Words from the Myths by Isaac Asimov

I read a lot these days, putting all my spare time into it. What I need to catch up on is my reviews. This is an interesting book I read the other day that I’d highly recommend to mythology and language buffs. I mean, look at the cover, wouldn’t you like to know where all those words came from?
I had a couple of hours to kill at the university the other day, so I wandered into the Mythology and Religion section of the library, which these days has turned into a default response to free time. A slim book caught my eye, Words from the Myths by Isaac Asimov.
The book is just what the title says, an account of Greek (and Roman) myths and the many words coined from them. The book begins at the beginning, with the first thing that ever came into existence, which the Greeks called Chaos. From the void came the deities, like Gaia (Roman Gaea) and Ouranos (Roman Uranus.) Their children were the Titans. Kronos, the most powerful Titan, revolted against and drove away Uranus. The Titans were followed by the Olympians, when Zeus tricked his father Cronus, defeated the Titans and imprisoned then. The book then retells the stories of demigods and monsters, the tales of men and heroes and lastly, the legend of the siege of Troy. It’s a simple but detailed account, nice for those not familiar with the myths and not too long to bore those who already are. 
Asimov spends a long time listing all the planets and stars named after the Greek mythical beings, but since I’m no expert in astronomy, I could only comment that I found it interesting. What I really liked were the little bits of information, from the obvious like all geo- words being derived from Gaea, to the fact that there is an atlas bone in our body, which is aptly the one our head rests on. Eos, sister of Hyperion and goddess of dawn, gave us the word ‘east.’ The Roman god of sleep was called Somnus, as in somnabulist, and his son was the god of dreams, Morpheus, as in morphine. Pan was a son of Hermes, and had hindquarters, legs, ears and horns of a goat. The Roman equivalent of Pan, the spirit of nature, was Faunus, who gave us both ‘fauna’ and ‘faun.’ Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit trees, which is where pomegranate comes from, as does Pomona Sprout!
In the chapter about the siege of Troy, which obviously was my favourite part, Asimov retold the Iliad myth, pausing to name the many phrases derived from it. I was thrilled, because the only one I ever knew was “Achilles heel.” But I did have a feeling that some of them were a bit stilted. Tell me if you’ve seen any of these used, “the apple of discord,” “to sulk like Achilles in his tent,” “I fear the Greeks, even when they come bearing gifts.” Other phrases not related to the Troy myth that Asimov mentioned included “to cut the Gordian knot” from a story of Alexander the Great, “to throw a sop to Cerberus” inspired from the three-headed dog guarding hell.
Asimov has also written the book Words from History. I can’t wait to get my hands on that! 

Teaser Tuesday #13

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Grab your current read, open to a random page and share two teaser sentences from that page!

Caves of Steel is a book by Isaac Asimov, the first book in the Robot series. The novel takes place three thousand years into the future, when humans have started living in space with their robot helpers. Basically, the Earthlings hate the Spacers, and vice versa. The main theme of the novel is a murder of a Spacer, which is investigated by a human detective, Elijah Bailey and his robot partner R. Daneel Oliver. Here is my teaser for this week, from the book:

“Most Earthmen were Medievalists in one way or another. It was an easy thing to be when it meant looking back to a time when Earth was the world and not just one of fifty. The misfit one of fifty at that.”

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I know, I know, so much for all the drama, you’ll say (see: previous post!). I guess I just can’t stay away from my (awesome) blog anymore! My blog winning under two categories in Blogjunta’s BOIB 2010, and one of my posts being selected in Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks was no help! Yay, me! But I don’t like to brag, so let me move on to the part where I tell you how the last post wasn’t all drama. Have you seen that episode of True Blood where Sam crushes the maenad’s heart in his hand? Before every exam I feel like someone’s doing that to me. Retarded, I know. But now that the exam tension is wearing off, I can gradually see all the little drops of creativity obediently return back to me.

Having one day to spare before the stress for the next, more important exam, I went back into my reading mania, for the last 24 hours! I finished reading Small Gods (from the Discworld series, of course!) and ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov. Then I went and hit my head on a wall for several minutes for being stupid enough to not have read ‘I, Robot’ before.

‘I, Robot’ is a collection of different short stories, with one connecting link: Dr. Susan Calvin. She is a robopsychologist at U.S Robots, and the novel is in the form of stories that she is narrating to a reporter. Each of the stories revolves around the interaction between man and machine and the efforts made by men to make superior robots. This is where the Three Laws of Robotics come into picture.
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; and
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Most of the stories have the same basic plot; something is not right with a particular robot, and everytime they have to fix him by taking into consideration these three laws. The book shows the evolution of robotics, from the time when there were the primitive robots who couldn’t even talk, when the world wasn’t ready for them yet, till the time when robots were used to manage interplanetary affairs! It has everything right from a robot who can read minds to a religious one who refuses to believe that there was no force higher than mere humans involved in his creation! The book also gives an insight into human nature, specially with respect to our growing dependence on technology, something all of us can relate to!

While the book is amazing to read, it falls short on the literary front. It is written in simple language, and is easy to understand. That is great, but it is too simple at times, and it makes you feel like you are reading a text book instead of a novel. There are no vivid descriptions of anything, and a bit too much is left to the imagination! As you know, my creativity was still on its way back to me, so what were probably supposed to be cool, glossy, towering, futuristic-looking robots, looked like enlarged Wall-Es in my mind’s eye! A little more use of adjectives would have helped me!

But that hardly mattered compared to the rest of the book! The stories were just plain amazing. I obviously plan on reading the entire Foundation series, but maybe later. Till then, do make it a point to read this book, if you haven’t already!

(You can also read this review here.)
(Ooh, and check this out too – while you are at it!)

P.S.- For an ‘Illustration & Design’ category blog, this sure has a lot of book reviews. Next time, I’ll write something artsy, definitely!!