Who turned out the lights? When fun mysteries get darker.

Welcome to my blog! Today I have Sally Carpenter talking about the dark turn mysteries have taken.

Here’s Sally!

Has anyone noticed that TV mysteries have gotten darker these days?

In the 1970s, TV screens were full of what I call “personality” cops. The hero was a unique, quirky, likeable cop or PI with gimmicks and a catch phrase. We had a fat cop (Cannon), a blind insurance investigator (Longstreet), a Texas marshal (McCloud), a guy with a parrot (Baretta), a bald cop with a lollypop (Kojak), a shabby cop (Columbo), hip cops (Mod Squad) and even kid sleuths (Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew).

These do-gooders mostly worked alone, sometimes with an unremarkable sidekick. Police procedures be damned, these guys and gals ignored the rules and did as they pleased. We knew the good guys from the baddies. The heroes were honest, law abiding and moral. The shows were colorful, brightly lit, lightweight and entertaining.

If someone got shot, maybe a drop or two of blood appeared. Corpses looked mighty healthy. If the good guy was shot or injured, he kept going. After a 10-minute fistfight, the good guy had only a small bruise or cut and never broke into a sweat.

Sure, the shows were not realistic but nobody watched the programs for their educational value.

So what happened?

In recent years TV crime shows have grown darker. The lighting toned down, leaving the visuals muddy and indistinguishable at times. Interiors are drabber. Camera shots are tighter and more claustrophobic.

The stories are grimmer. Tales of rape, incest and gruesome killings are common. Corpses are discolored and gory.

The “heroes” are pot framers, serial killers, mobsters or Norman Bates. Rather than one standout star, the cast is comprised of several bland, interchangeable characters. The emphasis is on forensic science and police procedures.

I’ve followed “Castle” from the pilot episode. In the first seasons the show was funny and clever with a touch of romance. The police and forensics work was often laughable (and not in a good way) but fans loved the show for the clever banter and character interactions.

Then stories grew more intense and serious. The female lead, Kate Beckett, was full of angst and mental turmoil. The male and female leads, obviously in love, pulled away from each other. The title character, Castle, moved into the background. The goofy storylines and the humor disappeared. Fans complained that the show wasn’t “fun” anymore. 

So what happened?

I’m not involved with the TV industry, so I can only speculate. Possibly today’s shows reflect the pessimism of a society rocked by Beatlemaniac FC_SMALLclimate change, the recession, terrorism, changes in the traditional family and real-life crime. 

Among mystery writers there’s the unspoken law that noir, thrillers and hardboiled stories are seen as more “literary” than cozies. Comedy is fluff whereas drama wins Emmy Awards. Maybe dark shows appeal to a more “highbrow” market.

“Personality” cops were one-note characters that never changed. Viewers turned in each week knowing the hero would be the same as he was the week before. The familiarity was comforting. In one night the viewer saw a complete story with the baddie caught and loose ends tied up.

The current rule is that characters must evolve. Story arcs are unresolved for a season or longer. Sometimes major questions are not addressed until the series finale. The viewer who occasionally dips in will be lost among the maze of story threads.

The ongoing story arc is a good way to keep viewers engaged for the long run, but the audience can get frustrated with an endless number of secrets and cliffhangers. Something in the human nature craves closure. Many “Castle” fans grew weary of a certain plot thread that was stretched out far beyond the viewers’ breaking point.

Granted, in real life people change and mature as their circumstances change. But TV shows are not reality. Viewers turn on the TV to escape and relax. Their heroes are “comfort viewing.” Fans turn in to see Richard Castle and Kate Beckett fall in love and solve cases together. Anything less will not do.

TV series writers tread a fine line. If the characters remain the same week after week, the show can get boring and repetitive. Story ideas become more limited. But if the characters change too much, the show will lose those elements that attracted viewers in the first place.

Many viewers enjoy the grittier shows but my complaint is that currently, “dark” is the only option. Lighten up, will you?

What about you? Do you like the “dark” mystery/crime shows or would you prefer something brighter?

About Sally: Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif.

Sally's Mug Shot_SMALLShe has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award. “Star Collector” was produced in New York City and also the inspiration for her book series.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

Her first book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. Cozy Cat Press will soon released the second book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.”

Her short story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” is published in the anthology, “Last Exit to Murder.”

“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” is in the “Plan B: Vol. 2” e-book anthology.

She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. She’s “mom” to two black cats. Contact her at Facebook or scwriter@earthlink.net. She blogs at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com.

Cindy here again.

Thanks for being here today, Sally! I agree television has gotten darker. I still love Castle, though I did think they drew out the who killed Beckett’s mom too long.

Until next time…




Stand Up and Do Something

Welcome back to my blog! Today I have Randall Allen Dunn talking about his book The Red rider.

Here’s Randall!

Sooner or later, we all must fight monsters. We are forced to confront and conquer our personal fears, flaws and failures, before they conquer us.

As a Christian, I believe God helps us in our weaknesses. With guidance, strength of resolve and supernatural power. But we must choose to cooperate with him, on his terms, in order to succeed.

This causes a dilemma for Helena Basque, the teenage heroine of my novel, The Red Rider. As a child, she was known as “Red Riding Hood” for the red cloak she always wore. Up until the day she faced a giant wolf killed her Grand’Mere. Helena survived with triple scars across her face and endless nightmares of a wolf standing on its hind legs and speaking threats.

When similar wolves attack her family and neighbors, Helena realizes they threaten everyone in her province. She then shoves her fears aside, determined to fight them or die trying.

After the first wolf attack, her parents forbid her to wear her red cloak again. With a new resolve, Helena dons a red hooded cloak and arms herself with a repeating crossbow to hunt the wolves down.

This doesn’t sit well with her priest, Father Vestille, after he learns the wolves are actually human beings who transform into monsters to attack their victims. They both question whether it is right in God’s eyes to murder these men. But Helena is convinced of her duty. She must embrace her faith and courage to overcome her doubts, even as her appearance and behavior make her a social outcast. She must persevere in her quest to free the province from the monsters that threaten it, whatever the personal cost.

She relies on the advice of her hero, Francois Revelier, the woodcutter who saved her from the first wolf:

“You know what a hero is, Helena? A hero doesn’t have to be big or strong or smart. He just has to stand up to do what’s got to be done. People might not understand what you’re doin’ or why you’re doin’ it. But it’s still got to be done, whether they understand it or not. A hero’s somebody who stands up to do it when nobody else will. You gotta stand up and do something, or nobody’s ever gonna get helped.”

We must commit to destroying our private demons. All fears, flaws, failures and doubts. Even if we risk our reputation to do it. Others depend on us to be the best people we can be, so we must rid ourselves of every monster that tears us down, through faith, courage and determination. Follow Helena’s example to conquer your own monsters, so you can find true freedom and peace, free of fear.

Stand up and do something.

RED RIDER on Amazon – It’s free today (October 15):

RED RIDER Landing Page:

RED RIDER Pinterest Board:

Cindy here again.

Thanks for being here Randall. Sounds like an interesting book!

Until next time…



What are you thankful for?

Photo purchased through Depositphotos

Photo purchased through Depositphotos

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love this time of year. Thanksgiving is a family time. A time to examine our lives and reflect on what we’re thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, my friends, my cats, my (relatively) good health. Though I would love to be a full time writer I’m thankful for my day job. I’m thankful for my readers. I’m thankful that my parents just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. They’ve had good times and bad times over the years but they stuck together and have a marriage I hope my fiancé and I will have.

Even though Thanksgiving is today we did our dinner yesterday. Loved seeing my family and eating great food. I’m still stuffed. 🙂 I’ll be watching what I eat for the next little while so I can dig into my niece’s Hallowe’en stash. She’s almost six but she doesn’t eat all of her candy. Her parents end up throwing most of it away. She just likes to go trick-or-treating. 🙂

What are you thankful for?

Until next time…


Sleep apnea, Hallowe’en reads and an update

It’s been a while since I posted on my own blog. 🙂 I’ve had a lot of guest posts recently and those will continue every so often but I found I’ve missed blogging here.  I blog regularly over at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. I’ll start posting a schedule here so you can check out my posts over there. Today I’m there blogging about the importance of sleep. Check it out: How well do you sleep?

Hallowe’en Reads

halloweenreadsLooking for something spooky to read for Hallowe’en? Romance Junkies has put together a list of Hallowe’en reads. Check out their list (my short story Reflections is included) by clicking on the picture.

There are lots of great looking books there.










I’m working away on Almost Normal. It needs to be delivered to my editor by the beginning of December. And I’m working on a novella for an erotica box set as my pen name. That’s due October 3st. So while I will be blogging here again it might be infrequent for now until I can get these projects off my plate. I will still be blogging at least twice a month over at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. We have a great bunch of writers there with interesting posts. You should check it out. http://writingwranglersandwarriors.wordpress.com

I will hopefully have a lot more updates soon. If I can find the time I’ll be switching the blog over to a Hallowe’en theme after Thanksgiving. Oh and I’m testing the post scheduling function on the blog. I’ve been having troubles with it lately. If it works this should go live at 8:00 am Wednesday morning. Fingers crossed. *edit – My fix did not work so I’ll have to think of something else.

[wysija_form id=”3″]


Until next time…



What is a Gunsel?

Welcome back to my blog? Today I have Jim Cort talking about gunsels.

Here’s Jim!

A gunsel is a hoodlum who carries a gun: a hit man, a torpedo, a button man. That’s what the word has come to mean, but it didn’t always mean that.

When Joseph Shaw became editor of Black Mask magazine in 1926, he envisioned a tough, uncompromising, more realistic style for the detective stories the magazine published—an American style. He began assembling a stable of writers who could give him what he wanted. Early on he uncovered a gold mine: Dashiell Hammett.

British story paper Thriller 1930 - Public Domain

British story paper Thriller 1930 – Public Domain

Hammett had been a detective himself and knew what he was talking about. His stories were spare, tough, fast-paced and authentic.  But authenticity became a small bone of contention between the two men. Hammett wanted his characters to talk as he knew they really talked. Shaw, a gentleman of the old school, was wary of rank language and removed it wherever it appeared. Hammett tried to slip the occasional offending word or phrase past him, but rarely succeeded.

This brings us to 1929, and the serialization of The Maltese Falcon in Black Mask. Two prominent characters in The Maltese Falcon are Casper Gutman, the overweight leader of the criminal gang, and his baby-faced killer, Wilmer Cook. At one point in the story, Our Hero, Sam Spade, calls Wilmer a gunsel. Shaw saw the word, saw that it contained the word “gun,” and assumed the word meant “gunman” or “killer”, which, in fact is what Wilmer was.

And nowadays that’s what it means.

But in 1929 gunsel meant something quite different. It was a hobo term derived from the Yiddish gonzel, “little goose”. It referred to a teenage boy who traveled with an older man. The implication was that both of them were homosexual. Coming from Spade this would be the vilest of insults.

But Joe Shaw thought it meant “gunman.” Other Black Mask writers adopted the word, and pretty soon everybody thought it meant “gunman”.

And so, of course, it does.

Jim Cort has been writing since anyone can remember. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106

Cindy here again!

Great post, Jim. Fascinating how the meanings of words get changed.

Until next time…



Create Your Own World

Welcome to my blog! Today I have Marti Colvin talking about creating your own world.

Here’s Marti!

News got you down? Kids misbehaving? Gas prices going through the roof? Is dental work in your near future? No problem pal, just ESCAPE. That’s right, why spend every minute of every day dealing with your problems when you can leave and visit a world of your choosing, and watch someone else deal with his or her problems.

If you are a writer, you get to live elsewhere most of the time as you plot and write, dropping back into the world to pay the bills and pick up the kids from school. If you are a reader you can visit your other world(s) as often as you like. In fact, as a reader, you can reside in many different realities.

I almost always keep two or three partially read books of various genres in strategic rooms throughout the house. Yes, of course, the bathroom is at the top of the list, followed by the bedroom and any table with a lamp near a couch or chair. It only takes a few seconds of reading to re-engage with the story when I sit down, whether it’s a portal type of sci-fi/fantasy book where the character is suddenly thrust into a strange world a la Alice in Wonderland, or the type that begins the story in another place or time from page one. A lot of the books I read are mystery and adventure stories, the same genre in which I prefer to write.

What separates a “good read” from a “ho hum” book for me is to what extent the author successfully catapults me out of the here-today and into the elsewhere-other. I have quite enough of my own family multi-generational drama to last, well, a lifetime and I hear plenty of current politics, crime and tragedy from the evening news. This is, after all, where I live.

What I seek in a book is the opportunity to go, for however brief a time, to somewhere I don’t live, at some time I don’t occupy, and with interesting characters, not necessarily people. Dragons are good. Often the very same angst and pain exists in the book world that is in my everyday world, but because of the setting they are more interesting. Another terrific advantage, at least in a mystery story, is that the crime is always solved and the mysteries neatly resolved by the end of the book, unlike real life.

A good writer can place you completely in the action, action that you might not really want to see in real life, but that is delicious in a book. The house perched beside a remote lake, the ghost in the hallway, the special agent who takes you with him on a mission, the glowing UFO in the sky – wait, is it coming toward you? For a few minutes or a few hours you are right there, with the characters. Most importantly, you are not here.

A brief foray away from the here and now can refresh your mind and spirit, and perhaps you will see things a little differently when you return. If an author paints a reality that you very much enjoy visiting, you can hope that there is a series of that storyline. If so, you can go for an extended stay with now familiar characters, time and place. Have a good trip!

About Marti:

Marti Colvin, writing as I.C. Enger, lives and writes in the Seattle area with her husband Randy and their cat Charles. Her first book, Blue ICE, was published in July 2012. Green ICE  is the second of a series of  Lake House Mysteries that are set along the Washington/Canadian border and involve Homeland Security Special Agent Jack Strickland and out-of-work Seattle city planner Brooke Breckenridge. The third book, Black ICE, will be released in the summer of 2014.

Green Ice Cover



In Green ICE Brooke, special agent Jack Strickland and a Native American shadow wolf, Ed Red Wind, are plunged into their most complex mystery yet. Brooke is busy working for Makkapitew County in the Planning Division when she learns that development can be deadly.

Marti is a member of Sisters in Crime and Public Safety Writers Association. Please visit her website: www.thelakehousemysteries.com





Cindy here again!

Great post, Marti! This makes me want to go read.

Until next time…



Top ten horror movies – black and white

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the blog. Today I have Jim Cort talking about his favourite black and white horror movies.

Here’s Jim!

A while back we were treated to a list of 10 best horror movies. The movies were all excellent choices, but none of them was in black and white.

I frequently use movies in my writing classes to illustrate some point of dialogue or characterization. My students always make fun of me because I never showed a movie more recent than 1960. I plead guilty: I love old movies, and for my money, black and white is where scary lives.

Here’s my list:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) This is a story told by a madman, and everything about it is off kilter, skewed, unwholesome. Nothing seems real; nothing looks real, but people die just the same. At the heart of it all is the Doctor and Cesare, the murderous somnambulist. Or are they? “Du musst Caligari werden!”

2. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) This movie is all atmosphere and the towering performance of Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Like the best horror films, this movie likes to mess with your head. When the Phantom is not on screen, you still know he is there. There is no moment in the history of film more shocking than the unmasking scene.

3. The Mummy (1932) The power of this movie lies in the love story. The performance of Boris Karloff–tender, pitiable, aloof, mysterious, menacing, is enthralling. Everyone else is in his shadow, but worth special mention is Zita Johann, an exotic and ethereal presence as Karloff’s love interest.

Picture 1932 Halperin Productions - from the public domain movie White Zombie

Picture 1932 Halperin Productions – from the public domain movie White Zombie

4. White Zombie (1932) The zombies here are “real” zombies, not the brain-eating stumblebums we have today. It brings home the real horror of the zombie. When Our Hero and Heroine encounter a mob of these jolly fellows at their work on a country road in the dark of night, their coachman whips up the horses and the coach bolts forward and away down the road. Our Hero berates the coachman for such a dangerous stunt, “We could have been killed”. The coachman replies, “Worse that that, M’sieu, we might have been caught.” This was Bela Lugosi’s favorite of his movies, and he is brilliant in it.

5. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) Once again, we have “real” zombies, chilling, menacing, even when they do nothing. One of the superb collaborations between Val Lewton and Jacques Touneur—this one a reworking of, of all things, Jane Eyre. Their philosophy was “Less is More”. What scares you in this movie, and in all the movies I’m mentioning, is what might happen.

6. The Uninvited (1944) One of the few ghost movies of the 1940’s where the ghosts are real, and maybe the only one in which they are malevolent. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times, and when the ghost finally does appear, I still get a chill down my spine.

7. Them! (1954) The best of the big bug movies, thankfully free of the there-are-things-man-should-not-meddle-in sermonizing. The story is told like a mystery, which adds considerably to its impact. And when the big bugs do show up, they look pretty good. Not CGI-quality, but pretty good. We need to remind ourselves that in monster movies, the monster is the least important element.

8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) a fine example of 1950’s paranoia. The movie becomes more and more claustrophobic as we realize that anyone could be one of Them. It is so well done, and the actors so skilled, that we gloss over some fundamental questions about how the snatching actually works. The important thing is that it does work, and it could happen to you.

9. Night of the Demon (Curse of the Demon) (1957) Based on a classic story by M.R. James, this is another tour de force by director Jacques Touneur. The movie is about black magic and an unbeliever who is forced to believe. The movie tells us in no uncertain terms black magic is real; the devil is real, and he can get at you if he wants. What could be scarier than that?

10. The Haunting (1963) An unforgettable take on the classic haunted house story in which the house itself is the evil presence. Graced with an impeccable cast, the relationships, the atmosphere, the suspense, the feeling of brooding menace combine to make this film an unsettling experience. All of these elements, by the way, are completely absent from the execrable 1999 remake.

There’s my list. Like I said, black and white is where scary lives.

Jim Cort has been writing since just after the earth’s crust cooled. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106

Cindy here again.

Great list, Jim. I haven’t seen those zombie movies. I will have to check them out. I love the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That movie was super scary.

Until next time…



Let’s talk suspense

Welcome back to the blog! Today I have Karen Blake-Hall talking about what gives her that adrenaline rush when it comes to suspense.

Here’s Karen!

What causes you to keep reading long into the night? When you go to the movies, what causes you to grab the arm of the person sitting next to you? Hopefully it’s the person you went with but in my case not necessarily.  🙂

Adrenaline rush.

We define it as suspense and/or horror but it’s the rush we love to feel. It’s different with each of us but it causes us to suck in our breath, scream out loud, look away and jump in our seats. It’s what we laugh about and talk about after the show with our friends.

I love moves that take my breath away. I know the bad guy will get caught but still I’m on the roller coaster ride with them throughout the movie.

So where did I develop my need for this rush of adrenaline? It’s very simple – old  TV shows. As a kid I watched all the Alfred Hitchock Presents shows. Then I graduated to his movies on late night TV. To this day, when I see a flock of birds sitting on a hydro wire, I get creeped out.

Rear Window is my most favourite movie of all time.  I still jump in places even though I know what is coming. I still cry out “Be careful, watch out”, even though I know it won’t make a difference to the outcome.

In my opinion, that is great story telling. When you can live the story over and over again and you don’t get tired of it.

Another favourite show I watched as a kid was Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. I was terrified and mesmerized at the same time and no matter how many times I said I wasn’t going to watch it, I was glued to the TV at the same time every week, getting my adrenaline rush.

I’ve told you mine, now tell me what causes your adrenaline rush.

Karen is one of sixteen authors with stories in Nefarious North.

NN cover13 Final 300


Buy Nefarious North on Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1e9PQAY
Buy on Amazon.ca: http://amzn.to/1edPLwk


Karen Blake-Hall’s sharp-bladed fiction cuts to the heart of the emotions driving her characters in desperate situations.  Her first short story ‘The Hunter’ was featured in The Whole-She Bang.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Toronto Romance Writers, Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter. Please visit her website: karenblake-hall.com



Cindy here again.

Great post, Karen. I loved watching Twilight Zone too. And I love horror movies!

Until next time…



Top 10 horror movie villains – Part 2

Welcome back to the blog. Jeffrey Charles returns with part two of his top ten horror movie villains.

Here’s Jeffrey!

Hello again and welcome to part two of my favourite horror movie villains. When I last left off I had ranked Pinhead, The Thing, Dracula and Leatherface from 10 to 7 to start the top 10. In this next section I will go through 6, 5, and 4. So dim the lights and enjoy!

6)   Chucky – Child’s Play/Bride of Chucky/Seed of Chucky. The 1980’s were an interesting time for horror movies. The slasher flick was shifting from brutal terror to campy predictability. Everything seemed to involve a monstrous villain that could crush a victim with ease.

But among all sorts of towering brutes stood a terrifying little doll named Chucky. Possessed by the spirit of a deranged criminal, Chucky was able to strike a chord of fear in many people’s minds. The thought of an already creepy looking 2-foot-tall doll coming to life and going on a murderous rampage is just freaky.

From his hideously evil laughter to the pitter patter of his little doll feet running around in the dark sends shivers down all of our spines. He would play to the innocence of any poor child that owned him and used that to get away with everything he wanted. While the later installments leaned more on the dark humour instead of the pure terror elements from the originals, Chucky is still a terrifying little dude.

5)   Michael Myers – Halloween. No I’m not talking about the comedic actor despite his claims of being dead sexy. I’m referring to the towering white-faced monster of a man from John Carpenter’s incredible horror franchise.

Myers murdered one of his sisters on the night of Halloween when he was 6-years-old before being locked in a mental asylum for 15 years. Eventually he finds a way to break loose and head back to his hometown on, you guessed it, Halloween. Hunting for his other sister Michael murders everyone in his path to get to her.

Myers stands well over 6-feet-tall and usually wields a rather long butcher knife. If that (and his scary pale white mask) isn’t frightening enough for you how about his zombie-like attribute of never seeming to die. No matter how many ways it seems like Myers is finally dead he pops right back up again.

4)   Freddy Kruger – Nightmare on Elm Street. Yes, believe it or not the nightmare demon himself actually missed my top three. Granted this whole list is simply based on my opinion only but I will briefly explain why Freddy isn’t as high up as many would rank him.

While I love the franchise and still get a kick out of watching them, Freddy truly became less scary with each film. He was the first well known horror icon that didn’t terrify me when I was a child unlike his counterparts Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky, etc. The Elm Street franchise seemed to pave the way for cheesy comedy meshed into horror, giving us a load of garbage even to current day.

That being said, I thought the goofiness of Freddy when he spouted off his silly one-liners worked for the movies. Unlike almost all of films that tried to copy this formula, I found it fit the character.

Criticisms aside, the idea of Nightmare on Elm Street is absolutely horrific. A ghost/demon being that attacks and kills you through your dreams, scary! Not to mention the scarred face of Freddy and of course the famous glove with the 6-inch blades for each finger. I couldn’t let my opinion knock Freddy too far down the list!

Well that is all for now! Come back next time when I finish things off in the third and final installment. That is where I’ll reveal my top three favourite horror movie villains. Until then, sweet dreams!

Jeffrey is one of sixteen authors with stories in Nefarious North.

Buy Nefarious North on Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1e9PQAY
Buy on Amazon.ca: http://amzn.to/1edPLwk

Cindy here again!

Great list so far, Jeffrey.  Can’t wait to see the final three!

Until next time…




Welcome to my blog! Today I have Jim Cort talking about the laws of robotics.

Here’s Jim!

How many times have you read in a science fiction story or seen in an SF movie a scene where a robot comes into the room? One character, obviously the country mouse, betrays uneasiness. The robot reassures him in his mechanized voice: “Do not be alarmed.  I am incapable of harming a human.” Incapable of harming a human? Who says so?

Isaac Asimov, that’s who.

Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was one of the shapers of modern science fiction. He was a scientist first. He graduated from Columbia University in 1948, with a PhD in Chemistry and became an instructor in Biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine in 1949. He worked his way up to a tenured professorship, but all the while was pursuing a second career as a writer of science fiction.

SF had pretty much been adolescent fantasy fare since the inception of the pulp magazines in the 1920’s. The stories featured space rangers hot-rodding around the galaxy in hopped-up space ships, tough interplanetary gangsters, beautiful lady astrophysicists, and horrid bug-eyed monsters who menaced them. Those stories that featured robots usually followed the Frankenstein formula: the creation that turns on its master.

Asimov joined the growing ranks of science fiction writers who were also scientists or engineers. By the time he wrote his first story in 1938, the “space opera” model described above was being replaced by readable stories with believable characters and credible science, especially in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell.

Asimov’s stories concerning robots were collected in the book I, Robot. The portrayal of robots in these stories is far removed from the mechanical monsters of the past. Asimov brings this about in large part by introducing the Three Laws of Robotics.

The Three Laws of Robotics are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov said that editor John Campbell thought them up, and Campbell said Asimov did. The two men probably developed them together during various discussions of Asimov’s ideas. Whatever the truth may be, these laws became Holy Writ for the SF writers who followed.  The laws are so elegant; so logical; so simply stated, yet so potentially complex, that they became axiomatic for every story dealing with robots.  Writers treated them as a kind of natural law, like gravity.

three lawsThe laws are recursive, that is, they refer back on themselves in a strict hierarchy. Each law is subordinate to the law above it (with a lower number.) This is a common structure in computer programs (like the “if” clause) where an action is performed only if certain conditions are met. The flowchart shows the workings of the three laws when a robot is contemplating a certain action. The chart assumes the existence of one of the many “Fourth Laws” that writers have posited: “A robot may do as it pleases, so long as this does not conflict with the First, Second, or Third laws.”

Most of the stories in I, Robot work variations on the interaction of the three laws. In “Runaround”, we see how a conflict among the laws might be resolved. In “Liar”, the concept of harm is examined. In “Little Lost Robot”, Asimov explores what may happen if the delicate balance of the laws is upset by modification. In all of these stories, the robots are characters, not merely plot devices. (And, by the way, the 2004 movie with Will Smith has almost nothing in common with the book.)

If the Three Laws were all Asimov had done, his place in the SF Hall of Fame would be assured. But his career went from strength to strength. He continued to write stories and novels, and wrote numerous non-fiction works about science, literature, The Bible—pretty much anything that took his fancy. In the course of his career he wrote or edited over 500 books. He won eight Hugo and three Nebula awards, and one of his stories, “Nightfall,” was voted the best science-fiction story of all time by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). In 1987 he was declared a Grand Master by the SFWA. Ten years later he was inducted posthumously into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

So the next time a robot tells you it won’t harm you, you can believe it.

Cindy here again!

I saw that movie. Haven’t read the book though. I think I should see if I can find a copy.

Until next time…