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Isaac Asimov


  And Other Stories

  Isaac Asimov


  The Prime of Life

  Feminine Intuition


  That Thou Art Mindful of Him

  Stranger in Paradise

  The life and Times of Multivac

  The Winnowing

  The Bicentennial Man

  Marching In


  The Tercentenary Incident

  Birth of a Notion

  Dedicated to:

  Judy-Lynn del Rey,

  And the swath she is cutting in our field

  Here I am with another collection of science fiction stories, and I sit here and think, with more than a little astonishment, that I have been writing and publishing science fiction now for just three-eighths of a century. This isn’t bad for someone who only admits to being in his late youth-or a little over thirty, if pinned down.

  It seems longer than that, I imagine, to most people who have tried to follow me from book to book and from field to field. As the flood of words continues year after year with no visible signs of letting up, the most peculiar misapprehensions naturally arise.

  Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I was at a librarian’s convention signing books, and some of the kindly remarks I received were:

  “I can’t believe you’re still alive!”

  “But how can you possibly look so young?”

  “Are you really only one person?”

  It goes even beyond that. In a review of one of my books [ASIMOV ON CHEMISTRY (Doubleday, 1974), and it was a very favorable review.] in the December 1975 Scientific American, I was described as: “Once a Boston biochemist, now label and linchpin of a New York corporate authorship--”

  Dear me! Corporate authorship? Merely the linchpin and label?

  It’s not so. I’m sorry, if my copious output makes it seem impossible, but I’m alive, I’m young, and I’m only one person.

  In fact, I’m an absolutely one-man operation. I have no assistants of any kind. I have no agent, no business manager, no research aides, no secretary, no stenographer. I do all my own typing, all my own proofreading, all my own indexing, all my own research, all my own letter writing, all my own telephone answering.

  I like it that way. Since I don’t have to deal with other people, I can concentrate more properly on my work, and get more done.

  I was already worrying about this misapprehension concerning myself ten years ago. At that time, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ( commonly known as F & SF) was planning a special Isaac Asimov issue for October 1966. I was asked for a new story to be included and I obliged [That story was THE KEY, and it appears in my collection ASIMOV’S MYSTERIES (Doubleday, 1968). ], but I also wrote a short poem on my own initiative.

  That poem appeared in the special issue and it has never appeared anywhere else-until now. I’m going to include it here because it’s appropriate to my thesis. Then, too, seven years after the poem appeared, I recited it to a charming maiden, who, without any sign of mental effort, immediately suggested a change that was so inevitable, and so great an improvement, that I have to get the poem into print again in order to make that change.

  I originally called the poem I’M IN THE PRIME OF LIFE, YOU ROTTEN KID! Edward L. Ferman, editor of F & SF, shortened that to THE PRIME OF LIFE. I like the longer version much better, but I decided it would look odd on the contents page, so I’m keeping the shorter version. (Heck!)

  The Prime of Life

  It was, in truth, an eager youth

  Who halted me one day.

  He gazed in bliss at me, and this

  Is what he had to say;

  “Why, mazel tov, it’s Asimov,

  A blessing on your head!

  For many a year, I’ve lived in fear

  That you were long since dead.

  Or if alive, one fifty-five

  Cold years had passed you by,

  And left you weak, with poor physique,

  Thin hair and rheumy eye.

  For sure enough, I’ve read your stuff

  Since I was but a lad

  And couldn’t spell or hardly tell

  The good yarns from the bad.

  My father, too, was reading you

  Before he met my Ma.

  For you he yearned, once he had learned

  About you from his Pa.

  Since time began, you wondrous man,

  My ancestors did love

  That s.f. dean and writing machine

  The aged Asimov.”

  I’d had my fill. I said, “Be still!

  I’ve kept my old-time spark.

  My step is light, my eye is bright,

  My hair is thick and dark.”

  His smile, in brief, spelled disbelief,

  So this is what I did;

  I scowled, you know, and with one blow,

  I killed that rotten kid.

  The change I mentioned occurs in the first line of the second stanza. I had it read, originally, “Why, stars above, it’s Asimov,” but the aforementioned maiden saw at once it ought to be “mazel tov.” This is a Hebrew phrase meaning “good fortune” and it is used by Jews as a joyful greeting on jubilant occasions--as a meeting with me should surely be. .

  Ten years have passed since I wrote the poem and, of course, the impression of incredible age which I leave among those who know me only from my writings is now even stronger. When this poem was written, I had published a mere 66 books, and now, ten years later, the score stands at 175, so that it’s been a decade of constant mental conflagration.

  Just the same, I’ve kept my old-time spark even yet. My step is still light and my eye is still bright. What’s more, I’m as suave in my conversations with young women as I have ever been (which is very suave indeed). That bit about my hair being “thick and dark” must be modified, however. There is no danger of baldness but, oh me, I am turning gray. In recent years, I have grown a generous pair of fluffy sideburns, and they are almost white.

  And now that you know the worst about me, let’s go on to the stories themselves or, rather (for you are not quite through with me), to my introductory comments to the first story.

  The beginning of FEMININE INTUITION is tied up with Judy-Lynn Benjamin, whom I met at the World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1967. Judy-Lynn has to be seen to be believed-an incredibly intelligent, quick-witted, hard-driving woman who seems to be burning constantly with a bright radioactive glow.

  She was managing editor of Galaxy in those days.

  On March 21, 1971, she married that lovable old curmudgeon Lester del Rey, and knocked off all his rough edges in two seconds flat. At present, as Judy-Lynn del Rey, she is a senior editor at Ballantine Books and is generally recognized (especially by me) as one of the top editors in the business. [You may have noticed that this book is dedicated to her.]

  Back in 1968, when Judy-Lynn was still at Galaxy, we were sitting in a bar in a New York hotel and she introduced me, I remember, to something called a “grasshopper.” I told her I didn’t drink because I had no capacity for alcohol, but she said I would like this one, and the trouble is I did.

  It’s a green cocktail with creme de menthe, and cream, and who knows what else in it, and it is delicious. I only had one on this occasion, so I merely graduated to a slightly higher than normal level of the loud bonhomie that usually characterizes me and was still sober enough to talk business. [A year or so later during the course of a science fiction convention, Judy-Lynn persuaded me to have two grasshoppers and I was instantly reduced to a kind of wild drunken merriment, and since then no one lets me have grasshoppers any more. Just as well!]

Judy-Lynn suggested I write a story about a female robot. Well, of course, my robots are sexually neutral, but they all have masculine names and I treat them all as males. The turnabout suggestion was good.

  I said, “Gee, that’s an interesting idea,” and was awfully pleased, because Ed Ferman had asked me for a story with which to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Fantasy and Science Fiction and I had agreed, but, at the moment, did not have an idea in my head.

  On February 8, 1969, in line with the suggestion, I began FEMININE INTUITION. When it was done, Ed took it and the story was indeed included in the October 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, the twentieth-anniversary issue. It appeared as the lead novelette, too.

  Between the time I sold it, however, and the time it appeared, Judy-Lynn said casually to me one day, “Did you ever do anything about my idea that you write a story about a female robot?”

  I said enthusiastically, “Yes, I did, Judy-Lynn, and Ed Ferman is going to publish it. Thanks for the suggestion.”

  Judy-Lynn’s eyes opened wide and she said in a very dangerous voice, “Stories based on my ideas go to me, you dummy. You don’t sell them to the competition.”

  She went on to expound on that theme for about half an hour and my attempts to explain that Ed had asked me for a story before the time of the suggestion and that she had never quite made it clear that she wanted the story for herself were brushed aside with scorn.

  Anyway, Judy-Lynn, here’s the story again, and I’m freely admitting that the suggestion of a female robot was yours. Does that make everything all right? (No, I didn’t think so.)

  Feminine Intuition

  The Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

  For the first time in the history of United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, a robot had been destroyed through accident on Earth itself.

  No one was to blame. The air vehicle had been demolished in mid-air and an unbelieving investigating committee was wondering whether they really dared announce the evidence that it had been hit by a meteorite. Nothing else could have been fast enough to prevent automatic avoidance; nothing else could have done the damage short of a nuclear blast and that was out of the question.

  Tie that in with a report of a flash in the night sky just before the vehicle had exploded--and from Flagstaff Observatory, not from an amateur--and the location of a sizable and distinctly meteoric bit of iron freshly gouged into the ground a mile from the site and what other conclusion could be arrived at?

  Still, nothing like that had ever happened before and calculations of the odds against it yielded monstrous figures. Yet even colossal improbabilities can happen sometimes.

  At the offices of United States Robots, the hows and whys of it were secondary. The real point was that a robot had been destroyed.

  That, in itself, was distressing.

  The fact that JN-5 had been a prototype, the first, after four earlier attempts, to have been placed in the field, was even more distressing.

  The fact that JN-5 was a radically new type of robot, quite different from anything ever built before, was abysmally distressing.

  The fact that JN-5 had apparently accomplished something before its destruction that was incalculably important and that that accomplishment might now be forever gone, placed the distress utterly beyond words.

  It seemed scarcely worth mentioning that, along with the robot, the Chief Robopsychologist of United States Robots had also died.

  Clinton Madarian had joined the firm ten years before. For five of those years, he had worked uncomplainingly under the grumpy supervision of Susan Calvin.

  Madarian’s brilliance was quite obvious and Susan Calvin had quietly promoted him over the heads of older men. She wouldn’t, in any case, have deigned to give her reasons for this to Research Director Peter Bogert, but as it happened, no reasons were needed. Or, rather, they were obvious.

  Madarian was utterly the reverse of the renowned Dr. Calvin in several very noticeable ways. He was not quite as overweight as his distinct double chin made him appear to be, but even so he was overpowering in his presence, where Susan had gone nearly unnoticed. Madarian’s massive face, his shock of glistening red-brown hair, his ruddy complexion and booming voice, his loud laugh, and most of all, his irrepressible self-confidence and his eager way of announcing his successes, made everyone else in the room feel there was a shortage of space.

  When Susan Calvin finally retired (refusing, in advance, any cooperation with respect to any testimonial dinner that might be planned in her honor, with so firm a manner that no announcement of the retirement was even made to the news services) Madarian took her place.

  He had been in his new post exactly one day when he initiated the JN project.

  It had meant the largest commitment of funds to one project that United States Robots had ever had to weigh, but that was something which Madarian dismissed with a genial wave of the hand.

  “Worth every penny of it, Peter,” he said. “And I expect you to convince the Board of Directors of that.”

  “Give me reasons,” said Bogert, wondering if Madarian would. Susan Calvin had never given reasons.

  But Madarian said, “Sure,” and settled himself easily into the large armchair in the Director’s office.

  Bogert watched the other with something that was almost awe. His own once-black hair was almost white now and within the decade he would follow Susan into retirement. That would mean the end of the original team that had built United States Robots into a globe-girdling firm that was a rival of the national governments in complexity and importance. Somehow neither he nor those who had gone before him ever quite grasped the enormous expansion of the firm.

  But this was a new generation. The new men were at ease with the Colossus” They lacked the touch of wonder that would have them tiptoeing in disbelief. So they moved ahead, and that was good.

  Madarian said, “I propose to begin the construction of robots without constraint.”

  “Without the Three Laws? Surely--”

  “No, Peter. Are those the only constraints you can think of? Hell, you contributed to the design of the early positronic brains. Do I have to tell you that, quite aside from the Three Laws, there isn’t a pathway in those brains that isn’t carefully designed and fixed? We have robots planned for specific tasks, implanted with specific abilities.”

  “And you propose--”

  “That at every level below the Three Laws, the paths be made open-ended. It’s not difficult.”

  Bogert said dryly, “It’s not difficult, indeed. Useless things are never difficult. The difficult thing is fixing the paths and making the robot useful.”

  “But why is that difficult? Fixing the paths requires a great deal of effort because the Principle of Uncertainty is important in particles the mass of positrons and the uncertainty effect must be minimized. Yet why must it? If we arrange to have the Principle just sufficiently prominent to allow the crossing of paths unpredictably--”

  “We have an unpredictable robot.”

  “We have a creative robot,” said Madarian, with a trace of impatience. “Peter, if there’s anything a human brain has that a robotic brain has never had, it’s the trace of unpredictability that comes from the effects of uncertainty at the subatomic level. I admit that this effect has never been demonstrated experimentally within the nervous system, but without that the human brain is not superior to the robotic brain in principle.”

  “And you think that if you introduce the effect into the robotic brain, the human brain will become not superior to the robotic brain in principle.”

  “That, “ said Madarian, “is exactly what I believe.”
They went on for a long time after that.

  The Board of Directors clearly had no intention of being easily convinced.

  Scott Robertson, the largest shareholder in the firm, said, “It’s hard enough to manage the robot industry as it is, with public hostility to robots forever on the verge of breaking out into the open. If the public gets the idea that robots will be uncontrolled...Oh, don’t tell me about the Three Laws. The average man won’t believe the Three Laws will protect him if he as much as hears the word ‘uncontrolled.’ “

  “Then don’t use it, “ said Madarian. “Call the robot--call it ‘intuitive.’ “

  “An intuitive robot, “ someone muttered. “A girl robot?” A smile made its way about the conference table.

  Madarian seized on that. “All right. A girl robot. Our robots are sexless, of course, and so will this one be, but we always act as though they’re males. We give them male pet names and call them he and him. Now this one, if we consider the nature of the mathematical structuring of the brain which I have proposed, would fall into the JN-coordinate system. The first robot would be JN-1, and I’ve assumed that it would be called John-10....I’m afraid that is the level of originality of the average roboticist. But why not call it Jane-1, damn it? If the public has to be let in on what we’re doing, we’re constructing a feminine robot with intuition.”

  Robertson shook his head, “What difference would that make? What you’re saying is that you plan to remove the last barrier which, in principle, keeps the robotic brain inferior to the human brain. What do you suppose the public reaction will be to that?”

  “Do you plan to make that public?” said Madarian. He thought a bit and then said, “Look. One thing the general public believes is that women are not as intelligent as men.”

  There was an instant apprehensive look on the face of more than one man at the table and a quick look up and down as though Susan Calvin were still in her accustomed seat.