The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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The Life and Times of Multivac (Science fiction by Isaac Asimov)

graphic of page

Assume the world
has ended in catastrophe
and ask what then
of the literature of change

The life

Copyright 1975 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by

By Isaac Asimov

Science fiction is the literature of change. It is the only form of fiction
which, as a matter of definition, tells its story against the background of a
society vastly different from our own, with the difference dependent on changes
in science and technology.

Since we live in a period of rapid change. science fiction has become the
relevant literature of today, particularly to young people who must face such
change for the rest of their lives.

The attempt to work out reasonably changed societies led science-fiction writers
to consider such matters as television, nuclear bombs, and interplanetary
exploration long before  most scientists and government leaders (let alone the
general public) did so. This has lent science fiction an air of respectability.
All these factors combined have even raised it to the ultimate, and somewhat
dubious, height of academic acceptance.

What's more, science fiction offers a technique of unlimited flexibility for
dealing with today's problems.

At the present moment, for instance, the question of man versus machine is
exercising many minds. Argue the matter from the immediate standpoint of today
and you will obscure it with numerous emotional hangups and side issues. Take
it, instead, several centuries hence. Assume that today's world has ended in
catastrophe but that the remnants of technology have saved the remnants of
making.Assume that a new world has arisen in which the problem is stark and
simple, in which men are few indeed and the machine powerful beyond present
dreams. Now raise the same question of man versus machine, and we have ..."The
life and times of Multivac."

The whole world was interested. The whole world could watch. If anyone wanted to
know how many did watch, Multivac could have told them. The great computer,
Multivac kept track-as it did of everything.

Multivac was the judge in this particular case, so coldly objective and purely
upright that there was no need of prosecution or defense. There were
only the accused, Simon Hines, and the evidence, which consisted, in part, of
Ronald Bakst.

Bakst watched, of course. In his case, it was compulsory. He would rather it
were not, In his 10th decade, he was showing signs of age and his rumpled hair
was distinctly gray.

Noreen was not watching. She had said at the door, "If we had a friend left . .
. ” She paused, then added, "Which I doubt!" and left. 
Bakst wondered if she would come back at all, but at the moment it didn't

Isaac Asimov is the author of many science books, both fact and fiction. His
most recent fiction is "Tales of the Black Widowers."


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