The Short: “Robots Through The Ages“, Robert Silverberg and Bryan Thomas Schmidt editors, 2023 Blackstone Publishing (7/25/2023 release date), is a great anthology of stories about robots, androids and AI. While mostly reprints, there are three outstanding stories original to this anthology. Rated 3.89/5, or “Great”. I strongly recommend “Robots Through the Ages”.
The Full Story: When I was given the opportunity to read an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of “Robots Through The Ages”, I jumped on it for several reasons. First, it’s just fun to read books before they are released, albeit in not-quite-finished ARC form. Second, the subject – who doesn’t love stories about robots and such? Finally, the editorial team of Robert Silverberg and Bryan Thomas Schmidt was attractive.
This anthology includes 17 stories and perhaps 462 pages of fiction (number of pages is from my ARC; I assume the actual printed copy could be different). There are three original stories here, and 14 reprints from 1899 (“A Night at Moxon’s” by Ambrose Bierce) to 2019 (“Robinson Calculator”, by Paul Levinson).
Although it did not make a difference in my enjoyment of the anthology, I found 15 science fiction stories here. The two stories that are not are:
- “Perfection” by Seanan McGuire, which is probably fantasy.
- “Of Homeward Dreams and Fallen Seeds and Melodies by Moonlight”, by Ken Scholes, which Schmidt notes as science fantasy, and I agree.
There is a very worthwhile Introduction by Silverberg, which mentions five of the stories. Silverberg also explains how the anthology is organized, which I appreciate. There are story introductions by Schmidt and very good editor and contributor biographies which are both helpful and interesting.
For a real bonus, Schmidt includes an Afterword and Recommended Reading essay, with two pages of 52 recommended reading stories. Schmidt notes, “… I wanted to offer a list of a few stories of interest to readers wishing to explore the theme of robots, androids, and AI in more depth.” I can see stories that I know here, with more than a few that I think are great recommendations, such as “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer, “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester, “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear, and “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias S. Buckell. There are also quite a few that I don’t think I have read, which is fantastic! I have added the stories I have not read to my short fiction TBR (To Be Read) list. I’m sure many of you will have fun looking at the 17 stories included and these 52 bonus stories and thinking about stories you would have included.
The Publication Credits are included. I have encountered anthologies without them; while I can usually figure out where reprinted stories have first appeared using ISFDB, this tends to make me less happy with the anthology and the editor(s). I am pleased that this is included; at the same time, I have a minor niggle in that the author names are not included in all of them. I know that I can figure this out using the Table of Contents, but I am not a fan of this omission. Schmidt might be able to convince me otherwise; a minor issue of personal preference.
My average overall rating for the stories here is 3.89/5, or “Great”.
I am especially pleased to be introduced to or to be encouraged to read more of several authors that I am either not familiar with or not widely read in. These authors and stories were:
- “Today I Know”, a great original story by Martin L. Shoemaker. This is a sequel to the Nebula finalist “Today I am Paul” (Clarkesworld August 2015), which I need to read!
- “The Robot’s Girl“, a great story by Brenda Cooper, from Analog April 2010. I think this is the second story of hers I have read, and I need to read more.
- “Robinson Calculator” by Paul Levinson, from his collection “Urban Corridors: Fables and Gables” (2019 Connected Education Incorporated). I need to read this collection.
Other great stories new to me, by authors that I know well:
- “Perfection” by Seanan McGuire, a great original story.
- “Good Night, Mr. James“, by Clifford D. Simak, Galaxy March 1951. A great story by one of my favorite authors that I must have read 50 years ago but don’t remember.
- “R.U.R-8?“, by Suzanne Palmer, Asimov’s September-October 2018.
Great, classic stories that I was happy to meet again:
- “With Folded Hands…” (the Humanoids), by Jack Williamson, Astounding July 1947.
- “A Bad Day for Sales“, by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy July 1953.
- “Second Variety“, by Phillip K. Dick, Space Science Fiction Stories May 1953.
- “The Golem“, by Avram Davidson, F&SF March 1955.
- “Good News from the Vatican“, Robert Silverberg, from Terry Carr’s “Universe 1” anthology (1971 Ace).
The other stories that all fall into “Very good” for me included:
- “A Night at Moxon’s” (identified as “Moxon’s Master” elsewhere), Ambrose Bierce, San Francisco Examiner April 16, 1899 , a fun and somewhat horrific story that was new to me.
- “Instinct‘, by Lester del Rey, Astounding January 1951, which I have read before but do not remember.
- “For A Breath I Tarry“, by Roger Zelazny, New Worlds March 1966. Not one of Zelazny’s classics for me, but a very good story I enjoyed rereading.
- “Dilemma” by Connie Willis, from “Foundation’s Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov“, Martin H. Greenberg editor, Tor 1989. A very good and fun story in tribute to Asimov with his robots updated. I know I read this when I read that anthology, but I don’t remember it.
- “That Must Be Them Now“, by Karen Haber, from “Unidentified Funny Objects 3“, Alex Shvartsman editor, 2014 UFO Publishing. I thought this was a very good story, and one new to me by an author that does not publish much. I am a fan of humorous SF, which is hard to do well. At the same time, and I don’t have a good recent, humorous story to suggest to take its place, this just feels a bit slight to me. “The Secret Life of Bots” is my first thought, but including two Suzanne Palmer stories is a challenge. Although it’s not recent, I would have considered one of Henry Kuttner’s “Gallegher” stories with Joe the reluctant, narcissist robot, such as “The Proud Robot” or “Time Locker” instead.
- “Of Homeward Dreams and Fallen Seeds and Melodies by Moonlight”, by Ken Scholes, original to this volume. A very good story by an author new to me.
There are no real clunkers in “Robots Through The Ages”, in my opinion. That’s always fantastic.
With great essay material including the bonus recommended stories, classic stories that I loved, great stories that were new to me including some by authors new to me, other stories that were very good, and with an overall “great” rating, I strongly recommend “Robots Through the Ages”.
Detailed Reviews/Comments – SPOILERS ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE!
“Perfection” by Seanan McGuire, original to this anthology. A great story of a woman married to a demigod, and his desire for her to be perfect. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“A Night at Moxon’s” (identified as “Moxon’s Master” elsewhere), a short story by Ambrose Bierce, San Francisco Examiner April 16, 1899. A very good story of an automation chess player that murders it’s owner Moxon when it loses to him. It’s fun to see a story by Bierce that is new to me. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“With Folded Hands…“, a “Humanoids” novelette by Jack Williamson, Astounding July 1947. This is a great, chilling story, very nightmarish. I agree with comments I have seen that the characters are a bit wooden. Upon reread, still a bona fide classic. One of the most hopeless stories ever, with man “safely” living under the care and oversight of the mechanicals, with no freedom for anything. Much reprinted, including the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Vol 2B) anthology. Rated 4.5/5, or “A classic”.
“Good Night, Mr. James“, a novelette by Clifford D. Simak, Galaxy March 1951. A great story by one of my favorite authors that I must have read in the 1962 Simak collection “All the Traps of Earth and Other Stories” (I have the 1963 paperback) 50 years ago. This is a superlative story, and one I don’t remember reading. A man comes to consciousness, realizing that he is hunting the deadly, intelligent and dangerous puudly, which he illegally brought to Earth. He kills the puudly, but not before it communicates that he is a temporary duplicate, created to kill the puudly. Upon returning home, he arranges for the death of the original. He then finds out that he, the duplicate, was created with a poison that will kill him in 24 hours. For me, this is a very different Simak story, and one that has been reprinted fairly often! Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.
“Instinct‘, a short story by Lester del Rey, Astounding January 1951. I have read this in Astounding but do not remember it. A very good story of robots tens of thousands of years after all men and most robots died. The POV robot is the head of a team attempting to recreate man, thinking this will help robots understand and use “instinct”. There is substantial opposition to this, but it perseveres. Recreation is a success. The story’s last sentence expresses the robot’s instinct, “Nothing, Master. Only to serve you.” Reprinted first in Groff Conklin’s “Omnibus of Science Fiction” (1952 Crown), and then somewhat often after. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“A Bad Day for Sales“, a short story by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy July 1953. A horrific story of a sales robot and a nuclear attack in a big city. Reprinted in “The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1954“, Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty editors, 1954 Frederick Fell (Fell’s Science-Fiction Library) and many other places. [Note that being reprinted in one of the “Year’s Best” anthologies has significance for me. While it does not guarantee it’s a great story, it does mean that an editor thought it was an important story at the time.] Still one of my favorite Leiber SF stories, just as great on reread. Rated 4.4/5, or “A classic”.
“Second Variety“, a novelette by Phillip K. Dick, Space Science Fiction Stories May 1953. The USSR has to attacked the US, and are on the verge of victory. The command of the US forces retreats to the Moon, leaving a few surviving soldiers to fight. They also deploy evolving robots and robot/human cyborg hybrids. These hybrid cyborgs evolve out of being under human control, with the mission of eliminating all life and all other varieties of cyborgs as well. Humans are finished. A worthy Retro Hugo runner-up, and reprinted in “The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1954“, Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty editors, 1954 Frederick Fell (Fell’s Science-Fiction Library) and many other places. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“The Golem“, a short story by Avram Davidson, F&SF March 1955. I love this story of a modern day robot who becomes a golem, and his encounter with an aging Jewish couple. No award nominations, but reprinted in “S-F: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy“, Judith Merril editor, 1956 Dell, and many other anthologies. One of my Avram Davidson favorites. Just as great on reread, especially the couple. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
“For A Breath I Tarry“, a novelette by Roger Zelazny, New Worlds March 1966. A story of a computer program personality that ends up becoming human after man has died out and left directives. Well written but did not excite me. Reread again, because I am a huge, longtime fan of Zelazny. Not up with the best of Zelazny short fiction for me, but a very good choice. This was a Hugo finalist, and it was reprinted in both “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1967“, Terry Carr & Donald A. Wollheim editors, 1967 Ace Books, and “Best S.F. Stories from New Worlds 2“, Michael Moorcock editor, 1968 Panther, so those back in the day appeared to like it more than I do. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Good News from the Vatican“, a short story by Robert Silverberg, from Terry Carr’s “Universe 1” anthology (1971 Ace). I dearly love this story of the elevation of a robot pope, and the amusing personalities of those waiting for the result. A Nebula winner, and reprinted in “Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year“, Lester del Rey editor, 1972 E. P. Dutton and often thereafter. On reread, just as great. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Dilemma” by Connie Willis, a short story from “Foundation’s Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov“, Martin H. Greenberg editor, Tor 1989. I know I read this when I read that anthology, but I don’t remember it. I like to think I should have remembered this fun and amusing tribute featuring Isaac Asimov and his robots updated, and a mystery. I’m not sure it gets to great, but it was a load of fun to reread. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Robot’s Girl“, a great novelette by Brenda Cooper, from Analog April 2010. I think this is the second story of hers I have read, and I need to read more. Like Bryan Thomas Schmidt, I love this story. If I had nominated in 2011, this could have been a Hugo nomination for me. I need to check out more fiction by Brenda Cooper; I loved her “Savant Songs“, which I read fairly recently. This was a great story of a preteen being raised by robots in a rural area, and her new neighbors and their attempt to get to know her and help her with some friendship and human contact under challenging circumstances. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“That Must Be Them Now“, a short story by Karen Haber, from “Unidentified Funny Objects 3“, Alex Shvartsman editor, 2014 UFO Publishing. A humorous yet slight story of aliens and a robotic head, and an interstellar probe. I loved her 1990 short story, “3 RMS, Good View“, but this fell a bit short. Humor in SF is hard, and I can see why the editors chose it. However, I think I would have considered a Henry Kuttner “Gallagher” story instead for humorous robot SF, such as “Time Locker” or “The Proud Robot“, but that does not match the “recent” criteria needed. “The Secret Life of Bots” would have been a good choice, but including two Suzanne Palmer stories is a challenge. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“R.U.R-8?“, a short story by Suzanne Palmer, Asimov’s September-October 2018. A lovely tribute to Karel Čapek’s classic “R. U. R.“, updated and with humor. It had a bit of the feel of a Kurt Vonnegut story, with obsolete robots, androids, and one person. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”. One note: there seems to be a lot of confusion on this title. I have seen it as “R. U. R-8?” and “R.U.R.-8?”. The title noted above is the one on Palmer’s website.
“Robinson Calculator“, a novelette by Paul Levinson, from his collection “Urban Corridors: Fables and Gables” (2019 Connected Education Incorporated). I have not read much fiction by Paul Levinson. I loved his 1995 “The Chronology Protection Case“. I know I read but don’t remember his 1997 “The Mendelian Lamp Case“. This wonderful story has definitely convinced me to look for more of his fiction. A professor of film and philosophy falls for Lianne Calculator, from a family of perhaps not strictly human and perhaps artificial but human looking and feeling beings. She disappears, he looks into the Calculator family, and all information about them disappears. With one last message, she tells him the time is not right now, but it may be in the future. This is a great story, original to Levinson’s collection “Urban Corridors: Fables and Gables”. On this basis, I need to read that collection. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Of Homeward Dreams and Fallen Seeds and Melodies by Moonlight”, by Ken Scholes, original to this volume. I am not sure I have ever read any fiction by Ken Scholes. A very good science fantasy story of an isolated and somewhat forsaken people, and a metal man who comes to them in a confusing way. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Today I Know”, a great original story by Martin L. Shoemaker. A great story, by an author that I think is new to me. A companion and therapy android, designed to help the elderly and those with dementia, encounters a young person with very different problems. This is the sequel to his prior, Nebula finalist story, “Today I am Paul” (Clarkesworld August 2015), which I need to read! Rated 4/5, or “Great”.
Leave a Reply