My goal with this piece is to get someone who doesn’t read, to read. I also hope to make you laugh, and think. And finally, I hope it doesn’t take you more than thirty minutes to get something honestly meaningful out of it.
I foolishly have decided to dub myself ‘Professor’ Postman. Truthfully, in retrospect, I think my choice of this name is rather an affront to the accomplished, studied, degree-holding teachers of science that I have been gifted the chance to listen to and work with. Alas- but I move on to my reasons.
In this chaotic world, one of the few things that grounds me is good, hard science fiction. From that standing, I procured the idea of fancying myself a ‘professor.’ I love nothing more than when a person who understands first the rules of grammar and sentence structure, then those rules regarding prose and form, plus the rules of the scientific method of my professors, takes those rules to their logical conclusions and asks, ‘what if?’
Thousands of authors have put pen to paper on such merits, though in my opinion, few have done it better than the man credited as one of the ‘godfathers’ of science fiction, the genius Isaac Asmiov.
It was Asimov who moved me first, and still most often moves me the most. It was Asimov who- in one of my darkest hours, when I was contemplating thoughts I would rather not tire you with- I stumbled upon in a library. It was Asimov, and his novel The Gods Themselves, that compelled me to find interest in fiction- that convinced me there was plenty to be learned from made-up stories to apply into my own reality, to make it more meaningful to myself and those around me.
Much of science fiction reaches a point where it cannot function on physics alone, and then drops into metaphysics, where it ceases to be science fiction and becomes, instead, ‘fantasy’. When this happens too early, it often turns what was enjoyable sci-fi into dreadful drivel.
Asimov, often, proves the exception.
At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to a PDF of a short story. It is 14 pages long, and can easily be read in 15 minutes. I encourage you to take that time, as the small investment may pay off for you as it has for me: with years of opportunities to weigh it against reality, allowing you to see it in a new and interesting light.
Asimov was the master of short stories. For a spell, I carried around his The Complete Stories, Vol. 1, referring to it as my bible, and honestly accepting it as such. While I do love the novel form plenty, my addictive personality is thrilled by good short stories. You can get in, get out, and get something out of it- often in the span of a cigarette break at the factory. And with Asimov, the high is often more memorable than novels that take much longer to consume.
An irreverent analogy that I hope you can take with humor:
Novels : Alcohol :: Short Stories : Nicotine
Alcohol, like long-winded novels that devolve into the fantastic, require a very large dose to get what is nine-times-out-of-ten a really crappy ‘high,’ and a hangover the next day where you wish you had stopped sooner. Nicotine, like a short story, hits you fast and drives you for a while, and then you feel alright and clean your bedroom; if you need more, bully for you- you zip up your jacket and go back out on your porch, or flip to the next story hoping it’s more rewarding. Short stories are a small commitment, with an immediate payoff. You can often buy them in a pack of twenty.
Asimov, too, lets his sci-fi become fantastic, but the way he does so sets him apart. Usually, it’s hard science for the bulk of the story, then at the 90% mark, suddenly he gets the gods themselves involved in a way you didn’t expect, and in a way that changes how you thought about the story up to that point.
My short story selection is The Jokester, one contained in The Complete Stories, Vol. 1. It concerns a man who has access to a borderline-intelligent supercomputer, and uses it to research why we laugh at jokes, and groan at puns. The conclusion is one I will never forget, and I hope you won’t either.
And with that, I hand you over to Asimov. Enjoy.
-‘Prof.’ Brandon Postman