For this installment of Weekend Short Story Club, we'll be looking at Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question." Short stories are an oft-forgotten part of literature, and "The Last Question" showcases every reason why they should stay relevant.
Originally published in 1956 in the short-lived Science Fiction Quarterly, Asimov privately thought "The Last Question" the best story he had written yet. It's a religious story packaged as a technological riddle, with the suggestion that those two things aren't as separated as one might think. It's a story of evolution, but also of how things stay the same.
Things stay the same because the last question is also the first question, the question we all keep at the back of our minds. To paraphrase Don Draper of Mad Men, it's the question that makes us create laws, buy things, get married- is there any way to reverse entropy? We try all our lives to fight it, and we fail.
Except for Asimov and his characters, the question isn't so sad. Sure, Jerrodette I gets upset, but she's a kid. Every other character treats the coming finale of existence with a shrug, moving on with their lives. It's inconsequential to their lives, since they'll be long gone before it happens. Indeed, Asimov's choice to not return to any characters after their introduction shows how little their lives matter. Asimov has a tendency to make machines the main characters of his stories, but unlike the robots of I, Robot, MULTIVAC never displays a personality. It exists to serve, and when there is nothing more to serve, it creates some more of that.
There's enough here that I could ramble for hours. What do you guys think? Could a story like this be told in a longer form? Do the VACs, in their various forms, seem just a l tiny bit like Apple? Or cars? Or anything advertised, for that matter? Is that even a bad thing? Is the universe, in fact, the creation of a frustrated machine? Let everyone know in the comments.
April 24th- "Above It All" - Robert J. Sawyer, 1997
May 1st- "Tideline" - Elizabeth Bear, 2007
May 8th- "Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts" - Ben Francisco, 2010 (audio only, text link coming soon)