Asimov & Clarke: Short Stories
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Asimov and Clarke are two of the most popular writers of short stories in the history of science fiction. The Nine Billion Names of God is one of Clarke's two most famous short stories (the other being "The Sentinel", on which 2001 is based). It came 11th in a 1968 poll of the Science Fiction Writers of America association to find the best all-time short stories.

Asimov had a Ph.D. in chemistry, worked as a college professor for a while and published huge numbers of popular science books (as well as books on virtually every other topic, such as Shakespeare and the Bible). The two Asimov stories, though written in the 1940s and published in Astounding, were anthologized in the early 1950s in the collection I Robot. Together with the Foundation trilogy, this is probably his best known and most fondly remembered work. "Runaround" was one of the first of his "Robot" stories to be written, and served to introduce readers to his "Three Laws of Robotics". "Evidence" came sometime later, and is the penultimate story in the collection. The last story in the book, "The Evitable Conflict," takes the theme a little further. The hero discovers that the giant computers running the world are plotting to discredit their human rulers and sideline all challenges to their power. However, thanks to the three laws, Asimov figures we are in good hands and has few worries.

Discussion Questions


bulletHow does Asimov use science in "Runaround"? Does it remind you of any other genre of popular fiction.
bulletThe "Three Laws" are central to the robot stories. Are they plausible? Are they scientific?
bulletHow realistic is Asimov's robot technology? What does it tell us about the time it is written in? Do you detect and inspirations for it in pre-twentieth century concepts?
bulletBy "Evidence", Asimov's attention has moved more toward politics. From the story, what would you say his own view are? How would you compare these to those of Things To Come and the other stories we have read?


bulletWhat point is Clarke trying to make here, and how does it differ from the ideas of Asimov and Heinlein?
bulletWhat are the similarities and differences between his attitudes to religion and those of Miller?


bulletThese stories and most of the others we have read include computers (or robots). What abilities or tasks did these writers predict for computers that they have not so far acquired?
bullet(continued) In contrast, there was a great deal about the subsequent development of computer technology that would have taken them by surprise. What did they miss?


bulletI found the text of the Clarke story on-line.
bulletThe Asimov Online site has a bunch of useful Asimov links. Among them are this index of Asimov materials from the New York Times.
bulletSome people with way too much time on their hands have constructed an enormously elaborate reference site on Asimov's Foundation stories and his Robot series. (He spent a lot of time trying to join them together in the 1980s, for no apparent reason).
bulletThey recently made another of Asimov's robot stories, the Bicentennial Man (written in the 1970s), into a film. The story is one of his best, and much closer than he usually got to human emotion. The film had Robin Williams in, and like all his recent "dramatic" films was rubbish.

Page created by Thomas Haigh. Last edited  01/12/2002.