It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Isaac Asimov. I’m thinking middle school was probably when I read my last Foundation series book. But I’m always sure I’ll like him in a certain sense, if for no other reason than the same that keeps me from forgetting that I have a similar love-hate relationship with Heinlein and picking out one of his books to read: the weirdly unbalanced way men and women work in their fictional worlds. Somehow neither thought about a growing equality of the sexes, and both, for the most part, left it out in fundamental ways in a lot of their work.
Sure, Heinlein has sexual liberation in a lot of his fiction, of a sort, but the traditional roles still exist for the most part, with women submitting to men on the important stuff.
I actually enjoy watching the odd interplay — Asimov was able to envision flying cars, robots, and, strangely enough, something extremely similar to applied stem cell technology — but women are stifled. They are either homemakers who are irrationally cruel to their children, or are employed but not taken as seriously as their male counterparts until they have bent over backward to prove their abilities.
Dr. Calvin, the protagonist, is indeed a woman. She’s intensely professional, but also portrayed as cut off from her emotions, other than when she is lied to about a matter of the heart; then she’s emotional and cruelly destroys a robot who only did what it was programmed to do. Colleagues dismiss her at one point, telling a man unacquainted with her that she’s neurotic and that she shouldn’t be taken seriously. This strikes me as interesting, seeing as a man in a previous section put a coworker’s life in danger without letting him know — and gets to keep his job without penalty.
Another issue I have with Asimov’s writing is the tendency toward text as long monologues. That’s a part of a lot of science fiction, though, and I’m more than willing to overlook it for the wonder of the story. It’s a wonderful exploration of the social impacts of sentient machines, and was thoroughly enjoyable to read.