Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking a Look at "The Invisible Finite"

When Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories in 1926, he was eager to educate the public about science (a laudable goal), and he was hoping that his scientifiction stories would serve that purpose. Robert A. Wait's "The Invisible Finite" could serve as a model for the kind of stories Gernsback was hoping to publish: it was written by an actual scientist, it featured loads and loads of exposition laying out actual scientific principles, and it ended with an unexpected twist that opened up vistas of unknown phenomena.

Wait was an instructor in chemistry at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and this gave his story a great deal of verisimilitude. His scientist-hero, Dr. Moore, is also a chemist at a university, and the story opens with him giving a lecture to one of his classes. Dr. Moore has a tendency to start lecturing at the drop of a hat, which is an occupational hazard among college professors.

These days, it's more-or-less expected that a science fiction story will contain a certain amount of technobabble -- made up science, imaginary elements and substances. H. G. Wells himself resorted to an imaginary antigravity material called cavorite in his 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon. Wait, however, does not. His fictional experiment is conducted with an X-ray machine operating on thin plates of a gold-uranium alloy coated with colloidal platinum, real technology and real elements. Incidentally, the use of uranium gives the story an unexpectedly modern ring -- back in the 1920s and 1930s, radium was always the go-to radioactive element in SF stories. It wasn't until the detonation of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that pulp science fiction abandoned radium for good. This, too, can be attributed to Wait being an actual scientist, and not a pulp fiction writer using half-understood concepts.

In an illustration of the unconscious sexism of the era, all of the students in Dr. Moore's class are male, even though Millikin University was coeducational at the time, and Wait presumably had the occasional female student in his own classes. On the other hand, both of Dr. Moore's top graduate students are foreign -- the Irish Jerry Murphy, and the Brazilian Carlos Manoras, a too-rare indication of the international nature of science, and doubtless a reflection of the makeup of Wait's own classes.

What may be the most admirable quality of "The Invisible Finite" was Wait's description of Jerry Murphy's skeptical attitude: "It was only because he was a good scientist that he was skeptical. Early in his career he had learned that skepticism was not a vice -- more of a virtue, ofttimes preventing false conclusions based on insufficient evidence." You really couldn't ask for a more succinct summary of the chief virtue of the scientific mindset: skepticism, the steadfast refusal to believe something just because you want it to be true.

This has always been at the heart of attacks on science by religious fundamentalists -- the fact that scientists refuse to believe the things the fundamentalists want to believe. So it comes as no surprise that as religious fundamentalists gain control of the Republican Party, the GOP has become ever more hostile to science, and conservatives insist on their right to construct their own alternate reality where the things they want to believe are true, are true.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Invisible Finite by Robert A. Wait, part 4

(part 3) (review)

This is the fourth and final installment of "The Invisible Finite" by Robert A. Wait, a Gernsback Era science fiction story published for the first and only time in the May 1929 issue of Amazing Stories.

The story so far:
Professor Moore lectures a class on various efforts to make objects invisible. That afternoon, two graduate students join Moore in his laboratory as he continues to talk about the subject. Finally one of them asks him what they're doing there, and he answers that he has invented an invisibility process. He proceeds to demonstrate the process to them . . .

* * *

A full ten minutes had passed since the four-minute reducing period was to have ended. The plates of alloy were removed carefully and, contrary to the fears of the professor, they seemed to be perfect and unharmed by the over-reduction. Strange it was indeed to handle this pile of nearly invisible foil. The grey void of the anodes was seen again. There was the clamp with a grey, dark-appearing mass, with an elusive, shapeless appearance, between its jaws.

"We will proceed with our experiment," said the professor, placing the plates without the clamp in the quartz box, leaving the open top with no cover. He slid this into the X-ray machine immediately below the funnel-like aperture and in the path of the rod-like crystal light.

"Before I turn on the current to make the final test of success or failure, I want to explain the real action of this machine. Have you ever seen a band leader or orchestra leader wave his baton where the light is rather poor? If so, you have noticed that the baton appears to stutter or vibrate through the light -- a sort of poor motion picture, where one sees the wand in one place, then sees nothing for a short space with a quick reappearance beyond, and so on to produce a stuttered appearance. This phenomenon is due to light interference. In places the light reflected by the baton is interfered with and lost to the eye -- a sort of 'now you see it, now you don't' idea. I take advantage of this in causing these Roentgen rays to interfere with each other, making a sort of staggered but regular pulsation of X-rays. Some of the rays generated never get to their destination, but because of interference are used up in producing this red glow and beam. The five anodes enable me to control the speed of the interference, thus getting any vibration I want, through interference from two to five separate rays. The pulsating X-rays thus generated are sent through the funnel-like apparatus, where all but the rays passing straight through are absorbed into the walls. Thus, all rays going through the slit-like opening will be parallel in motion -- no cross rays. In other words, I polarize the pulsating X-rays. The cold light, or crystal light, is this stream of polarized, pulsating X-rays. By throwing this ray onto any solid or liquid matter, I can cause the pulsation to synchronize with the natural period of the vibrating molecule, and slowly but surely speed up the motion and elongate the path of vibration until the invisibility effect is noticed."

So saying, the doctor switched on the current and the crash of large spark gaps again filled the room. Once more the room was suffused in a red glow and the crystal light steadied to a rigid bar of blinding brilliance. The three leaned forward toward the machine in close and excited observation of the plates of alloy. No great change seemed to occur. Dr. Moore, however, smiled and, motioning the boys away from the machine, opened two switches on a local bank of five on the machine's neat brown switchboard. Immediately the noise of spark gaps decreased and the red shaft of light softened to a hazy beam; the glow in the room faded to a pink sunset-light.

"I have cut off two of the circuits." The professor spoke loudly to be heard distinctly above the crackle of the spark coils. "It was evident that the five were not producing the correct pulsation to synchronize with the natural period of vibration of the molecules of the alloy or its platinum coating. We must blindly feel for the correct interference effect with different numbers of circuits going at one time. A sort of trial and error method. We are but babes in the field of higher science, and so we do not see clearly what we are attempting to do."

The pile of plates was now undergoing a color change -- a sort of passing through the color spectrum from red to violet. Gradually the color steadied to a clear violet.

"Dr. Moore, I believe we are observing a gradual increase in the speed of those molecules of alloy which takes us through the vibrations of colored light. The red, being slower vibrations, we see that color first and as the vibration speed increases we get the advance along the spectrum in color to the rapid waves of violet light. Why does the color remain at violet and not pass on into the extremely rapid short waves of ultra-violet light?"

At last Murphy was flushed with excitement over what he had questioned but a short time ago. To him it was obvious that the whole experiment was going to be an unqualified success. Manoras spoke to the professor before an answer came.

"Don't you think that all that has occurred is a speeding up of the particle motion? I doubt if the path of motion has been elongated much; in fact, I should judge that the color change would indicate a shortening of the path to suit the increase in speed. Perhaps the only really necessary thing is to cause an extremely rapid vibration, taking the particles up to the vibration of ultra-violet or other invisible light at which point the object would be invisible."

* * *

Slowly the professor turned a large black lever to the right. The sputtering gaps fairly jumped off the machine in their activity. The noise increased to a roar. No change occurred in the color of the plates of alloy.

"Guess you are both right," the professor shouted, "Try turning on that number four circuit again please, Jerry."

As the fourth circuit sprang into action, the pile of violet colored sheets seemed to fade into thin air.

"Holy Mother!" Manoras spoke as if in prayer. "Professor, I congratulate you. I have never seen anything so wonderful."

The doctor was smiling through tears. His kindly nature was overwhelmed by this success.

"Marvelous, Dr. Moore." Jerry was almost speechless with amazement.

"Now, my friends, we will apply the last test. If we can make visible things invisible, we should be able to make invisible things visible. If we can cause our stream of Z-rays to pulsate in a manner to interfere with the vibration of the molecules you no longer see before you, we should be able to so hinder them that they again slow down to a normal speed of visibility.

Throwing the switch to the fifth circuit, the professor turned back the black lever controlling the intensity of the spark across the gaps. Slowly the violet color appeared, trembled, and with a flash of light the colors of the rainbow cascaded down the now visible pile of alloy sheets. An intense heat radiated from the stack of foil Suddenly it flared brilliant white, and the once rigid pile fused and slid to a liquid in the bottom of the quartz dish standing there.

"Too much internal energy loosed all at once. We will have to be more careful in stopping the very violent vibration we set up to cause invisibility. All that energy released at once naturally comes away as heat and light." The professor reached for the quartz dish in which the molten alloy ran about.

"Professor!" Murphy shrieked a hoarse warning, but too late. Dr. Moore's hand was already under the rod of crystal light. A kaleidoscope of color, a cry of anguish, and before a move could be made by either of the boys, the professor had completely disappeared.

Carlos sobbed aloud. Murphy swore violently. Both were wide-eyed and horror stricken.

"Dr. Moore! Are you here? Where are you? Answer us!" Manoras was hysterical. "That damned machine. Why, oh why, did it ever come to be! Never will it harm another!"

Seizing a huge iron bar, he raised it high above his head and brought it down with a terrific smash on the glowing red bulb of the machine. A blinding explosion shook the room. Bottles fell from shelves, furniture crashed into the walls -- all was a turmoil. The Z-ray machine literally melted to the floor, a fused mass of wreckage.

"Carlos!" Dr. Moore's voice, faint but sharp, cut through the momentary silence that followed the demolishing of the machine. "Alas, lad, you have cut off forever my hopes of returning to you. Had you not ruined the machine, you might have again brought me to my natural state, as with the alloy sheets. By careful and slow treatment you could have slowed the motion of my molecules till they were again normal. Now it is too late."

"Professor! Where are you?" Murphy fairly shrieked his question.

"Here, Jerry, among you. Yes, really among you, for I find I can pass through your body without your knowledge. I have discovered a great secret, but it has cost me my human existence. My voice is failing. Listen closely, for ere long I shall not be able to speak in a voice you can hear."

"Forgive me! I was wild with rage at the machine I thought destroyed you."

"You are forgiven, Carlos. Now listen. When the visible becomes invisible, it is dematerialized. I find I have no feeling, no nerves. I have no material body. My faculties are gradually passing to a higher plane of vibration than those you possess: they follow my body. Soon my voice will be inaudible to you. Already I see through walls, see through the earth, any material thing. I move with no effort. I have no weight. My will controls my motion. I feel no pain, no cold, no heat. My hearing involves no sound -- only a consciousness of what you say. I cannot touch you. I cannot hold or grasp the material things -- they slip through my grasp as air would through yours. Mine alone is the secret of the machine which destroyed my human habitat. It has been destroyed and only my hand and brain could rebuild it. Since I am no longer capable of physical action and my voice fades even now, I can never again regain my human form. Mourn me not. I am not dead, there is no death for me. Perhaps I shall know you again -- in -- some -- future -- e --"

The voice trailed into nothingness and the two young men stared with set faces and tear filled eyes into a void and space they could not fathom.

Have you ever felt that someone was present when you knew you were alone? It is the professor seeking, searching, looking for some one who can understand his sole means of communicating with us. Only through our intelligences and minds can he reach us. What wondrous tale has he of an existence beyond our ken? Will we ever be able to learn more about it?


(part 3) (review)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Invisible Finite by Robert A. Wait, part 3

This is the third installment of "The Invisible Finite" by Robert A. Wait, a Gernsback Era science fiction story published for the first and only time in the May 1929 issue of Amazing Stories.

The story so far:
Professor Moore lectures a class on various efforts to make objects invisible. That afternoon, two graduate students join Moore in his laboratory as he continues to talk about the subject. Finally one of them asks him what they're doing there, and he answers that he has invented an invisibility process . . .

* * *

Young Murphy uttered the latter part of his not too enthusiastic comment in half apology for even seeming to dispute Dr. Moore. He was a hard-headed young fellow, but, as with most Irish people, as lovable as could be found. It was only because he was a good scientist that he was skeptical. Early in his career he had learned that skepticism was not a vice -- more of a virtue, ofttimes preventing false conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

"These sheets that we've been working on are an alloy of gold. You know that many alloys of gold are extremely hard and that some alloys are beautiful in color. This alloy has both gold and uranium in it. The uranium is present in only minute quantities. It is present because of its radio-active properties. This seems to promote the activity I am after. The polishing process which we go through is to cover the sheets of alloy with a thin coat of the colloidal platinum like that I used on the anodes of our Z-ray machine. I call it Z-ray because I really know no other name for the particular ray I produce with the machine. The oily liquid we use is a chloro-platinate which I reduce to platinum, catalytically, in the presence of some gaseous reducing agent such as hydrogen or carbon monoxide. This leaves the freed platinum in the sub-colloidal state. The oil forms a coating only ten or twenty molecules thick. With the very fine state of division of the platinum, we obtain the hazy impression of grey void noticed on the ends of the anodes."

"I can see that easily," interrupted Manoras, "but I don't see that this coating will make the alloy pass the light rays reflected by other objects."

"No, that is true; it won't pass light rays -- yet. Bring that black enameled cabinet in the fume-hood. We'll just start this to going and explain as we do it." The professor turned to the chemistry table.

Jerry strode to the fume-hood and carefully extricated the indicated enameled cabinet from the maze of apparatus. True to form, the professor of science had apparatus strewn from end to end of the two-room suite of laboratories.

Dragging a large steel cylinder across the floor, the professor directed manipulations so that he could connect the steel cylinder directly to the top of the cabinet, placing a Bunsen burner beneath so as to heat the sheet iron bottom of the cabinet.

Deftly Dr. Moore removed the clamped stack of treated alloy foil from its temporary housing under the quartz covering and placed it in the cabinet. Carefully closing the black doors and snapping the catches, the professor waved the boys aside.

"The treated sheets are in a gas-tight, heated compartment. You will note the jet at the bottom of the cabinet. We fill this cabinet with carbon monoxide from this cylinder, and since the gas is very slightly lighter than air, we may force the air out through the jet, and by testing frequently with the flame, determine when carbon monoxide has completely filled the cabinet. Since carbon monoxide burns with a bright blue flame, we can easily determine when the gas is escaping from the jet. This we ignite and allow to burn, both to be sure of a constant flow of the reducing agent and to prevent our own asphyxiation from its deadly effect on the hemoglobin of our blood."

The genial old man suited actions to his words and after a few trials, a bright blue flame shot out in a three-inch jet from the base of the cabinet. The jet was so arranged as to burn the gas under the cabinet.

"The burning jet of the escaping gas furnishes enough heat to keep the reaction going after we start it with a Bunsen burner, as you see I am doing. Please move that Roentgen ray machine over here and direct a stream of X-rays through the cabinet."

The two youths quickly had the bulb in action, the anode red with the impact of the electron stream striking upon it.

"The gas I am about to entrain in the stream of carbon monoxide is my catalyst. It is only necessary to put in a very small amount as, once the action is started, it goes on without further catalysis."

Dr. Moore attached a small tube of colorless gas to the side valve on the gas cylinder, and opened the glass stop-cock on it. A hiss of escaping gas under pressure, and the professor removed the emptied tube.

"The gas I have allowed to flow in is a form of gaseous sodium metal. I suppose really I should say a mixture of colloidal sodium vapor and inert argon. The sodium alone will not cause the catalytic action, the argon being necessary to the action. Please note the burning jet under the cabinet."

The flame had suddenly turned from the blue of a carbon monoxide flame to the bright yellow-orange, so well known as the flame-test color of sodium or its compounds.

"Remind me to shut off the gas and remove the plates in four minutes. In the meantime, let us look over this Z-ray machine."

* * *

The professor plugged the electric cord of the big machine into the wall socket and snapped on a switch at the base of the aluminum casing. Instantly a brilliant red streamer flashed toward the ceiling, suffusing the room in a carmine glow. At the base of the machine a blinding bar of crystal light swayed drunkenly for a moment, then steadied to a rigid rod. It struck against a quartz plate and seemed to be disintegrated or absorbed thereby. The two students started back from this demon of light, half frightened by the crackle and roar of the thousands of sparks and streaks of miniature lightning crashing across the gap on the coils below the main part of the machine.

"Have no fear, young men. The light is quite harmless as long as you do not get the crystal light on you. Note -- it is not white; it is simply a rod of cold, crystal-colored light. You are conscious of its extreme intensity. Some of its intensity is converted into radiant energy as it strikes the quartz plate, the only thing I have found that is not affected by the Z-ray. It alone I have found will disintegrate the ray -- how, I do not know."

"My word! What a machine! Tell us what it is and how it works."

Manoras switched off the machine and mopped his forehead with a white handkerchief. The sudden change had rather upset the nerves of the two young men.

"As you may have guessed, this machine is for the purpose of increasing the length of the path of the particles in any liquid or solid body -- a sort of stretching machine. Every particle has its own period of vibration, and to increase the length of the vibratory path one must get into tune with the vibration, so to speak. If one tries to increase the length of the swing of a pendulum, he must move his hand at the same speed and vibration as the pendulum. If we can push the particles in some way in their path so as to increase the length of their paths, we will reach the point where the size and speed of the particles will cause them to become invisible."

"Yes, but how can this infernal red streak and glow cause that change? I don't see any connection between this machine and pushing particles around."

Jerry Murphy spoke rather belligerently, and the professor smiled at the impetuous lad he had had for so many months in his classes.

"Jerry," began the kindly voice, "I realize that there is apparently no connection between the machine and increasing the velocity of molecules. You will get more from the idea if you will suspend judgment a while. The red glow is caused by the colloidal gold in the ruby glass over the top. The particles of the glass are exceedingly small aggregations of molecules of gold suspended in the super-cooled liquid we call glass. These transmit and reflect red light. The size of the colloidal particle controls the color of the light to be reflected or transmitted. In the case of the blue light collected from tobacco smoke or some wood smokes, the particle is of such size as to cause Tyndall's law to take effect. You will remember Tyndall found that in reflecting white light, colloidal particles of this size reflect the colors of the rainbow in intensities inversely proportional to the fourth power of their wavelengths. Thus, since the blue light has the shortest wavelength, the inverse fourth power would be the largest number and hence the greatest color in visible intensity. Lilies owe their white color not to white pigments but to the diffusion of light striking the very tiny colloidal bubbles of air in the lily petals. Of course, when all colored lights striking the lily petal are diffused thoroughly, they mix and form white light. The same phenomenon is found in the case of white hair -- no white pigments are found -- only colloidal bubbles of air to so diffuse the light as to appear white. As to this machine, the red light is purely accidental. I did not design the machine to make red light. I used ruby glass because I find the Roentgen rays do not penetrate the glass as was heretofore believed. The light is a byproduct of the true purposeful action of the machine. Observe, please."

Dr. Moore took off the red cap of glass from the machine, exposing the five anodes arranged in an arc, each pointing toward a central point in the lower body of the aluminum casing. Opposite each anode was a beautifully coiled tungsten wire cathode from which electrons were discharged at the anode. All these anodes were so leveled and arranged that all the angles of incidence in reflecting the bombardment of electrons focused at one narrowing slit -- a sort of rectangular funnel pointing straight downward toward the quartz plate at the bottom where the rod-like ray of cold light was focused.

"When this five-circuit X-ray machine operates, all the reflecting anodes have their positions fixed to throw all X-rays generated to this one point -- the vortex of the funnel-like piece of the casing. That metal looks like aluminum but is really a lead alloy of that metal. It is especially efficient in stopping Roentgen rays. Please observe that I can control each of these five circuits separately."

"Professor! The cabinet!" Manoras cried in alarm.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Invisible Finite by Robert A. Wait, part 2

This is the second installment of "The Invisible Finite" by Robert A. Wait, a science fiction story published for the first and only time in the May 1929 issue of Amazing Stories.

The story so far:
Professor Moore lectures a class on various efforts to make objects invisible. That afternoon, two graduate students join Moore in his laboratory as he continues to talk about the subject. Finally one of them asks him what they're doing there . . .

* * *

It was a natural and just question that young Murphy asked, and the professor had long expected it. Two young men, bright and intelligent workers in physical chemistry, would indeed be poor scientists if they were content to plod along doing routine jobs for another with no thought as to what was happening or going to happen as a result of their careful labor. The professor sighed as he mentally noted that here again youth would outstrip age, albeit age had contributed the driving force and started the great idea down the swift descent to realization. Dr. Moore knew well that once his purposes were known to the two young men, ideas would flow in voluminous streams from the trained intelligences housed in the rusty-red head of the Irish lad and the dark, bushy head of the Brazilian. Better try to dam up the Mississippi than to stop the flow of thought from two such trained mentalities. No matter, the work would go on and the success would not be his alone. Dr. Moore, as a true scientist, would share in the glory of discovery.

"Jerry, Carlos --"

From this formal salutation the boys recognized a serious turn in the professor's thoughts. They ceased their adjustment work and leaned against the work table in expectant silence.

"You have both worked faithfully and without question at whatever task I assigned you. I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate all you have done. I am about to disclose to you what will make you both famous and prosperous for life. I am an old man. I cannot hope for more than ten, possibly twenty, years of life. The glory will be ours; yours for a long life, mine for a short decade. Your ideas will supercede mine. I will fall more or less into the background. For that I do not care -- only this would I ask of you: always consider me as the origin of your success. With that, I am more than satisfied."

The wondering youths hastened to reassure Dr. Moore that whatever it might be, they were far below him in honor and would always put him first in glory and esteem. The professor smiled a bit wanly and nodded his acknowledgement of the compliment. Behind the smile was a tear, not of self-pity but of sorrow that the human race was so fickle. Despite these vehement reassurances, the professor knew well that it would not be long before the entire proposition would be out of his hands. He would be just "the professor," to be consulted only when the younger men struck a snag in the work. Soit! It was ever thus -- and as a true scientist, the professor prepared to sacrifice his all, that science might gain the knowledge that he possessed.

"My purpose is this work is to produce a material which will have all the properties of solid matter except visibility to human eyes. I have reached the point theoretically where I am certain it can be done. You can see the result of my treatment of the anodes, and our discussion of invisible planes should bring you to see the possibilities that are involved. The proposition is simply this: As you know, matter, if moving rapidly enough and at the same time far enough in one line, becomes invisible to the human eye, allowing the objects on the other side of the matter to become plainly visible. Again, you know from our work that when matter is divided as particles become smaller and smaller in size, we see them with more and more difficulty. We have spoken of grinding a material from large chunks, quite visible, down through the colloidal stage into sub-microscopic particles that are invisible to the eye -- a sort of grinding to invisibility. This has not been found possible as yet, though from my anode treatment of the X-ray machine there, you can get the effect of grey void, the best attempt yet made at invisible colloidal material.

"Of course, all matter is made up of atoms and molecules which are in constant motion, the velocity of which varies according to the particular material; all, however, are extremely rapid in motion. According to our experiment with the spokes of the bicycle, this motion should cause the particles to become invisible. The fact that, though in rapid motion these particles are visible in the aggregate, is explained by the very short length of the path of the motion. All solid and some liquid matter has the particles in it so arranged as to allow each particle to vibrate about a mean point, much as a ball on the end of an elastic cord. Could these particles be induced to stretch these forces and vibrate at enormously larger distances than their natural period, it would seem possible to cause them to become invisible, much as the increase in the speed of rotation of the spokes in a wheel causes the spokes to tend to disappear. Now, could we combine the two theories -- rapid motion in comparatively long paths, and sub-microscopic size in particles -- both of which cause more or less invisibility, we should have an invisible material.

"To me, it is evident that the gases as we know them are invisible, except for color, because of two things: First, the state of subdivision is so minute that we get practically no reflection, or perhaps we might better say that the particles are so small that one will not reflect a light wave --the wave is longer than the particle is large in diameter. Since our second point is that these particles are not held in a mean position by any forces, but travel in Brownian movement in straight random paths until they rebound with perfect elasticity when they collide, thus never losing any velocity, I conclude that the velocity of the particles, coupled with the length of their paths of travel and their very small size, causes them to become invisible to the eye."

The young men had shifted their positions until they were half reclining on the work table, very intent on what the professor was saying. They were absorbing every word with the agility of a mind intent on learning. It was evident that the professor's arguments were convincing the South American lad, and even Jerry's face was glowing in eager anticipation of further explanation of their work.

"That's a very plausible theory to me." Carlos spoke with great enthusiasm, his mobile face animated with an interest even greater than Dr. Moore had hoped to inspire.

"Tell us what all this has to do with these alloy sheets and this mysterious machine you have never explained to us, doctor. Your theory is certainly staggering, but I am a bit incredulous yet. Remember the scientific attitude we learned in freshman years -- 'Never jump to a conclusion because the evidence seems strong.' You yourself have often cautioned students against too hasty acceptance of ideas that are apparently wonderful in possibilities."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Invisible Finite by Robert A. Wait, part 1

It's time to rescue another ancient science fiction story from oblivion.

Today's story is "The Invisible Finite" by Robert A. Wait, which appeared in the May 1929 issue of Amazing Stories and was never reprinted. This was the first published story by Wait, an instructor in chemistry at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. He went on to publish three more stories over the next three years, all in Amazing.

As always, I'll be posting the story in a blog-friendly multipart format. And now, the first installment of

The Invisible Finite
by Robert A. Wait

"You may readily see that as the bicycle wheel speeds up and revolves faster and faster, its spokes, though shiny and bright, tend to disappear. The vision is practically unimpaired by these rapidly moving objects even though they be made of steel. Generally, the impression is that an object moving rapidly becomes more and more difficult to observe or even see as the speed of motion increases."

Professor Moore hesitated, to allow the full significance of his statement to sink into the more or less intelligent group of students in his advanced science problems class.

"To those of you who follow closely, I may point out that this very simple phenomenon may, at some time, take on a vastly more important significance. Obviously, if we can cause the spokes of a common bicycle to completely disappear by moving them rapidly before our eyes, it would be possible to extend this principle to still larger and more complex uses. Whole parts of a machine may be made to disappear or even the threads of a cloth might be made invisible by causing sufficiently rapid motion of the same."

He paused, gazed over his spectacles at the more interested students and, as was his habit, smiled in a rather uncertain way as though half expectant that at least the best students would get the full significance of his remarks. This time he was not disappointed, for the attention of the entire class was focused upon the problem being placed before them. To even the least imaginative, the idea of causing a piece of cloth or perhaps a whole automobile to completely disappear was interesting and smacked of Aladdin at his best.

"One more thought to carry away with you, gentlemen," continued the gentle old man, thoroughly pleased by now that his lecture had so caught the fancy of his class, "If you will observe, not only does the rapid revolution of the wheel cause the spokes to become entirely invisible, depending a great deal upon the speed of revolution for total elimination of any noticeable flickerings of each spoke, but also, and most important, objects through and beyond the wheel become clear, distinct, and in fact, appear in detail and clarity exactly as though there were no revolving wheel and spokes between the eye and the object. Generally, of course, to make an object invisible would leave a sort of blank space in the surrounding landscape, inasmuch as the object would still be matter which would not pass light rays striking it from behind. I admit this is a rather fantastic idea and seems rather improbable of realization in practical fields, yet I repeat, young men, this phenomenon, coupled with certain discoveries in the field of the smaller divisions of matter as we know it, leads some of us to hope and suspect the presence of some means used by nature to cause certain of the more rapidly moving particles of matter to completely disappear, thus allowing us to 'see through' them, ofttimes with no consciousness of their presence."

The class bell rang and the students stirred uneasily, humanly desiring the satisfaction of their lunches. The professor sighed, sorry that the period was at an end, for he was deeply interested in his problem, and hoped to interest others to the same extent. Calling his two graduate students to him, he asked them to aid him that afternoon in laboratory work which seemed to be confirming his theories on light, its reflection and interference effects.

* * *

"You will remember that during the World War in 1917 or thereabouts many attempts were made by the government, and by private parties, too, to make a cover on the lower side of airplane wings with such a perfect surface that they could obtain a perfect reflection. That is to say, no lines or shadows showing, there could be no distinction made by the eye between the plane or wing and the surrounding objects or sky."

The professor was speaking to his two graduate students the afternoon following his lecture on the bicycle wheel. They had before them several sets of apparatus that appeared to be most complicated. On one side of the experimental room was a completely fitted laboratory for working with chemicals and the compounds that interested these students of nature in her physical and chemical fields. While speaking to the young men, one a tall young Irishman, Jerry Murphy, the other a dark young Brazilian of exceptional mental ability, Carlos Manoras by name, the grey haired scientist rubbed a piece of shiny metal vigorously. The metal seemed to be an alloy, dark blue to purple in color, very tough, hard, and rolled into unbelievably thin sheets. One after another the sheets were handled by a member of the trio. The process seemed to be one in which the razor-edge sheets were given a coating of an oily liquid and then rubbed clean and dry with especially fine silk cloth.

"Needless to say," the deep-voiced young South American took up the thread of thought where the professor had dropped it in adding an especially fine film of the polishing material to his sheet of the beautiful purple metal, "no such a surface was ever developed. If the attempt to get perfect reflection had succeeded, the results would have been very disappointing, for the airplane must at times pass through or below clouds, and even with a perfect reflection, the outlines of the plane would be visible, for the rough surface of a cloud or a landscape would cause the smooth edges of the plane to stand out as though they were painted a brilliant color. The whole plane would present a sort of blank space, as you mentioned this morning."

"Of course, the idea sounds good at first and is, in a sense," rejoined young Murphy, removing his collegiate briar from his mouth long enough to propound a thought. "The big difficulty would be that, from above, the plane would be perfectly visible not only because of reflection but because of the obstruction of the light rays striking the bottom of the 'invisible' plane. It would be a dumb pilot who wouldn't recognize the outlines of a plane below him, since, of course, the landscape below would be cut off from observation by the material part of the wings and fusilage. Matter moving at such a slow rate would not be at all permeable to light rays."

"You are both right," Dr. Moore continued. "While it is, or we'd better say, probably is, possible to create matter in such a fine state of division that the particles are invisible to the naked eye and hence the whole material becomes invisible, or a perfect reflector, since there are no longer any irregularities to be seen, yet we cannot by this means alone cause the existence to become absolutely unrecognizable to the eye, since even such matter would not pass the light rays striking its back."

They piled the sheets up in a well-ordered stack, and the professor clamped them securely together. The whole they covered with a box or sort of cover constructed of pure fused quartz, so well fused and treated that it was practically clear of all flaws or blemishes. Jerry straightened up, cast about with his laughing blue eyes, and finally went over to where a rather large machine stood mounted on a set of wheels, much like the carriage of a movable X-ray apparatus. The machine itself resembled a violet ray machine with a large bulb of cherry-red clear glass superimposed upon its top. This bulb seemed to have five electric connections shaped much like the anode reflector in an X-ray machine. In fact, the five-fingered affair looked as though it might be a freak Roentgen ray generator, the excess anodes giving higher power, perhaps. The blunt ends of the anti-cathodes were exceptionally peculiar in this large tube -- there seemed to be no end! There was no hole, or was there a visible surface. That the anode rod was solid could be proved by feeling the end, but all attempts to see any surface resulted in a sort of confusing impression of void space.

"I see you have treated the ends of these anodes, doctor," observed Manoras, examining the machine that Murphy was trundling toward the covered pile of glistening metal sheets. They appear not to be, yet I am conscious of a visual impression of some sort of matter. The impression is extremely vague and uncertain."

"That," said the doctor, smiling shyly at the two students, "that is my very latest attempt at a perfect precipitation of colloidal platinum in the sub-microscopic sized particles. You can't see very much because the light is reflected by the tiny particles in so many millions of ways that nothing but a vague impression of grey existence gets to your retina. As a matter of fact, most of these particles are of dimensions smaller than the wavelength of ordinary visible light, and so it takes a small group of them to reflect even one wave of light. Naturally, they diffuse it greatly since the colloidal nature of the material makes the deposit far from even or solid in surface nature. You will remember that molecules are invisible to the eye, even aided by the microscopes of highest power. Were we to start grinding a material from small chunks down to fine particles, even though we trace the pieces through a microscope, we will sometime have reached, were it possible to grind that fine, the molecular sized particles. Now, limiting ourselves to to a single molecule, we would have ground a material from quite visible lumps clear down through the colloidal sized aggregations, and finally we would have ground it into invisibility. Truly, that would be most odd, yet it is theoretically possible, as you can see."

"Frankly, professor, what are you trying to do with this work we are helping you to complete?"

(continue to part 2)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Harl Vincent Resurrected

Longtime readers of this blog (assuming there are any) will know that I have been determined to make it the internet's central source for the works of Harl Vincent, a prolific science fiction writer of the Gernsback Era who has since fallen into near-total obscurity. (Never mind why.)

It is therefore with great emotion that I announce the publication, um, eight months ago, of the first Harl Vincent story collection, Harl Vincent Resurrected: The Astounding Stories of Harl Vincent by the Resurrected Press. Resurrected seems to specialize in publishing science fiction and mysteries that have entered the public domain and been posted at Project Gutenberg. Thus, all eleven stories in Harl Vincent Resurrected come from the pages of Astounding Stories magazine between 1930 and 1933 (and all of them can be found on this blog's Harl Vincent sidebar).

In addition to a dead-tree version, Harl Vincent Resurrected is also available as an ebook on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook platforms.

And if anyone at the Resurrected Press is reading this and would like to publish a companion volume of Vincent's Amazing stories, drop me a line. I've posted nine stories from Amazing on this blog, all of them in the public domain, and I'm sure they'd make for a fine book.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Life slipped along at subsonic speeds

I know what you're going to say. You're going to say, "Johnny, do you have any idea how long it's been since you posted an embedded music video?" And you're absolutely right: it's been way too long. Therefore, in celebration of Presidents' Day, the Johnny Pez blog presents the Presidents of the United States of America with "Lump":

UPDATE: Commenter Serratia Sue declares that the quintessential Presidents' Day video is Brad Neely's "Cox & Combes' Washington":

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Prophecy 10

The Prophecies of Johnny Pez continue to shake the world, foretelling doom and destruction and poor oral hygiene.
The newt's pole sinks and his time is over
While an iron pall is cast on his days.
A frothy mix will spread to cover
The mitten that points all ways.

A cruel necessity compels me to write these prophecies; though not, I freely admit, as cruel as the necessity that compels you to read them.

(continue to Prophecy 11)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Prophecy 9

The Prophecies of Johnny Pez know no rest, and neither do I. The Great Ones continue to use me as their plaything, and not in a good way either.
A mighty wind disperses night's fog
And the echo of the unveiled horizon calls;
At the confluence of rivers the silent dog
Awaits the day eternal winter falls.
Fear for your sanity, you who read this. Fear for your life. Fear for your world!

(continue to Prophecy 10)

Monday, February 13, 2012

I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert

November 2011 saw the publication of I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert, the first addition to Isaac Asimov's positronic robot series since the publication of Alexander C. Irvine's Have Robot, Will Travel in 2004, and also the first novel in a projected trilogy. When the books were first announced in 2009, they were described as a prequel trilogy to Asimov's original story collection, I, Robot, centered on the early life of Dr. Susan Calvin, the collection's central character.

Having just finished I, Robot: To Protect, I think it would be more accurate to describe this as a reboot rather than a prequel. In the introduction to I, Robot, Asimov gave some of the details of Susan Calvin's curriculum vitae: born in 1982, received a bachelor's degree from Columbia in 2003 and began graduate work in cybernetics, received a Ph.D. in 2008 and joined United States Robots as a robopsychologist. In other words, Calvin was a roboticist who became interested in robotic psychology.

In Reichert's novel, Calvin is a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry who becomes involved in a project to use nanorobots for psychiatric diagnoses, and who also befriends Nate, an android with a positronic brain. In other words, Calvin is a psychiatrist who becomes interested in robotic psychology. Changing Calvin from an engineer to a medical doctor allows Reichert to make use of her own background as a medical doctor, giving the novel a hefty helping of verisimilitude.

As I've noted elsewhere, Reichert also pushes Calvin's date of birth forward from 1982 to 2009. She pretty much had to do this, because if she had stuck to Asimov's original timeline, she would have wound up writing an alternate history novel set in an alternate 2008, rather than a science fiction novel set in the future.

Despite the updating of the story milieu and the change in Calvin's profession, Reichert maintains thematic continuity with Asimov's original positronic robot stories by focusing on the Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws were arguably Asimov's major contribution to science fiction. (He once predicted that after everything else he did was forgotten, the Three Laws would still be remembered.) By giving his robots a built-in moral sense, Asimov helped to illustrate the sources of human morality, because once you conceive of a being with an innate set of moral standards, it highlights the way that humans acquire (and, sadly, fail to acquire) their own moral standards.

Reichert is a veteran fantasy writer who has been publishing professionally for over twenty years, so she knows how to write readable prose, and proves it here. More than that, though, along with the story's plot involving doctors, mental patients, and terrorists, Reichert looks at how people react when they find themselves sharing their world with innately moral beings: beings who can think and feel as well as humans do, but who are primarily forbidden to injure humans or allow humans to be injured; who are secondarily required to obey humans; and who are only tertiarily required to protect themselves.

The second volume in the trilogy will presumably be called I, Robot: To Obey. I can hardly wait.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Robot/Foundation Publication History

Following up on the Insanely Complete Robot/Foundation Fiction List, and at the request of my email correspondent Jim Syler, I now present the components of Asimov's future history re-arranged in order of original publication. In the case of short stories, I'm including the name of the book or magazine where they were first published. In the case of works with multiple titles, I'll be listing the original publication title first, followed by subsequent retitlings.

"Strange Playfellow/Robbie": September 1940, Super Science Stories

"Reason": April 1941, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Liar!": May 1941, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Robot AL-76 Goes Astray": February 1942, Amazing Stories

"Runaround": March 1942, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Foundation/The Encyclopedists": May 1942, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Bridle and Saddle/The Mayors": June 1942, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Catch That Rabbit": February 1944, Astounding Science-Fiction

"The Big and the Little/The Merchant Princes": August 1944, Astounding Science-Fiction

"The Wedge/The Traders": October 1944, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Blind Alley": March 1945, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Dead Hand/The General": April 1945, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Paradoxical Escape/Escape": August 1945, Astounding Science-Fiction

"The Mule": November/December 1945, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Evidence": September 1946, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Little Lost Robot": March 1947, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Now You See It--/Search By the Mule": January 1948, Astounding Science-Fiction

"Mother Earth": May 1949, Astounding Science-Fiction

"--And Now You Don't/Search By the Foundation": November/December 1949/January 1950, Astounding Science-Fiction

Pebble in the Sky: January 1950

"The Evitable Conflict": June 1950, Astounding Science-Fiction

I, Robot
: December 1950

"Satisfaction Guaranteed": January 1951, Super Science Stories

Tyrann/The Stars, Like Dust: January/February/March 1951, Galaxy Magazine

"The Psychohistorians": September 1951, Foundation

The Currents of Space: October/November/December 1952, Astounding Science Fiction

The Caves of Steel: October/November/December 1953, Galaxy Magazine

"Risk": May 1955, Astounding Science Fiction

"First Law": October 1956, Fantastic Universe

The Naked Sun: October/November/December 1956, Astounding Science Fiction

"Insert Knob A in Hole B": December 1957, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

"Galley Slave": December 1957, Galaxy Science Fiction

"Lenny": January 1958, Infinity Science Fiction

"Feminine Intuition": October 1969, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

"Mirror Image": May 1972, Analog Science Fiction and Fact

"Light Verse": September-October 1973, The Saturday Evening Post

"...That Thou Art Mindful of Him": May 1974, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

"A Boy's Best Friend": March 1975, Boy's Life

"The Bicentennial Man": February 1976, Stellar-2

Foundation's Edge: June 1982

The Robots of Dawn: October 1983

Robots and Empire: September 1985

Foundation and Earth: October 1986

"Robot Dreams": November 1986, Robot Dreams

Robot City: Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell: July 1987

Robot City: Suspicion by Mike McQuay: September 1987

Robot City: Cyborg by William F. Wu: November 1987

Robot City: Prodigy by Arthur Byron Cover: January 1988

Robot City: Refuge by Rob Chilson: March 1988

Robot City: Perihelion by William F. Wu: June 1988

Prelude to Foundation: November 1988

"Christmas Without Rodney": December 1988, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Robots and Aliens: Changeling by Stephen Leigh: August 1989

"Strip Runner" by Pamela Sargent: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Trantor Falls" by Harry Turtledove: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Balance" by Mike Resnick: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"PAPPI" by Sheila Finch: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Plato's Cave" by Poul Anderson: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Foundation's Conscience" by George Zebrowski: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie" by Robert Sheckley: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"Blot" by Hal Clement: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"The Fourth Law of Robotics" by Harry Harrison: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

"The Originist" by Orson Scott Card: September 1989, Foundation's Friends

Robots and Aliens: Renegade by Cordell Scotten: November 1989

"Too Bad!": November 1989, The Microverse

"Cal": 1990, Cal

Robots and Aliens: Intruder by Robert Thurston: February 1990

Robots and Aliens: Alliance by Jerry Oltion: May 1990

Robots and Aliens: Maverick by Bruce Bethke: August 1990

Robots and Aliens: Humanity by Jerry Oltion: November 1990

"Kid Brother": Mid-December 1990, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

"Forward the Foundation/Eto Demerzel": November 1991, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

"Cleon the Emperor/Cleon I": April 1992, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Caliban by Roger MacBride Allen: March 1993

"The Consort/Dors Venabili": April 1993, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

"Wanda Seldon": April 1993, Forward the Foundation

"Epilogue": April 1993, Forward the Foundation

Robots in Time: Predator by William F. Wu: April 1993

Robots in Time: Marauder by William F. Wu: July 1993

The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg: September 1993

Robots in Time: Warrior by William F. Wu: October 1993

Robots in Time: Dictator by William F. Wu: February 1994

Robots in Time: Emperor by William F. Wu: June 1994

Robots in Time: Invader by William F. Wu: September 1994

Inferno by Roger MacBride Allen: October 1994

Utopia by Roger MacBride Allen: November 1996

Foundation's Fear by Gregory Benford: February 1997

Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear: February 1998

Foundation's Triumph by David Brin: May 1999

Mirage by Mark W. Tiedemann: April 2000

Chimera by Mark W. Tiedemann: April 2001

Aurora by Mark W. Tiedemann: April 2002

Have Robot, Will Travel by Alexander C. Irvine: May 2005

I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert: November 2011

I, Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert: September 2013

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Insanely Complete Robot/Foundation Fiction List

As I've noted before, my major claim to fame on the internet is a list of all the stories in Isaac Asimov's positronic robot/Foundation timeline (both by Asimov himself and by other writers) that I first posted on Usenet back in 1998, and which was picked up by Ed Seiler for his Isaac Asimov Home Page. Oddly, though, I've never posted the list here on my own blog. Until now.

The impetus for this monumental undertaking is twofold: first, an email from an Asimov fan named Jim Syler asking about the date of "Satisfaction Guaranteed", and second, the recent publication of the first of Mickey Zucker Reichert's trio of novels featuring a young Susan Calvin, I Robot: To Protect.

Including Reichert's novel in the list, though, presents me with a bit of a problem, and I'd like to talk about it. Back when Asimov collected his robot stories in I, Robot in 1950, he set the stories very specifically in the years 1998 through 2052. He also established Susan Calvin's birth in the year 1982. Those would have seemed like safely distant future dates back in 1950, but the passing years have caught up with I, Robot, as they eventually do to all science fiction stories set in the future. The earliest of the stories, "Robbie", is now set in a 1998 that never was, and the 26-year-old Susan Calvin that Reichert is writing about would be living four years ago. When Reichert was faced with this problem, she decided (wisely I think) to push Calvin's birth forward twenty-seven years to 2009, and set the story in the year 2035.

So, how do I fit in Reichert's born-in-2009-Calvin novels into my list with the original born-in-1982-Calvin stories by Asimov himself? I've decided to place I, Robot: To Protect in 2008, which is where it would have gone if Reichert had kept to Asimov's original timeline, and note parenthetically that the novel sets itself in 2035. It's an imperfect solution, but the best I can come up with. And since the story "Satisfaction Guaranteed" has a similar dating problem, I'll do the same with it.

So, with all that out of the way, here is my current version of the Insanely Complete Robot/Foundation Fiction List, consisting of the date, the story title, and (where necessary), which Asimov collection it can be found in. Following Ed Seiler's lead, works in black are by Asimov himself; works in blue are by other writers with the approval of the Asimov Estate, and works in red are by other writers but are not necessarily canonical:

1995 - "A Boy's Best Friend" (The Complete Robot)
1998 - "Robbie" (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2004 - "Robot AL-76 Goes Astray" (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot)
2008 (2035) - I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert
2009 (2036) - I, Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert 
2010 - “Insert Knob A in Hole B” (Nightfall and Other Stories)
2015 - “Runaround” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2015 - “Reason” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2016 - “Catch That Rabbit” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot)
2021 - “Liar!” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2023 (1995) - “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot; Earth Is Room Enough)
2024 - “Balance” by Mike Resnick (Foundation’s Friends)
2026 - “Blot” by Hal Clement (Foundation’s Friends)
2029 - “Little Lost Robot” (I, Robot)
2031 - “Cal” (Gold)
2032 - “Evidence” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2032 - “PAPPI” by Sheila Finch (Foundation’s Friends)
2032 - “Lenny” (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2033 - “Risk” (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot)
2033 - “Escape!” (I, Robot)
2034 - “Galley Slave” (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2035 - “First Law” (The Rest of the Robots; The Complete Robot)
2036 - “Plato’s Cave” by Poul Anderson (Foundation’s Friends)
2052 - “The Evitable Conflict” (I, Robot; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
2055 - “Robot Dreams” (Robot Dreams)
2058 - I, Robot
2063 - “Feminine Intuition” (The Complete Robot; Robot Visions; The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories)
2065 - “The Fourth Law of Robotics” by Harry Harrison (Foundation’s Friends)
2090 - “Christmas Without Rodney” (Robot Visions)
2120 - “Kid Brother” (Gold)
2140 Robots in Time by William F. Wu (six volumes)
1. Predator
2. Marauder
3. Warrior
4. Dictator
5. Emperor
6. Invader

2150 - “Light Verse” (Buy Jupiter and Other Stories; The Complete Robot; Robot Dreams)
2170 - “Too Bad!” (Robot Visions)
2180 - “That Thou Art Mindful of Him” (The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories; The Complete Robot)
2200 - “Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie” by Robert Sheckley (Foundation’s Friends) 
2160-2360 - The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
2425 -“Mother Earth” (The Early Asimov)
3421 - The Caves of Steel
3422 - The Naked Sun
3423 - “Mirror Image” (The Best of Isaac Asimov; The Complete Robot; Robot Visions)
3424 - “Strip-Runner” by Pamela Sargent (Foundation’s Friends)
3424 - The Robots of Dawn 
3604 - Robot City (six volumes)
1. Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
2. Suspicion by Mike McQuay
3. Cyborg by William F. Wu
4. Prodigy by Arthur Byron Cover
5. Refuge by Rob Chilson
6. Perihelion by William F. Wu
3605 - Robots and Aliens (six volumes)
1. Changeling by Stephen Leigh
2. Renegade by Cordell Scotten
3. Intruder by Robert Thurston
4. Alliance by Jerry Oltion
5. Maverick by Bruce Bethke
6. Humanity by Jerry Oltion
3616 - Mirage by Mark W. Tiedemann
3617 - Chimera by Mark W. Tiedemann

3618 - Aurora by Mark W. Tiedemann
3623 - Have Robot, Will Travel by Alexander C. Irvine
3624 - Robots and Empire
3730 - Caliban by Roger MacBride Allen
3731 - Inferno by Roger MacBride Allen
3736 - Utopia by Roger MacBride Allen

 4850 - The Stars, Like Dust
11129 - The Currents of Space
827 GE (12411 ) - Pebble in the Sky
977-978 GE - “Blind Alley” (The Early Asimov)
12020 GE - Prelude to Foundation
12028 GE - “Eto Demerzel” (Forward the Foundation)
12028 GE - Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford
12038 GE - “Cleon I” (Forward the Foundation)
12048 GE - “Dors Venabili” (Forward the Foundation)
12058 GE - “Wanda Seldon” (Forward the Foundation)
12067 GE - Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear
12067 GE - “The Psychohistorians” (Foundation)
12068 GE - Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin
12069 GE - Epilogue (Forward the Foundation)
12067-12070 GE - “The Originist” by Orson Scott Card (Foundation’s Friends)
 49-50 FE (12117-12118 GE) - “The Encyclopedists” (Foundation)
79-80 FE (12147-12148 GE) - “The Mayors” (Foundation)
134 FE (12202 GE) - “The Traders” (Foundation)
154-160 FE (12222-12228 GE) - “The Merchant Princes” (Foundation)
195-196 FE (12263-12264 GE) - “The General” (Foundation and Empire)
270 FE (12338 GE) - “Trantor Falls” by Harry Turtledove (Foundation’s Friends)
310-311 FE (12378-12379 GE) - “The Mule” (Foundation and Empire)
316 FE (12384 GE) - “Search by the Mule” (Second Foundation)
376-377 FE (12444-12445 GE) - “Search by the Foundation” (Second Foundation)
498 FE (12566 GE) - Foundation’s Edge
498 FE (12566 GE) - Foundation and Earth
1056 FE (13124 GE) - “Foundation’s Conscience” by George Zebrowski (Foundation’s Friends)
1302 FE (13370 GE) - “No Connections” by Randall Garrett (The Best of Randall Garrett; Takeoff [both are Randall Garrett collections])

Now, not all of the dates listed above are what you might call canonical. Some of them are, but some are just wild-ass guesses on my part. Here's where they all came from:

“A Boy’s Best Friend”: Given the speed with which space is being explored and settled, a date of 1980 for the establishment of Lunar City seems reasonable. Assuming Anderson Senior was one of the original settlers, that places the story in 1995.

“Robbie”: Stated in I, Robot.

“Robot AL-76 Goes Astray”: After robots are banned from Earth in 2003-2007, before Susan Calvin joins US Robots in 2008.

“Insert Knob A in Hole B”: Before the use of robots on space stations, hence before “Reason”.

I Robot: To Protect: As stated in the novel, 2035. Based on Susan Calvin's age, given her birth in 1982, the story should take place in 2008.

I Robot: To Obey: As stated in the novel, 2036. Based on Susan Calvin's age, given her birth in 1982, the story should take place in 2009.

“Runaround”: Stated in I, Robot.

“Reason”: Six months after “Runaround”.

“Catch That Rabbit”: Six months after “Reason”.

“Liar!”: Stated in I, Robot.

“Satisfaction Guaranteed”: As stated in the story, takes place fifty years after World War II, i.e. in 1995. However, the characters have the same titles as in “Liar!”, and Susan Calvin is more knowledgable about emotions, so the story takes place after "Liar!". Also, Tony has more advanced vision than Dave in "Catch That Rabbit!"

“Balance”: Susan Calvin’s robotic servants flatter her in a manner similar to Herbie from “Liar!”, but she seems much more at ease with the idea, which places the story after “Liar!”

“Blot”: Story of the first exploratory mission to Miranda. Given a mission to Mars in 1998, a first expedition to Mercury in 2005, and bases on Titan in 2025, a mission to Uranus in 2026 seems reasonable.

“Little Lost Robot”: Stated in I, Robot.

“Cal”: Cal seems to be the prototype for the EZ robots of “Galley Slave”, so allowing a few years for the design and production of the latter places the story in 2031.

“Lenny”: Peter Bogart is now Senior Mathematician, so the story comes between “Little Lost Robot” and "Risk".

“Evidence”: Stated in I, Robot.

“PAPPI”: Immediately after “Evidence”.

“Risk”: Takes place ‘some years’ after “Little Lost Robot”.

“Escape”: Within a few months of “Risk”. (In I, Robot, "Escape" comes immediately after "Little Lost Robot", but logically, ought to come after "Risk".)

“Galley Slave”: Stated in the story.

“First Law”: Stated in the story.

“Plato’s Cave”: Shortly before Stephen Byerly becomes Regional Coordinator.

“The Evitable Conflict”: Stated in I, Robot.

“Robot Dreams”: Late in Susan Calvin’s career with US Robots.

I, Robot: The links between the stories are set fifty years after Susan Calvin joins US Robots in 2008.

“Feminine Intuition”: Five years after Susan Calvin retires from US Robots in 2058.

“The Fourth Law of Robotics”: Susan Calvin’s great-niece has her job.

“Christmas Without Rodney”: Slighting reference to the 20th century suggests the story takes place in the 21st. Common use of robot servants suggests the latter part of the century, when the Frankenstein Complex has faded away.

“Kid Brother”: Acceptance of household robots on Earth dates the story to the same general era as “Christmas Without Rodney” and “Light Verse”.

Robots in Time: Stated in volume 1, Predator.

“Light Verse”: Features a robot that is capable of original artistic expression (as was Andrew Martin), at a time when robot servants are accepted (as was Andrew Martin). These both suggest that the story takes place near the beginning of The Positronic Man.

“Too Bad!”: Sometime in the 22nd century, before the creation of the simplified robots in “That Thou Art Mindful of Him”.

“That Thou Art Mindful of Him”: Takes place about two hundred years after US Robots is founded (i.e. circa 2182). Mentions that the Machines phased themselves out of existence a hundred years earlier (circa 2082).

“Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie”: The combination of interstellar exploration and robots places this story at the time of the settlement of the Spacer worlds.

The Positronic Man: Andrew Martin is about a hundred years old “nearly two centuries” after Susan Calvin’s death in 2064.

“Mother Earth”: Takes place at the end of “the first few centuries of interstellar travel” when the Outer Worlds “were controlled, politically and economically, by Earth.” (quotations from The Caves of Steel, Chapter 5).

The Caves of Steel: Takes place a thousand years after emigration to the Outer Worlds ends. It also takes place 19 years after Elijah Baley first meets Jessie Navodny “back in ’02.”

The Naked Sun: Takes place one year after The Caves of Steel.

“Mirror Image”: Takes place one year before The Robots of Dawn i.e. one year after The Naked Sun.

“Strip-Runner”: Takes place after Elijah Baley starts his Outside group, but shortly before The Robots of Dawn (since the events in that novel aren’t mentioned in the story).

The Robots of Dawn: Takes place two years after The Naked Sun.

Robot City: Takes place about twenty years before Robots and Empire (Han Fastolfe is still alive, and the number of Settler worlds is smaller than in RaE).

Robots and Aliens: Takes place one year after Robot City.

Mirage: Features older versions of characters from the Robot City series, but takes place before the disappearance of the Solarians in Robots and Empire.

Chimera: Takes place one year after Mirage.

Aurora: Takes place one year after Chimera.

Have Robot, Will Travel: Takes place five years after Aurora.

Robots and Empire: Takes place two hundred years after The Robots of Dawn.

Caliban: Takes place a century after the Solarians vanish.

Inferno: Takes place one year after Caliban.

Utopia: Takes place five years after Inferno.

The Stars, Like Dust: Takes place a thousand years after Earth suffers nuclear bombardment (perhaps in an attack by the more conservative Spacer worlds).

The Currents of Space: Takes place five centuries before the founding of the Galactic Empire. (Note: Foundation’s Edge takes place about 22,000 years after interstellar travel begins, i.e. 24,000 CE. This is 12,566 years after the founding of the Galactic Empire, which sets the Empire’s foundation around the year 11,500. For no good reason, I’ve chosen 11,585 CE for the year 1 GE.)

Pebble in the Sky: Stated in the novel.

“Blind Alley”: Stated in the story.

Prelude to Foundation: Stated in the novel.

“Eto Demerzel”: Eight years after Prelude to Foundaton.

Foundation’s Fear: Shortly after “Eto Demerzel”.

“Cleon I”: Ten years after “Eto Demerzel”.

“Dors Venabili”: Ten years after “Cleon I”.

“Wanda Seldon”: Ten years after “Dors Venabili”.

Foundation and Chaos: Same time as “The Psychohistorians”.

“The Psychohistorians”: Takes place two years before Hari Seldon’s death in 12,069 GE.

Foundation’s Triumph: Takes place after “The Psychohistorians”.

“Epilogue”: Hari Seldon’s death.

“The Originist”: Begins shortly after Hari Seldon’s trial, ends several months after Seldon’s death.

“The Encyclopedists”:Takes place 50 years after the Foundation is established in 12,068 GE.

“The Mayors”: Takes place 30 years after “The Encyclopedists”.

“The Traders”: Takes place “two decades” before “The Merchant Princes”.

“The Merchant Princes”: Begins “almost 75 years” after “The Mayors”, ends six years later.

“The General”: Begins “over 40 years” after Hober Mallow’s meeting with Onum Barr in “The Merchant Princes”.

“Trantor Falls”:Takes place forty years before “The Mule”.

“The Mule”: Takes place 17 years after Han Pritcher joins the Army in 293 FE.

“Search by the Mule”: Takes place five years after the end of “The Mule”.

“Search by the Foundation”: Stated in the story.

Foundation’s Edge: Stated in the novel.

Foundation and Earth: Takes place immediately following Foundation’s Edge.

“Foundation’s Conscience”: Stated in the story.

“No Connections”: Takes place sometime after the establishment of the Second Empire.

(And now . . . the same list re-arranged in publication order.)