Isaac Asimov – I, robot (Review)

I, robot is a collection of stories related to the fictional robopsychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, and is set in the late 21st century. It is told as a dramatization of past events involving the inclusion of robots in human life, starting in the early 1990’s and throughout most of the 21st century; it is told by an unnamed reporter who interviews Dr. Calvin and publishes these stories as an hommage to her work and life.

Isaac Asimov’s collection of stories was originally published in 1950, and is part of a broader series, The Robots Series, though from what I hear ( I haven’t read the series) it is set thousands of years before the rest of the series, which converges with Asimov’s other great series, The Foundation series.

I grew up in a house full of science fiction books; Foundation, Battlefield Earth and others were all over my parents’ studio, and though I pretended to read some of the Foundation series when I was finishing elementary school, I’d be lying if I said I understood it or remember any of it. However, Asimov’s name and his huge oeuvre of more than 400 books has always stuck with me, and as an aspiring writer even in my childhood, I admired how prolific he had been. Bear in mind that at the time I knew nothing of his work, just the number of books alone was enough to amaze me.

Eventually I read some of his short stories, translated to Spanish, and I found I enjoyed them quite a lot, which was good since I had spent so much time admiring him without knowing what his work was actually like. What a relief.

So now I was somewhat excited to read I, robot, hoping to like it a lot, but at the same time weary that this would maybe mean that I’d have to also read the rest of the Foundation series.

Turns out I did enjoy this book; even though some things about it are worth pointing out for being sexist or to an extent boring, it was not a bad read at all. Let’s be honest here, whenever you crack up a book written in the 50’s you are bound to find at least some sexism or racism, no matter the genre or author.

And this was not an exception, beginning witht he very first story, Robbie’s “villain” is a housewife who behaves like the trope of the wife that has to be better than her husband, just because, and in so doing she refuses to listen to the voice of reason (the husband) and the suffering of her little daughter. Suffering caused by herself, I might add. At this point I just took a breath and sighed heavily and moved on, hoping above hope that the rest of the book wasn’t like this at all.

I was pleasantly surprised in that regard, since the main female character of the book, Dr. Susan Calvin, is actually a pretty fairly written character (obviously given the limitations of Asimov as a writer of female characters, as admitted by him at one point).

However, there is a certain thing that happens a lot in Asimov’s stories, in which the protagonists happen to be just the right amount of smart to solve the situations in front of them, so the stories are sort of plain. Let me rephrase that, most of the stories are sort of plain. I actually found the last three stories in the book, which featured Calvin more prominently than the rest, quite enthralling and fun.

The stories also serve as a timeline of Asimov’s early growth as a writer. The stories get more complex and literary. At first most of the action and solutions are happening in dialogue form with brief spasms of description, reminiscent of how old action heroes used to have to explicitly say what they were going to do, talking to themselves and to the reader directly. By the end of the book, though, this has changed drastically and the prose is therefore more enjoyable.

As a side note, I find it always funny when reading old science fiction and encountering phrases like “I took motion pictures of him”, or having all the characters smoking a lot, or the complete absence of something like the internet or smart phones. Not that it’s the author’s fault, though, it just amuses me how they failed to think of those things (even though they imagined their elements separately) as something as huge as it is today.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series, The Caves of Steel, which thankfully doesn’t have a movie cover. I think that that is one of the tackiest things editor’s can do to books in order to sell more, after a movie comes out: plaster the movie poster there as the cover. Alas, that was the only edition I found at the time.

Rating: 3.5/5
Bantam Spectra, 2004

P.D, I need to clean my oven.

“The Death of Money” – review

“The next financial collapse will resemble  nothing in history… Deciding upon  the best course to follow will require  comprehending a minefield of risks, while  poised at a crossroads, pondering the  death of the dollar.”

This was a tough read.

Not just because Rickards writes in a lot of technical terms (watered down enough so as to not lose a layman like myself, but not so much that they become “dumbed down”), but also because it hits pretty close to a fear I’ve had all of my adult life: What will happen when/if money stops being a thing?

Makes sense coming from someone with such ridiculous anxieties as me, to wonder “Hey, what gives money value? Just our confidence? What happens when that is lost?” as soon as I started my professional life. So when I heard about this book from the folks at a few months ago, I had to get it and find out what Rickards had to say.

The book is a very wide and detailed explanation of the multiple financial crashes that have happened in the past hundred or so years, as well as a dip into the history of fiat currency, gold standards, the International Monetary Fund, the Chinese, Japanese, European Union and the United States’ economies. It also takes a jab at predicting what’s gonna happen in the future, and lays out a bunch of scenarios and solutions to the problems caused by the 2008 market collapse, the greediness of central banks and the establishment of the US Dollar as a reserve currency for the world. In other words, it is a book that goes all over the place, throwing a lot of information at you and both scaring you and calming you down.

I even watched a few of Rickards’ interviews and conferences on Youtube, and I have to say, the guy is really good at making a case for gold to come back as a monetary standard, just to complement the ideas that this book has implanted in my head. But I digress.

The book is good. Like, really good. Very technical and scary, yeah, but overall (and exempting a few weird comments that might come off as overly conservative, but that are understandable given the author’s age) it is a great book. The title is supposed to scare you into buying it, and haha, it did the trick for me, but as the author explains in the first few pages, it’s not about the death of money per se, but rather about the death of the USD as the reserve currency, and about the coming economic crash. This crash, he says, will resemble a lot the 2008 crisis and it will be something that we will bounce off from, as usual, but that it might be a good idea to be prepared for it when it comes.

Rickards knows what he’s talking about, and you can tell. The book was published in 2014, and the edition I read was a 2017 with a new preface that explains how some of the predictions and analysis from the first edition either came true or are on their way to come true. Also, the way he interweaves history with explanation and with anecdotes of his own experience is pretty great.

And if you’d like to fact check all the things he says, there is an ample bibliography at the end of the book.

The book does tend to lose you every now and then, though, and that might have to do with how hard it is to concentrate on the subject at hand while juggling all the numbers and implications at the same time; but in the end it will be great reference material to come back to later, and I took good care of underlining and marking all the stuff that caught my attention.

I recommend it a lot, and remember that before heeding his advice on portfolio diversification and jumping out to buy gold or fine art in order to protect your finances, you should read more material on the subject from more authors in order to make up your mind.

Rating: 3.8/5
Portfolio Penguin