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Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov in 1965
Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov
Between 4 October 1919 and 2 January 1920[1]
Petrovichi, Byelorussian SSR
Died April 6, 1992 (aged 71)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, essayist, historian, biochemist, textbook writer, humorist
Genres Science fiction (hard SF), popular science, mystery fiction, essays, literary criticism
Literary movement Golden Age of Science Fiction
Notable work(s) the Foundation Series, the Robot Series, Nightfall, The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science, I, Robot, Planets for Man

Isaac Asimov (pronounced /ˈaɪzək ˈæzɪmʌv/ EYE-zək AZ-i-muv; born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov, Russian: Исаак Юдович Озимов; c. January 2, 1920[1] – April 6, 1992), was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited about 500 books and over 9,000 letters and postcards.[2] His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (the sole exception being the 100s: philosophy and psychology).[3]

Isaac Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the "Big Three" science-fiction writers during his lifetime.[4] Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series;[5] his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson.[6] He penned numerous short stories, among them "Nightfall", which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time, an accolade that many still find persuasive. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.

The prolific Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much non-fiction. Most of his popularized science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include his Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as numerous works on astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare's works and, of course, chemistry subjects.

Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as "brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs",[7] but he also stated that the only two people he had ever met who he would admit were more intelligent than himself were Marvin Minsky and Carl Sagan.[8] He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association.[9] The asteroid 5020 Asimov, a crater on the planet Mars,[10] the magazine Asimov's Science Fiction, a Brooklyn, New York elementary school, and two Isaac Asimov literary awards are named in his honor.

Biography

Asimov was born sometime between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920[1] in Petrovichi in Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (during the Soviet times the settlement briefly belonged to Gomel guberniya of the Russian SFSR, then it was transferred to Smolensk Oblast of the RSFSR, now Russia) to Anna Rachel Berman Asimov and Judah Asimov, a Jewish family of millers. His exact date of birth is uncertain because of differences between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars and a lack of records. Asimov himself celebrated his birthday on January 2.[1] The family name derives from озимые (ozimiye), a Russian word for a winter grain in which his great-grandfather dealt, to which a patronymic suffix was added. His name was originally Isaak Ozimov (Russian: Исаак Озимов); but later in Russia was known as Ayzyek Azimov (Айзек Азимов).[11] This is a Russian Cyrillic adaptation of the American English pronunciation. Asimov had two younger siblings; a sister, Marcia (born Manya,[12] June 17, 1922), and a brother, Stanley (born July 25, 1929).

His family emigrated to the United States when he was three years old. Since his parents always spoke Yiddish and English with him, he never learned Russian.[13] Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov taught himself to read at the age of five, and remained fluent in Yiddish as well as English. His parents owned a succession of candy stores, and everyone in the family was expected to work in them.

Education and career

Asimov began reading science fiction pulp magazines at a young age. His father, as a matter of principle, forbade reading the pulps, but Asimov persuaded him that magazines with "Science" in the title were educational. Around the age of eleven, he began to write his own stories, and, by age nineteen — after he discovered science fiction fandom — he was selling stories to the science fiction magazines. John W. Campbell, then editor of Astounding Science Fiction, had a strong formative influence on Asimov and eventually became a personal friend.[14]

Asimov attended New York City Public Schools, including Boys' High School, in Brooklyn, New York. From there he went on to Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1939, eventually returning to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1948. In between, he spent three years during World War II working as a civilian at the Philadelphia Navy Yard's Naval Air Experimental Station. After the war ended, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving for just under nine months before receiving an honorable discharge. In the course of his brief military career, he rose to the rank of corporal on the basis of his typing skills, and narrowly avoided participating in the 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.

After completing his doctorate, Asimov joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine, with which he remained associated thereafter.[15] From 1958, this was in a non-teaching capacity, as he turned to writing full-time (his writing income had already exceeded his academic salary). Being tenured meant that he retained the title of associate professor, and in 1979 the university honored his writing by promoting him to full professor of biochemistry. Asimov's personal papers from 1965 onward are archived at the university's Mugar Memorial Library, to which he donated them at the request of curator Howard Gottlieb. The collection fills 464 boxes, on seventy-one metres of shelf space.

Personal life

Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman (1917, Canada–1990, Boston) on July 26, 1942. They had two children, David (b. 1951) and Robyn Joan (b. 1955). After a separation in 1970, he and Gertrude divorced in 1973, and Asimov married Janet O. Jeppson later that year.

Asimov was a claustrophile: he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces.[16] In the third volume of his autobiography, he recalls a childhood desire to own a magazine stand in a New York City Subway station, within which he could enclose himself and listen to the rumble of passing trains while reading.[17]

Asimov was afraid of flying,[18] only doing so twice in his entire life (once in the course of his work at the Naval Air Experimental Station, and once returning home from the army base in Oahu in 1946)[18] He seldom traveled great distances, partly because his aversion to flying complicated the logistics of long-distance travel. This phobia influenced several of his fiction works, such as the Wendell Urth mystery stories and the Robot novels featuring Elijah Baley. In his later years, he found he enjoyed traveling on cruise ships, and on several occasions he became part of the cruises' "entertainment," giving science-themed talks on ships such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.[18]

Asimov was an able public speaker and was a frequent fixture at science fiction conventions, where he was friendly and approachable.[18] He patiently answered tens of thousands of questions and other mail with postcards, and was pleased to give autographs. He was of medium height, stocky, with muttonchop whiskers and a distinct Brooklyn accent. His physical dexterity was very poor. He never learned to swim or ride a bicycle; however, he did learn to drive a car after he moved to Boston. In his humor book Asimov Laughs Again, he describes Boston driving as "anarchy on wheels".[19]

Asimov's wide interests included his participation in his later years in organizations devoted to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan[18] and in The Wolfe Pack,[20] a group of devotees of the Nero Wolfe mysteries written by Rex Stout. Many of his short stories mention or quote Gilbert and Sullivan.[21] He was a prominent member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the leading Sherlock Holmes society.[18] He was also a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of his fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers.[22]

In 1984, the American Humanist Association (AHA) named him the Humanist of the Year. From 1985 until his death in 1992, he served as president of the AHA, an honorary appointment; his successor was his friend and fellow writer Kurt Vonnegut. He was also a close friend of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and earned a screen credit on Star Trek: The Motion Picture for advice he gave during production (generally, confirming to Paramount Pictures that Roddenberry's ideas were legitimate science-fictional extrapolation).

Illness and death

Asimov suffered a heart attack in 1977, and had triple bypass surgery in December 1983. When he died in New York City on April 6, 1992, his brother Stanley reported heart and kidney failure as the cause of death.[23] He was survived by his second wife, Janet, and his children from his first marriage. Ten years after his death, Janet Asimov's edition of Asimov's autobiography, It's Been a Good Life, revealed that the myocardial and renal complications were the result of an infection by HIV, the virus that causes the disease AIDS, which he had contracted from a blood transfusion received during his bypass operation.[24] Janet Asimov wrote in the epilogue of It's Been a Good Life that Asimov had wanted to "go public," but his doctors convinced him to remain silent, warning that the anti-AIDS prejudice would likely extend to his family members. Asimov's family considered disclosing his condition after his death, but the controversy that erupted when Arthur Ashe announced his own AIDS infection (also contracted from a blood transfusion during heart surgery) convinced them otherwise. Ten years later, after most of Asimov's doctors had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that the AIDS story should be made public.[25]

Intellectual positions

Isaac Asimov was a humanist and a rationalist.[26] He did not oppose religious conviction in others, but he frequently railed against superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off as genuine science. During his childhood, his father and mother observed Orthodox Jewish traditions, though not as stringently as they had in Petrovichi; they did not, however, force their beliefs upon young Isaac. Thus he grew up without strong religious influences, coming to believe that the Torah represented Hebrew mythology in the same way that the Iliad recorded Greek mythology. For a brief while, his father worked in the local synagogue to enjoy the familiar surroundings and "shine as a learned scholar" versed in the sacred writings. This scholarship was a seed for his later authorship and publication of Asimov's Guide to the Bible, an analysis of the historic foundations for both old and new testaments. For many years, Asimov called himself an atheist; however, he considered the term somewhat inadequate, as it described what he did not believe rather than what he did. Eventually, he described himself as a "humanist" and considered that term more practical. He did, however, continue to identify himself as Jewish in the ethnic sense, as stated in his introduction to Jack Dann's anthology of Jewish science fiction, Wandering Stars: "I attend no services and follow no ritual and have never undergone that curious puberty rite, the bar mitzvah. It doesn't matter. I am Jewish."

In his last volume of autobiography, Asimov wrote, "If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul."[27] The same memoir states his belief that Hell is "the drooling dream of a sadist" crudely affixed to an all-merciful God; if even human governments were willing to curtail cruel and unusual punishments, wondered Asimov, why would punishment in the afterlife not be restricted to a limited term? Asimov rejected the idea that a human belief or action could merit infinite punishment. If an afterlife of just deserts existed, he claimed, the longest and most severe punishment would be reserved for those who "slandered God by inventing Hell".[28] As his books Treasury of Humor and Asimov Laughs Again record, Asimov was willing to tell jokes involving the Judeo-Christian God, Satan, the Garden of Eden, Jerusalem, and other religious topics, expressing the viewpoint that a good joke can do more to provoke thought than hours of philosophical discussion.

Asimov became a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party during the New Deal, and thereafter remained a political liberal. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and, in a television interview during the early 1970s, he publicly endorsed George McGovern. He was unhappy about what he considered an "irrationalist" viewpoint taken by many radical political activists from the late 1960s and onwards. In his second volume of autobiography In Joy Still Felt, Asimov recalled meeting the counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman; Asimov's impression was that the 1960s' counterculture heroes had ridden an emotional wave which, in the end, left them stranded in a "no-man's land of the spirit" from which he wondered if they would ever return. His defense of civil applications of nuclear power even after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident damaged his relations with some of his fellow liberals. In a letter reprinted in Yours, Isaac Asimov,[29] he states that although he would prefer living in "no danger whatsoever" than near a nuclear reactor, he would still prefer a home near a nuclear power plant than in a slum on Love Canal or near "a Union Carbide plant producing methyl isocyanate" (referring to the Bhopal disaster). He issued many appeals for population control, reflecting a perspective articulated by people from Thomas Malthus through Paul R. Ehrlich. Asimov considered himself a feminist even before Women's Liberation became a widespread movement; he joked that he wished women to be free "because I hate it when they charge".[30] More seriously, he argued that the issue of women's rights was closely connected to that of population control. Furthermore, he believed that homosexuality must be considered a "moral right" on population grounds, as must all consenting adult sexual activity that does not lead to reproduction.[29]

In the closing years of his life, Asimov blamed the deterioration of the quality of life that he perceived in New York City on the shrinking tax base caused by the middle class flight to the suburbs. His last non-fiction book, Our Angry Earth (1991, co-written with his long-time friend science fiction author Frederik Pohl), deals with elements of the environmental crisis such as global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer.

Writing

Overview

Rowena Morrill depicts Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life's work

Asimov's career can be divided into several time periods. His early career, dominated by science fiction, began with short stories in 1939 and novels in 1950. This lasted until about 1958, all but ending after publication of The Naked Sun. He began publishing nonfiction in 1952, co-authoring a college-level textbook called Biochemistry and Human Metabolism. Following the brief orbit of the first man-made satellite Sputnik I by the USSR in 1957, his production of nonfiction, particularly popular science books, greatly increased, with a consequent drop in his science fiction output. Over the next quarter century, he wrote only four science fiction novels. Starting in 1982, the second half of his science fiction career began with the publication of Foundation's Edge. From then until his death, Asimov published several more sequels and prequels to his existing novels, tying them together in a way he had not originally anticipated, making a unified series. There are, however, many inconsistencies in this unification, especially in his earlier stories.[31]

Asimov believed that his most enduring contributions would be his "Three Laws of Robotics" and the Foundation Series (see Yours, Isaac Asimov, p. 329). Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary credits his science fiction for introducing the words positronic (an entirely fictional technology), psychohistory (which is also used for a different study on historical motivations) and robotics into the English language. Asimov coined the term robotics without suspecting that it might be an original word; at the time, he believed it was simply the natural analogue of words such as mechanics and hydraulics, but for robots. Unlike his word psychohistory, the word robotics continues in mainstream technical use with Asimov's original definition. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured androids with "positronic brains" giving Asimov full credit for 'inventing' this fictional technology. His fictional writings for space and time are similar to the writings of Brian W Aldiss, Poul Anderson and Gregory Benford.

Science fiction

Asimov first began reading the science fiction pulp magazines sold in his family's confectionery store in 1929. He came into contact with science fiction fandom in the mid-1930s, particularly the circle which became the Futurians. He began writing his first science fiction story, "Cosmic Corkscrew", in 1937, but failed to finish it until June 1938, when he was inspired to do so after a visit to the offices of Astounding Science Fiction. He finished "Cosmic Corkscrew" on June 19, and submitted the story in person to Astounding editor John W. Campbell two days later. Campbell rejected "Cosmic Corkscrew", but encouraged Asimov to keep trying, and Asimov did so. Asimov sold his third story, "Marooned Off Vesta", to Amazing Stories magazine in October, and it appeared in the March 1939 issue. He continued to write and sometimes sell stories to the science fiction pulps.

In 1941, he published his 32nd story, "Nightfall", which has been described as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time".[32] In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall" the best science fiction short story ever written.[33] In his short story collection Nightfall and Other Stories he wrote, "The writing of 'Nightfall' was a watershed in my professional career ... I was suddenly taken seriously and the world of science fiction became aware that I existed. As the years passed, in fact, it became evident that I had written a 'classic'".

"Nightfall" is an archetypal example of social science fiction, a term coined by Asimov to describe a new trend in the 1940s, led by authors including Asimov and Heinlein, away from gadgets and space opera and toward speculation about the human condition.

By 1941 Asimov had begun selling regularly to Astounding, which was then the field's leading magazine. From 1943 to 1949, all of his published science fiction appeared in Astounding.

In 1942 he published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation Trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953)—which recount the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire in a universe of the future. Taken together, they are his most famous work of science fiction, along with the Robot Series. Many years later, due to pressure by fans on Asimov to write another,[15] he continued the series with Foundation's Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986), and then went back to before the original trilogy with Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1992). The series features his fictional science of Psychohistory in which the future course of the history of large populations can be predicted.

His positronic robot stories—many of which were collected in I, Robot (1950)—were begun at about the same time. They promulgated a set of rules of ethics for robots (see Three Laws of Robotics) and intelligent machines that greatly influenced other writers and thinkers in their treatment of the subject. One such short story, "The Bicentennial Man", was made into a film starring Robin Williams.

The 2004 film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was based on a script by Jeff Vintar entitled Hardwired, with Asimov's ideas incorporated later after acquiring the rights to the I, Robot title.[34] It is not related to the I, Robot script by Harlan Ellison, who collaborated with Asimov himself to create a version that captured the spirit of the original. Asimov is quoted as saying that Ellison's screenplay would lead to "the first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction movie ever made". The screenplay was published in book form in 1994, after hopes of seeing it in film form were becoming slim.

Besides movies, his Foundation and Robot stories have inspired other derivative works of science fiction literature, many by well-known and established authors such as Roger MacBride Allen, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford and David Brin. These appear to have been done with the blessing, and often at the request of, Asimov's widow Janet Asimov.

In 1948 he also wrote a spoof chemistry article, "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline". At the time, Asimov was preparing his own doctoral dissertation, and for the oral examination to follow that. Fearing a prejudicial reaction from his graduate school evaluation board at Columbia University, Asimov asked his editor that it be released under a pseudonym, yet it appeared under his own name, anyway, because of a mistake by the publisher. During his oral examination shortly thereafter, Asimov grew concerned at the scrutiny he received. At the end of the examination, one evaluator turned to him, smiling, and said "Mr. Asimov, tell us something about the thermodynamic properties of the compound thiotimoline". The stuttering Asimov was sent out of the room then. After a 20-minute or so wait, he was summoned back into the Examination Room and congratulated as "Dr. Asimov."

In 1949, the book publisher Doubleday's science fiction editor Walter I. Bradbury accepted Asimov's unpublished novelette "Grow Old Along With Me" (40,000 words) for publication, but requested that it be extended to a full novel of 70,000 words. The book appeared under the Doubleday imprint in January 1950 with the title of Pebble in the Sky. The Doubleday company went on to publish five more original science fiction novels by Asimov in the 1950s, along with the six juvenile Lucky Starr novels, under the pseudonym of "Paul French". Doubleday also published collections of Asimov's short stories, beginning with The Martian Way and Other Stories in 1955. The early 1950s also saw the Gnome Press company publishing one collection of Asimov's positronic robot stories as I, Robot and his Foundation stories and novelettes as the three books of the Foundation Trilogy. More positronic robot stories were republished in book form as The Rest of the Robots.

When new science fiction magazines, notably Galaxy magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, appeared in the 1950s, Asimov began publishing short stories in them as well. He would later refer to the 1950s as his "golden decade". A number of these stories are included in his Best of anthology, including "The Last Question" (1956), on the ability of humankind to cope with and potentially reverse the process of entropy. It was his personal favorite and considered by many to be equal to "Nightfall". Asimov wrote of it in 1973:

Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn't have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer.

Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don't remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably "The Last Question". This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, 'Dr. Asimov, there's a story I think you wrote, whose title I can't remember – ' at which point I interrupted to tell him it was "The Last Question" and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.

In December 1974, the former Beatle Paul McCartney approached Asimov and asked him if he could write the screenplay for a science-fiction movie musical. McCartney had a vague idea for the plot and a small scrap of dialogue; he wished to make a film about a rock band whose members discover they are being impersonated by a group of extraterrestrials. The band and their impostors would likely be played by McCartney's group Wings, then at the height of their career. Intrigued by the idea, although he was not generally a fan of rock music, Asimov quickly produced a "treatment" or brief outline of the story. He adhered to McCartney's overall idea, producing a story he felt to be moving and dramatic. However, he did not make use of McCartney's brief scrap of dialogue, and probably as a consequence, McCartney rejected the story. The treatment now exists only in the Boston University archives.

Beginning in 1977, Asimov lent his name to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (now Asimov's Science Fiction) and penned an editorial for each issue. There was also a short-lived Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine and a companion Asimov's Science Fiction Anthology reprint series, published as magazines (in the same manner as the stablemates Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine's "anthologies").

Popular science

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Asimov shifted gears somewhat, and substantially decreased his fiction output (he published only four adult novels between 1957's The Naked Sun and 1982's Foundation's Edge, two of which were mysteries). At the same time, he greatly increased his non-fiction production, writing mostly on science topics; the launch of Sputnik in 1957 engendered public concern over a "science gap", which Asimov's publishers were eager to fill with as much material as he could write.

Meanwhile, the monthly Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction invited him to continue his regular non-fiction column, begun in the now-folded bimonthly companion magazine Venture Science Fiction Magazine, ostensibly dedicated to popular science, but with Asimov having complete editorial freedom. The first of the F&SF columns appeared in November 1958, and they followed uninterrupted thereafter, with 399 entries, until Asimov's terminal illness. These columns, periodically collected into books by his principal publisher, Doubleday, helped make Asimov's reputation as a "Great Explainer" of science, and were referred to by him as his only pop-science writing in which he never had to assume complete ignorance of the subjects at hand on the part of his readers. The popularity of his first wide-ranging reference work, The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science, also allowed him to give up most of his academic responsibilities and become essentially a full-time freelance writer.

Asimov wrote several essays on the social contentions of his time, including "Thinking About Thinking" and "Science: Knock Plastic" (1967).

The great variety of information covered in Asimov's writings once prompted Kurt Vonnegut to ask, "How does it feel to know everything?" Asimov replied that he only knew how it felt to have the reputation of omniscience—"Uneasy". (See In Joy Still Felt, chapter 30.) In the introduction to his story collection Slow Learner, Thomas Pynchon admitted that he relied upon Asimov's science popularizations (and the Oxford English Dictionary) to provide his knowledge of entropy.

It is a mark of the friendship and respect accorded Asimov by Arthur C. Clarke that the so-called "Asimov-Clarke Treaty of Park Avenue", put together as they shared a cab ride along Park Avenue in New York, stated that Asimov was required to insist that Clarke was the best science fiction writer in the world (reserving second best for himself), while Clarke was required to insist that Asimov was the best science writer in the world (reserving second best for himself).[35] Thus the dedication in Clarke's book Report on Planet Three (1972) reads: "In accordance with the terms of the Clarke-Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer."

Coined terms

Asimov coined the term Spome in a paper entitled, “There’s No Place Like Spome” in Atmosphere in Space Cabins and Closed Environments,[36] originally presented as a paper to the American Chemical Society on September 13, 1965. It refers to any system closed with respect to matter and open with respect to energy capable of sustaining human life indefinitely.

Other writing

In addition to his interest in science, Asimov was also greatly interested in history. Starting in the 1960s, he wrote 14 popular history books, most notably The Greeks: A Great Adventure (1965), The Roman Republic (1966), The Roman Empire (1967), The Egyptians (1967) and The Near East: 10,000 Years of History (1968).

He published Asimov's Guide to the Bible in two volumes— covering the Old Testament in 1967 and the New Testament in 1969— and then combined them into one 1,300-page volume in 1981. Complete with maps and tables, the guide goes through the books of the Bible in order, explaining the history of each one and the political influences that affected it, as well as biographical information about the important characters. His interest in literature manifested itself in several annotations of literary works, including Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare (1970), Asimov's Annotated Paradise Lost (1974), and The Annotated Gulliver's Travels (1980).

Asimov was also a noted mystery author and a frequent contributor to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He began by writing science fiction mysteries such as his Wendall Urth stories but soon moved on to writing "pure" mysteries. He only published two full-length mystery novels but he wrote several stories about the Black Widowers, a group of men who met monthly for dinner, conversation, and a puzzle. He got the idea for the Widowers from his own association in a stag group called the Trap Door Spiders and all of the main characters (with the exception of the waiter, Henry, who he admitted resembled Wodehouse's Jeeves) were modeled after his closest friends.[37]

Toward the end of his life, Asimov published a series of collections of limericks, mostly written by himself, starting with Lecherous Limericks, which appeared in 1975. Limericks: Too Gross, whose title displays Asimov's love of puns, contains 144 limericks by Asimov and an equal number by John Ciardi. He even created a slim volume of Sherlockian limericks (and embarrassed one fan by autographing her copy with an impromptu limerick that rhymed 'Nancy' with 'romancy'). Asimov featured Yiddish humor in Azazel, The Two Centimeter Demon. The two main characters, both Jewish, talk over dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, about anecdotes of "George" and his friend Azazel. Asimov's Treasury of Humor is both a working joke book and a treatise propounding his views on humor theory. According to Asimov, the most essential element of humor is an abrupt change in point of view, one that suddenly shifts focus from the important to the trivial, or from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Particularly in his later years, Asimov to some extent cultivated an image of himself as an amiable lecher. In 1971, as a response to the popularity of sexual guidebooks such as The Sensuous Woman (by "J") and The Sensuous Man (by "M"), Asimov published The Sensuous Dirty Old Man under the byline "Dr. 'A'", but with his full name prominently displayed on the cover.

Asimov published two volumes of autobiography: In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980). A third autobiography, I. Asimov: A Memoir, was published in April 1994. The epilogue was written by his widow Janet Asimov a decade after his death. It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet, is a condensed version of his three autobiographies. He also published three volumes of retrospectives of his writing, Opus 100 (1969), Opus 200 (1979), and Opus 300 (1984).

In 1987, the Asimovs co-wrote How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort. In it they offer advice on how to maintain a positive attitude and stay productive when dealing with discouragement, distractions, rejection and thick-headed editors. The book includes many quotations, essays, anecdotes and husband-wife dialogues about the ups and downs of being an author.

Asimov and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry developed a unique relationship during Star Trek's initial launch in the late 1960s. Asimov wrote a critical essay on Star Trek's scientific accuracy for TV Guide magazine. Roddenberry retorted respectfully with a personal letter explaining the limitations of accuracy when writing a weekly series. Asimov corrected himself with a follow-up essay to TV Guide claiming despite its inaccuracies, that Star Trek was a fresh and intellectually challenging science fiction television show. The two remained friends to the point where Asimov even served as an advisor on a number of Star Trek projects.

Literary themes

Much of Asimov's fiction dealt with the relationship between robot and humans and the impact upon both parties, though most particularly humans. His first robot story, "Robbie", concerned a robotic nanny. "Lenny" deals with the capacity of robopsychologist Susan Calvin to feel maternal love towards a robot whose positronic brain capacities are those of a 3-year-old. As the robots grew more sophisticated, their interventions became more wide-reaching and subtle. In "Evidence", the story revolves around a candidate who successfully runs for office who may be a robot masquerading as a human. In "The Evitable Conflict", the robots run humanity from behind the scenes, acting as nannies to the whole species.

Later, in The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, a robot develops what he calls the Zeroth Law of Robotics, which states that: "A robot may not injure humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm". He also decides that robotic presence is stifling humanity's freedom, and that the best course of action is for the robots to phase themselves out. A non-robot, time travel novel, The End of Eternity, features a similar conflict and resolution. The significance of the Zeroth Law is that it outweighs and supersedes all other Laws of Robotics: if a robot finds himself in a situation whereby he must murder one or more humans (a direct violation of the First Law of Robotics) in order to protect all of humanity (and preserve the Zeroth Law), then the robot's positronic programming will require him to commit murder for humanity's sake. Only highly advanced robots (such as Daneel and Giskard) could comprehend this law.

In The Foundation Series (which did not originally have robots), a scientist implements a semi-secret plan to create a new galactic empire over the course of 1,000 years. This series has its version of Platonic guardians, called the Second Foundation, to perfect and protect the plan. When Asimov stopped writing the series in the 1950s, the Second Foundation was depicted as benign protectors of humanity. When he revisited the series in the 1980s, he made the caretaker themes even more explicit.

Foundation's Edge introduced the planet Gaia, obviously based on the Gaia hypothesis. Every animal, plant, and mineral on Gaia participated in a shared consciousness, forming a single super-mind working together for the greater good. In Foundation and Earth, the protagonist starts searching for the Earth, thinking that there he could find the answer of why he decided, in Foundation's Edge, that Galaxia was the right choice to take. Gaia is one of Asimov's best attempts at exploring the possibility of a collective awareness, and is compounded further in Nemesis, in which the planet Erythro composed primarily of prokaryotic life has a mind of its own and seeks communion with human beings.

Foundation and Earth introduces robots to the Foundation universe. Two of Asimov's last novels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, explore their behavior in fuller detail. The robots are depicted as covert operatives, acting for the benefit of humanity.

Another frequent theme is social oppression. The Currents of Space takes place on a planet where a unique plant fiber is grown; the agricultural workers there are exploited by the aristocrats of a nearby planet. In The Stars, Like Dust, the hero helps a planet that is oppressed by an arrogant interplanetary empire, the Tyranni.

Often the victims of oppression are either Earth people (as opposed to colonists on other planets) or robots. In "The Bicentennial Man", a robot fights prejudice to be accepted as a human. In The Caves of Steel, the people of Earth resent the wealthier "Spacers" and in turn treat robots (associated with the Spacers) in ways reminiscent of how whites treated blacks, such as addressing robots as "boy". Pebble in the Sky shows an analogous situation: the Galactic Empire rules Earth and its people use such terms as "Earthie-squaw", but Earth is a theocratic dictatorship that enforces euthanasia of anyone older than 60. One hero is Bel Arvardan, an upper-class Galactic archaeologist who must overcome his prejudices. The other is Joseph Schwartz, a 62-year-old 20th century American who had emigrated from Europe, where his people were persecuted (he is quite possibly Jewish), and is accidentally transported forward in time to Arvardan's period. He must decide whether to help a downtrodden society that thinks he should be dead.

Yet another frequent theme in Asimov is rational thought. He invented the science-fiction mystery with the novel The Caves of Steel and the stories in Asimov's Mysteries, usually playing fair with the reader by introducing early in the story any science or technology involved in the solution. Later, he produced non-SF mysteries, including the novel Murder at the ABA (1976) and the "Black Widowers" and "Union Club" short stories, in which he followed the same rule. In his fiction, important scenes are often essentially debates, with the more rational, humane—or persuasive—side winning.

Awards

Writing style

One of the most common impressions of Asimov's fiction work is that his writing style is extremely unornamented. In 1980, science fiction scholar James Gunn, professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas wrote of I, Robot:[43]

Except for two stories—"Liar!" and "Evidence"—they are not stories in which character plays a significant part. Virtually all plot develops in conversation with little if any action. Nor is there a great deal of local color or description of any kind. The dialogue is, at best, functional and the style is, at best, transparent.... The robot stories—and, as a matter of fact, almost all Asimov fiction—play themselves on a relatively bare stage.

Gunn observes that there are places where Asimov's style rises to the demands of the situation; he cites the climax of "Liar!" as an example. Sharply drawn characters occur at key junctures of his storylines: In addition to Susan Calvin in "Liar!" and "Evidence", we find Arkady Darell in Second Foundation, Elijah Baley in The Caves of Steel and Hari Seldon in the Foundation prequels. Asimov addresses this criticism at the beginning of his book Nemesis:[44]

I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing – to be clear. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics – Well, they can do whatever they wish.

Some details of Asimov's imaginary future technology as he described in the 1940s and 1950s have not aged well. For example, he described powerful robots and computers from the distant future using punch cards or punched tape and engineers using slide rules. In one dramatic scene in Foundation and Empire, a character gets the news by buying a paper at a vending machine. Of course, this charge could be leveled at virtually any writer of science fiction and has little critical impact.

In addition, his stories also have occasional internal contradictions: names and dates given in The Foundation Series do not always agree with one another, for example. Some such errors may plausibly be due to mistakes the characters make, since characters in Asimov stories are seldom fully informed about their own situations. Other contradictions resulted from the many years elapsed between the time Asimov began the Foundation series and when he resumed work on it; occasionally, advances in scientific knowledge forced him to revise his own fictional history. Other than books by Gunn and Patrouch, there is a relative dearth of "literary" criticism on Asimov (particularly when compared to the sheer volume of his output). Cowart and Wymer's Dictionary of Literary Biography (1981) gives a possible reason:

His words do not easily lend themselves to traditional literary criticism because he has the habit of centering his fiction on plot and clearly stating to his reader, in rather direct terms, what is happening in his stories and why it is happening. In fact, most of the dialogue in an Asimov story, and particularly in the Foundation trilogy, is devoted to such exposition. Stories that clearly state what they mean in unambiguous language are the most difficult for a scholar to deal with because there is little to be interpreted.

In fairness, Gunn's and Patrouch's respective studies of Asimov both take the stand that a clear, direct prose style is still a style. Gunn's 1982 book goes into considerable depth commenting upon each of Asimov's novels published to that date. He does not praise all of Asimov's fiction (nor does Patrouch), but he does call some passages in The Caves of Steel "reminiscent of Proust." When discussing how that novel depicts night falling over futuristic New York City, Gunn says that Asimov's prose "need not be ashamed anywhere in literary society".

Although he prided himself on his unornamented prose style (for which he credited Clifford Simak as an early influence), Asimov also enjoyed giving his longer stories complicated narrative structures, often by arranging chapters in non-chronological ways. Some readers have been put off by this, complaining that the nonlinearity is not worth the trouble and adversely affects the clarity of the story. For example, the first third of The Gods Themselves begins with Chapter 6, then backtracks to fill in earlier material.[45] (John Campbell advised Asimov to begin his stories as late in the plot as possible. This advice helped Asimov create "Reason," one of the early Robot stories. See In Memory Yet Green for details of that time period.) Patrouch found that the interwoven and nested flashbacks of The Currents of Space did serious harm to that novel, to such an extent that only a "dyed-in-the-kyrt[46] Asimov fan" could enjoy it. Asimov's tendency to contort his timelines is perhaps most apparent in his later novel Nemesis, in which one group of characters live in the "present" and another group starts in the "past", beginning fifteen years earlier and gradually moving toward the time period of the first group.

In 2002, Donald Palumbo, an English professor at East Carolina University, published Chaos Theory, Asimov's Foundations and Robots, and Herbert’s Dune: The Fractal Aesthetic of Epic Science Fiction. This includes a review of Asimov's narrative structures that compares them with the scientific concepts of fractals and chaos. Palumbo finds that though the traditional interests of literature (such as symbolism and characterization) are often somewhat lacking or even absent, a fascination with the Foundation and Robot metaseries remains. He determines that the purposeful complexities of the narrative build unusual symmetric and recursive structures to be perceived by the mind's eye. This volume contains some of the most scholarly and in-depth criticism of Asimov to date.[citation needed]

Alien life

Asimov was also criticized for the general absence of sexuality and of extraterrestrial life in his science fiction. Asimov once explained that his reluctance to write about aliens came from an incident early in his career when Astounding's editor John Campbell rejected one of his early science fiction stories because the alien characters were portrayed as superior to the humans. He decided that, rather than write weak alien characters, he would not write about aliens at all. Nevertheless, in response to these criticisms he wrote The Gods Themselves, which contains aliens, sex, and alien sex. Asimov said that of all his writings, he was most proud of the middle section of The Gods Themselves, the part which deals with those themes.[47]

In the Hugo Award-winning novella "Gold", Asimov describes an author clearly based on himself who has one of his books (The Gods Themselves) adapted into a "compu-drama", essentially photo-realistic computer animation. The director criticizes the fictionalized Asimov ("Gregory Laborian") for having an extremely nonvisual style making it difficult to adapt his work, and the author explains that he relies on ideas and dialogue rather than description to get his points across.

Gender and social issues

Others have criticized him for a lack of strong female characters in his early work. In his autobiographical writings he acknowledges this, and responds by pointing to inexperience. His later novels, written with more female characters but in essentially the same prose style as his early SF stories, brought this matter to a wider audience. For example, the August 25, 1985 Washington Post's "Book World" section reports of Robots and Empire as follows:

In 1940, Asimov's humans were stripped-down masculine portraits of Americans from 1940, and they still are. His robots were tin cans with speedlines like an old Studebaker, and still are; the Robot tales depended on an increasingly unworkable distinction between movable and unmovable artificial intelligences, and still do. In the Asimov universe, because it was conceived a long time ago, and because its author abhors confusion, there are no computers whose impact is worth noting, no social complexities, no genetic engineering, aliens, arcologies, multiverses, clones, sin or sex; his heroes (in this case R. Daneel Olivaw, whom we first met as the robot protagonist of The Caves of Steel and its sequels) feel no pressure of information, raw or cooked, as the simplest of us do today; they suffer no deformation from the winds of the Asimov future, because it is so deeply and strikingly orderly.

It may be noted, however, that in fact The Naked Sun (1957) deals with social issues as a core part of its central setting and motivation, depicts genetic engineering in the guise of eugenics as a fundamental part of that society, presents the reader with inverted arcologies where a single person is the focal point of the artificial environment as well as a hero who hails from a "normal" arcology on earth. Meanwhile, totally artificial birth, although not specifically cloning, is the aim of the leaders of the society, sexual want is the major driving force of the main female character (albeit veiled in 1950s sensibilities), and the entire story is used to make the point that too much order is ultimately a stagnant dead end to be avoided.

Influence of Asimov on others

John Jenkins, who has reviewed the vast majority of Asimov's written output, once observed:[48]

It has been pointed out that most science fiction writers since the 1950s have been affected by Asimov, either modeling their style on his or deliberately avoiding anything like his style.

The comic book Magnus, Robot Fighter quoted Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics on the first page of the first issue. However, these laws were broken more often than not in the series.

The Three Laws of Robotics are also the main theme of a recent anime, The Time of Eve. The androids are in common use and respect the laws, but on the other hand seek independence within them, which is not acknowledged by humans.

The 2009 Astro Boy also mentions the Laws of Robotics. Although Asimov's name is not mentioned, the First Law is quoted, slightly paraphrased. One robot was built before the Laws were implemented, another has been reprogrammed without the Laws, but most robots very faithfully obey the Laws.

Star Trek - The Next Generation, in the episode "Datalore," gave credit to Asimov for conceiving the positronic brain, indispensable for androids.

The novelet "Ender's Game" was Orson Scott Card's first published science fiction. It was based on an idea—the Battle Room—that came to Card when he was sixteen years old. He had just read Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, which was (more or less) an extrapolation of the ideas in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, applied to a galaxy-wide empire in some far future time.

A 2008 survival horror video game Dead Space's main protagonist Isaac Clarke, named after Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

Asimov and Tolkien

In his letter to Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, who had previously interviewed him for Daily Telegraph Magazine, J.R.R. Tolkien said that he enjoyed the science fiction of Asimov. Asimov stated, both in his autobiography and in several essays, that he enjoyed the writings of Tolkien. He paid tribute to The Lord of the Rings in a "Black Widowers" story.

Selected bibliography

Including all titles, charts, and edited collections, there are currently 515 items in Asimov's bibliography—not counting his individual short stories, individual essays, and criticism. For his 100th, 200th, and 300th books (based on his personal count), Asimov published Opus 100 (1969), Opus 200 (1979), and Opus 300 (1984), celebrating his writing; he did not choose to do this for his 400th book, however. Asimov's writings span across all major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification except for Philosophy.[3]

For a listing of Asimov's books in chronological order within his future history, see the Foundation Series list of books.

Science fiction

"Greater Foundation" series

The Robot series was originally separate from the Foundation series. The Galactic Empire novels were originally published as independent stories. Later in life, Asimov synthesized them into a single coherent 'history' that appeared in the extension of the Foundation series.

  • Original Foundation trilogy:

Lucky Starr series (as Paul French)

Norby Chronicles (with Janet Asimov)

  • Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot (1983)
  • Norby's Other Secret (1984)
  • Norby and the Lost Princess (1985)
  • Norby and the Invaders (1985)
  • Norby and the Queen's Necklace (1986)
  • Norby Finds a Villain (1987)
  • Norby Down to Earth (1988)
  • Norby and Yobo's Great Adventure (1989)
  • Norby and the Oldest Dragon (1990)
  • Norby and the Court Jester (1991)

Novels not part of a series

Novels marked with an asterisk * have minor connections to the Foundation series.

Short story collections

See also List of short stories by Isaac Asimov

Mysteries

Novels

Short story collections

Black Widowers series
Other mysteries

Nonfiction

Popular science

Collections of Asimov's essays — originally published as monthly columns in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. Fact and Fancy (1962)
  2. View from a Height (1963)
  3. Adding a Dimension (1964)
  4. Of Time, Space, & Other Things (1965)
  5. From Earth to Heaven (1966)
  6. Science, Numbers and I (1968)
  7. The Solar System and Back (1970)
  8. The Stars in Their Courses (1971)
  9. The Left Hand of the Electron (1972)
  10. The Tragedy of the Moon (1973)
  11. Of Matters Great & Small (1975)
  12. The Planet that Wasn't (1976)
  13. Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1977)
  14. Road to Infinity (1979)
  15. The Sun Shines Bright (1981)
  16. Counting the Eons (1983)
  17. X Stands for Unknown (1984)
  18. The Subatomic Monster (1985)
  19. Far as Human Eye Could See (1987)
  20. The Relativity of Wrong (1988)
  21. Out of the Everywhere (1990)
  22. The Secret of the Universe (1990)

Other science books by Asimov

  • The Chemicals of Life (1954)
  • Inside the Atom (1956)
  • Only a Trillion (1957)
  • The World of Carbon (1958)
  • The World of Nitrogen (1958)
  • Words of Science and the History Behind Them (1959)
  • The Clock We Live On (1959)
  • Asimov on Numbers (1959)
  • The Wellsprings of Life (1960)
  • Life and Energy (1962)
  • The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation (1963)
  • The Human Brain (1964)
  • The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1965)
    • The title varied with each of the four editions, the last being Asimov's New Guide to Science (1984)
  • Planets for Man (with Stephen H. Dole)
  • The Universe: From Flat Earth to Quasar (1966)
  • The Neutrino (1966)
  • Is Anyone There? (1967), ISBN 0385084013 - where he used the term Spome
  • Photosynthesis (1968)
  • Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor (1971)
  • Our World in Space (1974)
  • Please Explain (1975)
  • Asimov On Physics (1976)
  • The Collapsing Universe (1977), ISBN 0-671-81738-8
  • Extraterrestrial Civilizations (1979)
  • Visions of the Universe with coauthor Kazuaki Iwasaki (1981)
  • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos (1982)
  • Understanding Physics (1988) [1966]
    • Vol. I, Motion, Sound, and Heat
    • Vol. II, Light, Magnetism, and Electricity
    • Vol. III, The Electron, Proton, and Neutron
  • Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery (1989), second edition adds content thru 1993
  • Asimov's Chronology of the World (1991)
  • Isaac Asimov's Guide to Earth and Space (1991)
  • Atom: Journey Across the Subatomic Cosmos (1991)
  • Asimov Laughs Again (1992)
  • Quasars, Pulsars and Black Holes (1992)
  • The Sun (2003), revised by Richard Hantula
  • Jupiter (2004), revised by Richard Hantula
  • The Earth (2004), revised by Richard Hantula
  • Venus (2004), revised by Richard Hantula

Annotations

Guides

Autobiography

Other nonfiction

  • Opus 100 (1969), ISBN 0-395-07351-0
  • The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (1971), ISBN 0-451-07199-9
  • Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (1972), ISBN 0-385-17771-2
  • Lecherous Limericks (1976), ISBN 0-449-22841-X
  • More Lecherous Limericks (1976), ISBN 0-802-77102-5
  • Still More Lecherous Limericks (1977), ISBN 0-802-77106-8
  • Opus 200 (1979), ISBN 0-395-27625-X
  • Our Federal Union (1975), ISBN 0-395-2283-3
  • Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts (1979), ISBN 0-517-36111-6
  • A Grossery of Limericks, with John Ciardi (1981), ISBN 0-393-33112-1
  • The Roving Mind (1983) (collection of essays). New edition published by Prometheus Books, 1997, ISBN 1-573-92181-5
  • Opus 300 (1984), ISBN 0-395-36108-7
  • Limericks, Two Gross, with John Ciardi (1985), ISBN 0-393-04530-7

Television and film appearances

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green. "The date of my birth, as I celebrate it, was January 2, 1920. It could not have been later than that. It might, however, have been earlier. Allowing for the uncertainties of the times, of the lack of records, of the Jewish and Julian calendars, it might have been as early as October 4, 1919. There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain and it really doesn't matter. I celebrate January 2, 1920, so let it be." 
  2. ^ "Notes From Curator: Isaac Asimov". http://unmuseum.mus.pa.us/notescurator/b3asimov.htm. 
  3. ^ a b Seiler, Edward; Jenkins, John H. (2008-06-27). "Isaac Asimov FAQ". Isaac Asimov Home Page. http://www.asimovonline.com/asimov_FAQ.html#others11. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  4. ^ Freedman, Carl (2000), Critical Theory and Science Fiction, Doubleday, pp. 71 
  5. ^ "Isaac Asimov Biography and List of Works". Biblio.com. http://www.biblio.com/authors/212/Isaac_Asimov_Biography.html. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  6. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. pp. 475–476. ISBN 0-385-41701-2. 
  7. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1994), I, Asimov: A Memoir, New York: Doubleday, pp. 380 
  8. ^ Isaac Asimov (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. Doubleday/Avon. p. 217,302. ISBN 0-380-53025-2. 
  9. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. pp. 500. ISBN 0-385-41701-2. 
  10. ^ "USGS Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, Mars: Asimov". http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/jsp/FeatureNameDetail.jsp?feature=74666. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  11. ^ Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green. "There are three very simple English words: 'Has,' 'him' and 'of.' Put them together like this—'has-him-of'—and say it in the ordinary fashion. Now leave out the two h's and say it again and you have Asimov." 
  12. ^ Isaac Asimov FAQ, asimovonline.com
  13. ^ Asimov, Isaac (2002). Janet Asimov. ed. It's Been a Good Life. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 12. ISBN 1-57392-968-9. 
  14. ^ Gunn, James (1982). Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 12–13, 20. ISBN 0-19-503059-1. 
  15. ^ a b Isaac Asimov Interview with Don Swaim (1987)
  16. ^ Asimov (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. pp. 129–131. ISBN 0-385-41701-2. 
  17. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1979). In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-13679-x. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday. pp. 125–129. ISBN 0-385-41701-2. 
  19. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1992). Asimov Laughs Again. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-060-16826-9. 
  20. ^ See NeroWolfe.org
  21. ^ White (2005), pp. 83 and 219–20
  22. ^ Asimov, Isaac. I. Asimov, a Memoir, New York, Doubleday, 1994, pages 376-377.
  23. ^ Isaac Asimov, Whose Thoughts and Books Traveled the Universe, Is Dead at 72. Obituary in The New York Times April 7, 1992 p. B7
  24. ^ "Asimov FAQ". 2004-09-27. http://www.asimovonline.com/asimov_FAQ.html#non-literary2. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  25. ^ "Locus Online: Letter from Janet Asimov". 2002-04-04. http://www.locusmag.com/2002/Issue04/Letter.html. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  26. ^ Isaac Asimov, "The Way of Reason," in In Pursuit of Truth: Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday,, ed. Paul Levinson, Humanities Press, 1982, pp. ix-x.
  27. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1995). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Bantam. pp. 338. ISBN 0-553-56997-x. 
  28. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1995). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Bantam. pp. 336–338. ISBN 0-553-56997-x. 
  29. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac (1996). Yours, Isaac Asimov, edited by Stanley Asimov. ISBN 0-385-47624-8.
  30. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1991). Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 346–347. ISBN 0-395-57226-6. 
  31. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1988), Prelude to Foundation, Bantam Books, xiii–xv 
  32. ^ Spud, The Invincible. "Isaac Asimov: The Good Doctor". Bewildering Stories article. http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue8/asimov.html. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  33. ^ Rothstein, Mervyn. "Isaac Asimov Obituary". quotes The New York Times, April 7, 1992 edition. http://www.rudysbooks.com/asimovobit.html. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  34. ^ Michael Sampson (2004-01-14). "The Bottom of Things". http://www.moviepoopshoot.com/bottom/56.html. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  35. ^ "Isaac Asimov FAQ, Part 1". 2001-02-09. http://www.faqs.org/faqs/books/isaac-asimov-faq/part1/. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  36. ^ Atmosphere in Space Cabins and Closed Environments
  37. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1991), Puzzles of the Black Widowers, Bantam Books, xiii–xiii 
  38. ^ "1972 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1972. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  39. ^ a b "1973 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1973. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  40. ^ a b "1983 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1983. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  41. ^ Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master
  42. ^ http://planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov/jsp/FeatureNameDetail.jsp?feature=74666
  43. ^ Gunn, James (1980-07), "On Variations on a Robot", Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: 56–81 
  44. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1989-10), Nemesis 
  45. ^ Jenkins, John. "Review of The Gods Themselves". http://homepage.mac.com/jhjenkins/Asimov/Books/Book121.html. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  46. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1952), The Currents of Space, explanation of "kyrt"
  47. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1994), I, Asimov: A Memoir, New York: Doubleday, pp. 250 
  48. ^ Jenkins, John. "Review of an Asimov biography, The Unauthorized Life". http://preem.tejat.net/~tseng/Asimov/NonAsimov/White.html. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 

Sources

  • Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green (1979, ISBN 0-380-75432-0).
In Joy Still Felt (1980, ISBN 0-380-53025-2).
I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994). ISBN 0-385-41701-2 (hc), ISBN 0-553-56997-X (pb).
Yours, Isaac Asimov (1996), edited by Stanley Asimov. ISBN 0-385-47624-8.
It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet Asimov. ISBN 1-57392-968-9.
  • Goldman, Stephen H., "Isaac Asimov", in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8, Cowart and Wymer eds., (Gale Research, 1981), pp. 15–29.
  • Gunn, James. "On Variations on a Robot", IASFM, July 1980, pp. 56–81.
Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982). ISBN 0-19-503060-5.
The Science of Science-Fiction Writing (2000). ISBN 1-57886-011-3.
  • Fiedler, Jean; Jim Mele (1982). Isaac Asimov. New York: Ungar. ISBN 0-8044-2203-6. 
  • Joseph D. Olander and Martin H. Greenberg (editors) (1974). Isaac Asimov. ISBN 0-8008-4258-8, Hardback ISBN 0-8008-4257-X. 
  • Patrouch, Joseph F. (1977). The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-08696-2. 
  • Touponce, William F. (1991). Isaac Asimov. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7623-0. 
  • White, Michael (1994). Asimov: The Unauthorized Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-004130-3. 
  • White, Michael (2005). Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0786715189. 

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

Isaac Asimov (c. 1920-01-021992-04-06) was a Russian-born American author and biochemist.

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No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be ...
  • outside intelligences, exploring the Solar System with true impartiality, would be quite likely to enter the Sun in their records thus: Star X, spectral class G0, 4 planets plus debris.
    • "By Jove!" in View from a Height (1963) Often misquoted as "Jupiter plus debris".
  • What I will be remembered for are the Foundation Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for.
  • To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
    • Essay "The “Threat” of Creationism" Isaac Asimov, New York Times Magazine, 14 June 1981 reprinted Science and Creationism (1984); M. F. Ashley Montagu (Editor) .
  • Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.
    • "How Easy to See the Future", Natural History magazine (April 1975); later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.
  • Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.
    • "My Own View" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be ... This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.
    • "My Own View" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.
    • Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)
  • Consider the most famous pure dystopian tale of modern times, 1984, by George Orwell (1903-1950), published in 1948 (the same year in which Walden Two was published). I consider it an abominably poor book. It made a big hit (in my opinion) only because it rode the tidal wave of cold war sentiment in the United States.
    • "Nowhere!" Asimov's Science Fiction (September 1983)
  • I was once being interviewed by Barbara Walters...In between two of the segments she asked me..."But what would you do if the doctor gave you only six months to live?" I said, "Type faster." This was widely quoted, but the "six months" was changed to "six minutes," which bothered me. It's "six months."
    • Asimov Laughs Again (1992)
  • Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
    • Canadian Atheists Newsletter (1994)
  • Happiness is doing it rotten your own way.
    • I, Asimov (1994)
  • [Creationists] make it sound as though a "theory" is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.
    • Remarks made to the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), 1980.
  • But suppose we were to teach creationism. What would be the content of the teaching? Merely that a creator formed the universe and all species of life ready-made? Nothing more? No details?
    • "The Dangerous Myth of Creationism", Penthouse, January, 1982; reprinted as chapter 2, pages 16-19, "Creationism and the Schools" in The Roving Mind, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1983.
  • I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
    • As quoted in Philosophy on the Go (2007) by Joey Green, p. 222
  • [In response to this question by Bill Moyers: What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?] "It's going to destroy it all. I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren't you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies."
    • Interview by Bill Moyers on A World Of Ideas: transcript[1] (page 6); audio[2] (20:12). (Note: Sometimes it is claimed that after the last sentence, Asimov added "The more people there are, the less one person matters.", but this is untrue.)
  • There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved.
    • Doctor Susan Calvin in "Robot Dreams", Robot Dreams, 1986

The Foundation series

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
  • Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
    • "Foundation", Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1942 (this appears three times in "Bridle and Saddle" which is titled "The Mayors" within Foundation). It is derived from the famous phrase by Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
  • It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
  • For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat's are really deadly.
  • A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.
    • "Bridle and Saddle", Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1942
  • Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
  • There's something about a pious man such as he. He will cheerfully cut your throat if it suits him, but he will hesitate to endanger the welfare of your immaterial and problematical soul.
    • "The Big and the Little", Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1944
  • Korell is that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal 'honor' and court etiquette.
  • Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.
  • An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
    • "The Wedge", Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1944
  • It's a poor blaster that doesn't point both ways.
    • "The Wedge", Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1944
  • The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise
    • "The Second Foundation"

Three Laws of Robotics

  • A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The First Law of Robotics"
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The Second Law of Robotics"
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The Third Law of Robotics"

Later included among these laws was "The Zeroth Law of Robotics"

  • A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
    • Robots and Empire (1985) This statement is known as "The Zeroth Law of Robotics"; a variant of it first occurred in The Evitable Conflict (1950) as: "No robot may harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well.

The Roving Mind (1983)

  • Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?
    No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.
    One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out "Don't you believe in anything?"
    "Yes", I said. "I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."
    • page 43
  • Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.
    • Ch. 25
  • How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.
    • Ch. 25

About Isaac Asimov

  • Isaac Asimov had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.

External links

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[[File:|thumb|]] Isaac Asimov (January 2, 1920 - April 6, 1992[1]) was a writer. He also was a scientist of the chemistry of life (a "biochemist").

Contents

Life

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia. He later moved to the United States. He wrote many books. People know about Isaac Asimov because of his science fiction books and his science books for non-scientists.

Writing

Asimov's most famous books were the Foundation Series. He also wrote the Galactic Empire and the Robot Series. He also wrote mystery, fantasy, and non-fiction books. He wrote or edited over 500 books and about 90,000 letters. He wrote books about many subjects.

Death

When he had heart surgery in 1983, he got blood infected with HIV. He got AIDS and died in 1992. His widow did not tell anyone how he died, until years later.

References








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