Edited by Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg



6 hours/$22.95/1997

Friends, Robots, Countrymen

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Dercum Audio has come out with several audio anthologies for those with commutes.  One of them, Friends, Robots, Countrymen collects nine stories on four cassettes for a total of six hours of listening pleasure.  In addition, the late Isaac Asimov, who selected the stories, provides a spoken introduction to the collection.

As he frequently does, Asimov expounds on the importance of his three laws of robotics and claims they were adopted by numerous other science fiction authors and used as the basis for a variety of stories, even if they weren't stated explicitly.  However, the stories included do not support that thesis.  Robert Bloch's "Almost Human," in which a robot known as Junior is taught to murder without remorse, does not even pretend to follow the three laws.  Similarly, Eric Frank Russell's "Boomerang" provides the robot in question with a completely different set of laws and precedents. 

Several of the stories on the tapes which might have seemed dated a decade ago because of their reliance on the cold war have achieved a renewed poignancy with the current war on terror and subsequent   Anderson’s “Sam Hall,” Russell’s “Boomerang,” and Dick’s “Imposter” all fit into this category. Although the paranoia of the Dick story telegraphs, in a general way, the ending, there is still an element of surprise in the story which Dick manages to pull off quite well.  "Boomerang" is also fairly obvious, although enjoyable, and "Sam Hall" offers enough twists to keep it interesting.

Some of the longer stories tend to drift in and out of focus as the listener hears them, even at a single sitting.  It is possible that the stories work well on the written page, but not quite as well when read.  Conversely, it may be that reading the stories out loud drives home weaknesses which might not otherwise have been apparent.  

It would have been nice for the packaging to include the table of contents in the order in which they are heard on the tapes, or even a complete list of titles (Dick's "Imposter" is missing from the packaging).  Similarly, some idea about who read the stories on the tape would also be nice.  It seems that multiple voice actors were employed, yet none of them is credited for their job.  Similarly, there is no indication of when the stories were originally published, which would have been a nice way of helping the reader put them into some sort of context.

Lester del Rey Helen O'Loy
Eric Frank Russell Boomering
Michael Shaara Soldier Boy
Isaac Asimov Robot Dreams
Robert Bloch Almost Human
Harry Bates Farewell to the Master
Robert Silverberg The Macauley Circuit
Philip K. Dick Imposter
Poul Anderson Sam Hall

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