I’ve been thinking about Isaac Asimov a lot lately.
Read the wikipedia entry for the long version, but here are the highlights: Born in Russia in the first quarter of the 20th century, started writing sci-fi in in the late 30’s, and introduced the words positronic, psychohistory, and robotics to the English language. In his career, he wrote hundreds of short stories and books, and you can find his writing in all 10 of the major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.
In popular culture, he’s probably most recognized for the movie adaptation of some of his stories: I, Robot. The book of the same name is actually a collection of his short stories, and aside from some of the character names and minor plot points from several works, bears little resemblance to the screenplay.
I’ve read a fair amount of his short sci-fi works, and my opinion is that he used the genre simply as a hook on which to teach some very valuable moral lessons.
Take “The Last Question” for example. The story follows 6 characters who all turn to a machine with the same thought: How can the the total entropy of the universe be reversed? Can the second law of thermodynamics be undone? The story jumps forward in time as man and computer both become increasingly complex and the universe increases in entropy…until at last, the question can be answered.
And, Bicentennial Man – which moved me to tears when I read it, and again when I saw the movie. In this short story, Andew (a robot) is consumed with the overwhelming desire to be human, and over his lifetime, works through the legal and moral implications of his desire on his tireless quest to do so.
Asimov died in 1992, just before the personal computer revolution. I think he would not at all be surprised by the relationship man has developed with the machines of their creation. His stories may have been sci-fi in subject matter, but I think underneath, they were about humanity.