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A Companion


Edited By Jack Fennell

What is Sci-Fi?

Science fiction is a non-realist genre that foregrounds a sense of material plausibility, insisting that despite seeming outlandish, it is consonant with history and the laws of nature. By turns subtle and bombastic, sci-fi revels in discovery and revelation, whether through human ingenuity or world-altering paradigm shifts. The same impulse informs both the idealism of Star Trek and the existential terror of Frankenstein.

Each chapter of this book examines a specific trope or theme through a different critical lens – including eco-criticism, feminism and historicism – while also providing a historical overview of the genre, from its disputed origins to the pulp era, the New Wave, and the exponential growth of Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurisms. Revered masters such as Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler and Iain M. Banks are considered alongside newer talents, including Rebecca Roanhorse and N. K. Jemisin. Other chapters provide overviews of different media, from television (Doctor Who, Westworld) to comics/manga (2000AD, Métal Hurlant), video games (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) and theatre (Alistair McDowall’s X).

Sci-Fi: A Companion not only provides an accessible introduction to sci-fi for general readers and researchers alike, but also illuminates new approaches to a familiar genre.

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Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series (1939–1985) and Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010) – Robots (Nathan Emmerich)


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Nathan Emmerich

Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series (1939–1985) and Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)1

Whether humanoid or non-humanoid, the robot is a distinctly modern invention. While it is now used to refer to autonomous mechanical and computational beings, the term can be traced to the play Rossum’s Universal Robots by Karel Čapek, where it referred to soulless artificial people synthesized from organic matter. Nevertheless, certain additional antecedents can be identified. Consider, for example, the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Golem in Jewish tradition, or Talos from Greek mythology. All are limited (but nevertheless autonomous) beings created by man or, in the case of Talos, by flawed gods who can be taken as reflecting something of man’s nature and the risk of hubris in our creative ambition.

We might then expect the role of the robot in contemporary science fiction to present similar ethical commentaries, and when we reflect on, say, The Terminator, Battlestar Galactica (original and reboot), or the Cybermen from Doctor Who, it is clear that this is the case. In this brief survey, we will first consider the actions of robots towards human beings, before turning to the way human beings treat robots. Inevitably, the work of Isaac Asimov is the primary focus. The representation of broader ethical questions, notably the social implications of robots and AI, will be briefly noted in the conclusion. ← 49 | 50 →

Ethics and the Actions of...

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