My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In my long-past and inadequately misspent youth, I would often – around the age of eleven – debate the relative merits of Asimov and Clarke. He was for Asimov. I was for Clarke.
Having recently read Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ – my then-favourite work – and found it wanting, I approached Asimov with some trepidation. It turns out the trepidation was warranted; my childhood friend was probably right.
That is not to say Asimov hasn’t aged badly on my personal timeline. I could wish for half-stars so I could have given this three-and-a-half, but I felt generous. The fact is, though, while an enjoyable read, characterisation was too frequently wanting, (would you really abandon a space ship capable of frazzling the earth in the claws of a deranged robot on the grounds the derangement seems to be working out nicely, and fail to mention the fact of the derangement to the next shift because you find the person taking over vaguely irritating? There was something else as well, similarly striking, but it escapes me now).
Where Asimov wins out is in the interesting conundrums he presents in terms of logic and philosophy – and, perhaps, psychology – as the robots evolve and become increasingly complex in their sentience. I can’t always agree with the solutions he comes to in the problems he sets himself, but they’re interesting problems nonetheless.
I still like Clarke for the human-based nature of his work, but that makes shallow characterisation on his part a somewhat greater flaw than in Asimov’s. It’s that additional ingredient in Asimov’s work – the logical, philosophical conundrum – that gives him the edge.
An enjoyable enough read overall, then, but perhaps I’ll let my youth remain in the past for a while, now.