By Isaac Asimov.
1986. 345 pages.
Isaac Asimov wrote an interesting introduction to his 1986 omnibus collection.
In it he praises the puzzle-oriented Golden Age writers plying their trade when he was a teenager (as befits a science-oriented person), but he is also critical of Agatha Christie, who was one of his favorites—after a fashion:
. . . she was as matter-of-factly anti-Semitic as most of the British upper classes were at that time . . . . Since I was a foreigner by her standards, and a Jewish-American one at that, I didn't really appreciate Christie's narrow-minded view of the human race, and yet for the sake of her fascinating mysteries I had to overlook the matter (which didn't exactly make me feel good then—or now, either) . . . .Undeterred, Asimov set out to write Christie-style mysteries:
There is no way I can force other writers to turn out stories a la Christie, but I made up my mind that my stories were going to be of the classic variety. In fact, I decided to be even purer than the pure. I was going to try to have no violence at all in my stories. My stories rarely involve murder, and when they do the murder takes place offstage and preferably before the story begins . . . .For Asimov, the little grey cells took precedence:
What's more, almost every mystery story I write belongs to the 'armchair detective' variety . . . . My stories are, in short, not exercises in violence, not thrillers, not psychological suspense stories. They are, generally speaking, puzzles, and rather intellectual ones.As for his tales of espionage:
A sizable number of my Union Club mysteries are spy stories. Griswold [the narrator] himself has been involved with some unnamed Department, and it may sound to some not-very-experienced readers as though I must have some inside knowledge of the world of secret agents. Not so at all. I know nothing about it. I am totally ignorant. I make it all up.THE BEST MYSTERIES OF ISAAC ASIMOV has 31 stories:
- 15 Black Widowers mysteries
- 9 Union Club stories
- 7 Miscellaneous mysteries (including the "fourth and last of the Wendell Urth stories, and the most elaborate of them.")
Asimov and SF Mysteries
THE CAVES OF STEEL (1954), THE NAKED SUN (1957), and THE ROBOTS OF DAWN (1983) are all science fiction mysteries featuring Lije Bailey, a human detective, and R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot detective.
The second book has a murder committed by robots, which according to Asimov's Laws should be absolutely impossible.
A robot my not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey 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 Law.
These "laws" seem airtight, but Asimov delighted in showing how they could be circumvent-ed in many ways. It was possible for robots to commit murder; in THE NAKED SUN the fatal weapon is a binary poison. But could the robots be considered "guilty" of their crime?
Asimov later altered his "laws":
Asimov's Revised Laws of Robotics (1985):
A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate the Zeroth Law.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the Zeroth or First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the Zeroth, First, or Second Law.
Of course, scientists working for the military establishments of all nations capable of robotics development are highly unlikely to program their creations with any such inhi-bitions. Cybernetic mayhem and murder would be in accordance with their aims. Alas, R. Daneel may never come to be.
For a thorough discussion of Asimov's laws go here (but beware of SPOILERS).
Categories: Detective fiction, Science fiction