This anthology is among the very rarest of Asimov’s books and is extremely difficult to acquire. It was prepared as a bonus for people who subscribed to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and as such did not appear in bookstores and or get picked up by libraries. Since I wasn’t a subscriber myself in 1990, I didn’t get a copy at the time. It wasn’t until the indefatigable researchers at Boston University’s Asimov archive dusted off their copy for me that I was able to read it, and in the end, some twenty years elapsed between its publication and the time when I saw a copy for sale and snatched it up.
It consists of five stories by Asimov, a poem by Bruce Boston (“Old Robots Are the Worst”) and a story (“Dilemma”) by Connie Willis.
The five stories by the Good Doctor are all typical of his later work, which is to say they pale in comparison with his earlier material. Some of them, such as “Christmas Without Rodney” are actively unpleasant for me.
As for the Bruce Boston poem, he’s a frequent contributor to Asimov’s, even now. (Yes, I do subscribe now, via Kindle.) I respect Boston’s work as a poet and realize that he’s good, but poetry in general just isn’t my cup of cocoa let alone modern poetry, so I can’t wax enthusiastic about it.
But the Willis piece. Oh, the Willis piece!
Connie Willis is one of the most talented science fiction writers around today and is the winner of numerous awards. She was also briefly saddled with the job of continuing Asimov’s work of editing anthologies of Hugo winners. She’s one of those authors who can manage both the ridiculous and the moving, and seeing her name on the cover of a book or magazine is a promise of something worth reading.
This story is no exception, and, indeed, it makes the whole book more than worthwhile. It’s an homage to Asimov, set in the early 21st Century as the Good Doctor is preparing to publish his 1000th book (Asimov’s Guide to Asimov’s Guides). A delegation of robots comes to visit him, asking him to help bring about the repeal of the overly literal First Law with which they’ve been programmed, as it’s getting in the way of their work.
The style is light, the pacing is good, and the constant series of references to Asimov—allusions overt and subtle to his works—are an absolute hoot. Asimov was one who attracted this sort of affectionate ribbing from authors and fans, but this is perhaps one of the best personal tributes to the Good Doctor I’ve seen yet. It definitely makes the anthology worth getting, if one can manage it; but truth to tell, “Dilemma” is also available in rather more accessible form in Martin H. Greenberg’s anthology of Asimov tributes, Foundation’s Friends. And even in the case of the Boston poem, it would probably be easier to find a copy of the October 1989 issue of Asimov’s where it was originally published than a copy of this book.
And no, you can’t have mine.
|“Christmas Without Rodney”|
|“The Smile of the Chipper”|