by Mr. Turton, the city tax collector, where she meets Cyril Fielding, headmaster of Chandrapore’s government-run college for Indians. Later on Fielding invites Adela and Mrs. Moore to a tea party with him and a Hindu-Brahmin professor named Narayan Godbole. On Adela’s request, he also extends his invitation to Dr. Aziz. At Fielding’s tea party, Fielding and Aziz become great friends and Aziz promises to take Mrs. Moore and Adela to see the Marabar Caves, a distant cave complex.

Aziz and the women begin to explore the caves. In the first cave, however, Mrs. Moore is overcome with claustrophobia. Later Aziz sees Adela speaking to another young Englishwoman, Miss Derek, who has arrived with Fielding. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Aziz return to Chandrapore on the train. When the train arrives At the train station, Dr. Aziz is arrested and charged with sexually assaulting Adela in a cave. She reports the alleged incident to the British authorities.The run-up to Aziz’s trial for attempted sexual assault releases the racial tensions between the British and the Indians. The only actual evidence the British have is the field glasses in the possession of Dr. Aziz. Despite this, the British colonists firmly believe that Aziz is guilty however Fielding proclaims his belief in Aziz’s innocence and the Indians, who consider the assault allegation a fraud aimed at ruining their community’s reputation, welcome him. Mrs. Moore is unexpectedly apathetic and irritable. Her experience in the cave seems to have ruined her faith in humanity. Although she curtly professes her belief in Aziz’s innocence, she does nothing to help him. Ronny, alarmed by his mother’s assertion that Aziz is innocent, decides to arrange for her return by ship to England before she can testify to this effect at the trial. Mrs. Moore dies during the voyage. Her absence from India becomes a major issue at the trial, where Aziz’s legal defenders assert that her testimony alone, had it been available, would have proven the accused’s innocence. After a while Adela herself becomes confused and starts to question Aziz’s guilt.