“Gold,” the title story of Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection, fittingly mirrors Isaac Asimov’s half-century writing career. Asimov’s work has defined science fiction as a multilayered genre, ranging from the simple rearrangement of history to more complex manipulation of reality. Gold is a collection of stories and essays that explain Asimov’s perception of the genre and the craft involved. The title story is a “drama about a writer who gambles everything on a chance at immortality: a gamble Asimov himself made—and won” (cover).
Orson Scott Card observes that America has “two levels of language,” one for communicating and one for making an impression (Introduction). He presents Isaac Asimov as “the purest, clearest, most fluid, most effective writer of the American Plain Style” (x). Asimov’s purposefully transparent language and intolerance for unexplored mysteries make his work seem artless, but his preference for the plain style of writing was fundamentally the result of expunging “all fanciness from his writing” to produce a telescopically clear view of distant or fuzzy possibilities (xi). Appropriately, “Gold,” characteristic of Asimov’s fiction, clearly addresses Asimov’s purposefully plain style of writing. In the same manner that he explicitly addressed his views of machines in earlier works, Asimov in “Gold” focuses the telescope on a more personal target, Isaac Asimov, the writer, his stories, and his values.
Many of the themes of the earlier Robot stories, in print for half a century, are also directly or indirectly represented in “Gold.” For example, the stories “Robbie” (1939) and “Runaround” (1942) established the Laws of Robotics, prompting readers to expect Asimov’s machines to do the work they are programmed to do. Asimov’s First Law of Robotics states that a robot may not injure a human through action or inaction; the Second Law states that a robot must obey human orders except those that conflict with the First Law; the Third Law states that a robot must protect itself except where doing so conflicts with the First or Second Law. In “Gold,” as in “The Inevitable Conflict” (1950), the computer is a valuable extension of the imagination but is also understood to be merely a “computerized machine” or a “mobile computer” that efficiently generates and adapts desired sounds and images to accompany dialogue and action in computerized theater productions (131).
Familiar with the existence of computers at the time he wrote “Franchise” (1955), Asimov created the computer “Multivac,” an enormous machine. He acknowledges missing the opportunity to predict the miniaturization and etherealization of computers, an oversight that is corrected in “The Last Question” (1956), the story that followed (204). Asimov notes that his robots are almost always masculine, in name and pronoun, but “not necessarily in an actual sense of gender” (205). At the suggestion of a female editor, he wrote “Feminine Intuition” (1969), about a robot that is still metal but has “a narrower waistline” and a feminine voice. In “Gold,” Meg Cathcart, representative of Asimov’s efforts to be inclusive, is the woman in charge of background and works with Jonas Willard through the glitches of compudrama.
Asimov’s comments regarding “Little Lost Robot” are that while his machines tend to be “benign entities” and tend to gain moral and ethical qualities as his stories progress, he has not confined himself to “robots as saviors” but has followed “the wild winds” of imagination to address even the risky elements of the “robot phenomena” (203). For example, in “The Feeling of Power” (1958), Asimov deals with fictional pocket computers almost two decades before their counterparts were marketed. The story also addresses the social implications of dependency on technology, before data supporting these implications had begun to accumulate (208).
In “Gold,” readers may recognize echoes of similar concerns regarding the future of the arts. Asimov conjectures, regarding utopianism, that since the 19th century scientific and technological advances make it easier to imagine a utopia imposed from without, while society remains “as irrational and imperfect as ever”; the scenario includes scientific advances that supply food, cure diseases, and reprogram irrational human impulses (241–242). However, as a rational humanist who prefers the reasonableness of occupying a position somewhere “between the extremes of utopia and dystopia,” Asimov imagines and explores such a world by creating stories involving conflict between two forces that are mixtures of good and evil (244).
Asimov, Isaac. Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest, 1990.