Issac Asimov’s Caliban, by Roger MacBride Allen (Ace Books 1993).
In his later years Issac Asimov worked to merge his two great science fiction series, the Foundation and the Robot series. The problem he faced was that the events of the Foundation Series had to come after the Robot series, but robots were utterly unknown to the Foundation or the empire it replaced. That Asimov pulled this off was no mean feat, but not an incredible one for someone who figured out how Plutonium-186 could exist. In the process Asimov created an entirely new world with hundreds of thousands of years of history and countless stories to fill in Since Asimov’s death in 1992, his estate has granted a number of prominent science fiction writers to fill in those gaps. On reading a few of these stories (all dealing with the Foundation), I’ve come away disappointed. In some cases the plots are strong, the narratives plausible, but they don’t have Asimov’s muse. In other cases they take a single thesis or motif too doggedly—affecting Asimov’s style, but wearing it on the book-jacket. When my dear wife found Caliban at a used bookstore, I was prepared for disappointment.
To my surprise, Allen got it mostly right. Caliban reads like Asimov at his best but better. Allen even managed to turn one of the Asimov’s weaknesses as a writer into convincing story telling. There are times where the characters in an Asimov novel give themselves over to long lectures or the sort of Socratic “dialog” where the only point for more than one speaker is for the main character to catch her breath. These sequences tended to feel artificial, as if the characters are really talking to the reader and not each other. Many writers now trust the reader to figure out the science or quasi-science as story progresses. Such dialogs also felt misplaced for the pacing the same way an opera singer may go on with an extended aria after having been mortally wounded. Allen actually uses this technique in a couple of real lectures and a police integration, and does so in such a way as to move the plot and engage the reader, not just provided information that the action could not. Read the rest of this entry »