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"Conversations with Harold Hudson Channer"
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(Originally aired; April, 1986)
(1920 -1992 R.I.P.)
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- ISAAC ASIMOV
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MARILYN MACH VOS SAVANT
More about: ISAAC
Isaac Asimov Home Page
Welcome to the Isaac Asimov Home Page. Here you'll find a
comprehensive collection of resources pertaining to Isaac Asimov
(1920-1992), the quintessential author, who in his lifetime wrote
over 500 books that enlightened, entertained, and spanned the realm
of human knowledge.
The Isaac Asimov FAQ
FAQ for the Usenet newsgroup
alt.books.isaac-asimov provides answers to the frequently asked
questions about Isaac Asimov, and is an excellent place to start if
you have questions about him. Included is biographical information
about both his personal life and his literary life, answers to
questions about the Foundation and Robot series, and more.
For a German translation of the FAQ, see
Bálint Krizsán's site.
The Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate
Janet and Robyn Asimov, working with the American Museum of
Natural History in New York City, established the Isaac Asimov Fund
to support the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate as part of
the Museum's Hayden Planetarium Programs. The ninth annual debate
will take place on the evening of March 10, 2009 in the museum's
The topic of the 2009 debate will be
"From Planets to Plutoids: The New Solar System". It will
explore the way that advances in knowledge, such as detailed
observations of other planets by spacecraft, the discovery of more
than 1000 icy bodies that lie in the region beyond Neptune known as
the Kuiper belt, and the discovery of more than 340 planets orbiting
stars other than our Sun, are changing the ways that scientists
classify and name the constituents of solar systems, and the
controversy in the scientific community associated with those
The debate will be once again moderated by Neil DeGrasse
Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and
The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet.
The featured panelists will be:
Each of the eight previous debates were presented to a
standing-room only audience:
- Gibor Basri, Professor of Astronomy, University of
California, Berkeley. He is a co-investigator for NASA's
Kepler mission that will launch an instrument to search for
Earth-line planets orbiting other stars.
- David C. Jewitt, Professor of Astronomy, University of
Hawaii Institute of Astronomy. He discovered the first Kuiper
Belt object with Jane Luu in 1992.
- Jack Lissauer, Research scientist, NASA Ames Research
Center. Together with Mark Showalter, he discovered two moons
and two faint rings of Uranus. He is a co-investigator for
NASA's Kepler mission.
- Sara Seager, Ellen Swallow Richards Associate Professor
of Planetary Science and Associate Professor of Physics, MIT.
She was part of a team that co-discovered the first detection of
light emitted from an exoplanet and the first spectrum of an
exoplanet, and her work led to the first detection of an
- Alan Stern, former Associate Administrator, Science
Mission Directorate, NASA. He is the principal investigator for
New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
- Mark V. Sykes, Director, Planetary Science Institute,
Tuscon, AZ, and former president of the Division of Planetary
Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. He is a member of
the science team for
Dawn, a spacecraft currently en route to study the asteroids
Vesta and Ceres.
- 2001: "The Theory of Everything"
- Is there a single, unifying theory that can describe the
- 2002: "The Search For Life in the Universe"
- How likely is it that there is other life in the
universe, and if it exists, how are we going to find it?
- 2003: "The Big Bang"
- Are there alternative models for the Big Bang theory that
provide a different view of the origin of the cosmos?
- 2004: "The Dark Side"
- What are dark matter and dark energy, and what role do
they play in the future of the universe?
- 2005: "The Enigma of Alien Solar Systems"
- Why are many of the other solar systems that have been
discovered so different from our own?
- 2006: "Universe: One or Many?"
- Are there reasons to believe that other universes may
- 2007: "The Pioneer Anomaly"
- Why is it that the two Pioneer spacecraft sent on their
way out of our solar system have trajectories that do not
precisely match the predictions of scientists?
- 2008: "Mining the Sky"
- Who owns the natural resources on asteroids, comets,
moons, and planets, and will it ever be practical or worthwhile
to mine those resources?
Thanks to the many contributors, the Isaac Asimov Memorial
Fund continues to grow. If you would like to participate in this
extraordinary opportunity to perpetuate Isaac's memory and support
the cause of science education, please read
article from Rotunda, the newsletter of the American Museum of
Natural History in New York City, profiles the career of Dr. Janet
Jeppson Asimov, her involvement with the museum, and the
establishment of the Isaac Asimov Memorial Fund.
Black Widower's Collection: The Return of the Black Widowers
A new collection of Isaac Asimov's Black Widower mystery
stories was published by Carroll & Graf in November 2003.
The Return of the Black Widowers features six stories that
have never appeared in a Black Widowers's collection, plus
ten of the best previously collected Black Widower stories.
It also includes an introduction by Asimov's close friend,
author Harlan Ellison; a pastiche about the Black Widowers;
and an essay by Asimov about how he came to write the Black
Widowers stories. Also appearing in the collection is a new
Black Widowers story, "The Last Story", written by Charles
Ardai, the editor of the collection, for the December 2002
issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, to commemorate the
tenth anniversary of Asimov's death and the thirtieth
anniversary of the publication of the first Black Widowers
The Return of the Black Widowers can be purchased from
Autobiography: It's Been a Good Life
In late March, 2002,
Prometheus Books published
It's Been a Good Life, an autobiography edited by Janet
Jeppson Asimov. The new book was compiled from selections
made from the three previous autobiographical volumes
In Memory Yet Green
(1979), In Joy Still Felt
(1980), and I. Asimov: A
Memoir (1994). The book also features "A Way of
Thinking", Asimov's 400th essay for the Magazine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, which Janet put together from
conversations they had and letters they had exchanged during
many years of correspondence. In addition, there are
excerpts from those letters sprinkled throughout the book.
The result is a portrait of the life of Isaac Asimov, the
writer, humanist, thinker, wit, and bon vivant, which
lovingly illustrates why he was able to truthfully say "It's
been a good life".
The book also includes an epilogue in which Janet
Jeppson Asimov reveals for the first time that Isaac's 1992
death from heart and kidney failure was a consequence of
AIDS contracted from a transfusion of tainted blood during
his December 1983 triple-bypass operation. She explains how
and when he learned he had the disease, and why his doctors
convinced him to keep it a secret from the public. The
epilogue includes a description of Asimov's final days,
together with some poignant passages that describe his views
of life and death.
[There have been some erroneous published reports
stating that it was Janet Asimov who convinced her husband
to keep the fact that he had contracted AIDS a secret. This
is absolutely untrue. In fact it was Asimov's doctors who
urged that the matter be kept a secret. See Janet's
April 4, 2002 letter to Locus magazine.]
The book can be purchased online from
Barnes and Noble.
Lists of Asimov's Works
catalogue of Asimov book titles, arranged by categories in
the same fashion as in his autobiographies. (55k)
- A list of
Asimov's book titles, numbered in order of authorship, as
known or estimated. (54k)
- A "big list" of
all known editions [that is, known by the list compiler, Ed
Seiler] of Asimov's books, in order of publication. This
includes title, publisher, year of publication, number of pages,
size, Library of Congress call number, Dewey number, ISBN, and
Library of Congress card catalog number. (183k)
This file has been formatted for 132 columns.
"big list" in alphabetical order by title. (183k)
This file has been formatted for 132 columns.
guide to Asimov's short fiction. Every short story Asimov
ever wrote is listed here. Indexes are provided that list works
in each genre in order of publication, and an alphabetical index
of titles lets you find an entry for any Asimov story title.
Entries for each story cite where the story was first published,
and list Asimov's collections and the anthologies in which the
story appears. (77k)
guide to Asimov's essays. Over 1600 of Asimov's essays are
listed here, including the subject of the essay, the publication
in which the essay first appeared, and a list of Asimov's
collections in which the essay appeared. Indexes list the essays
chronologically for each major series (e.g. the science essays
in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), and also group
the essays by subject, in order to help you find any essay
Asimov wrote on any given subject. (151k)
- A list of
books and articles about Asimov. (6k)
- Johnny Pez's Insanely Complete Fiction List
chronology of events in Isaac Asimov's positronic robot and
Foundation stories, compiled by Johnny Pez.
- A list of
worlds mentioned in the Foundation series. (5k)
- A list of Asimov works available on
other media: records, audio tapes, videotapes, computer
software, and board games. (14k)
Sources for Obtaining Asimov's Books
There are many websites that offer books for sale, and of course
the number grows each day. A number of those are good sources for
books by Asimov, and a few are listed here. Please note that the
listing of these sites do not constitute an endorsement of their
Amazon.com Books: With over two-and-a-half million titles
available, there is a good chance that you can find most of
Asimov's books that are currently in print at Amazon.
Advanced Book Exchange represents large numbers of
independent used book dealers, and is a good source for
Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America offers
out-of-print, collectible, and hard to find books. They are an
association of booksellers who collectively sell books on the
Internet. . Their selection of books by Asimov often includes a
number of titles you may not have seen elsewhere.
AddAll offers searching and price comparisons.
Powell's Book Store is a large store in Oregon (reputed to
be the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi) that has a
Science Fiction Book Club sells its own editions of many of
Asimov's science fiction books at discount prices.
Internet Bookshop is a source for books published in the
- And last, but not least, don't forget your local library
as a source for borrowing books for reading.
Publishers of Asimov's Books on the Web
Prometheus Books published several of Asimov's essay
Random House, whose
Bantam Spectra imprint publishes most of Asimov's
science fiction titles that are currently in print.
Doubleday (Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division
of Random House Inc.) has published more of Asimov's books than
any other publisher.
Gareth Stevens Publishing has published 50 of Asimov's books
for young people on science, technology, and explorers.
HarperCollins, published several of the more recent titles.
- HarperCollins UK, whose
Voyager imprint includes a substantial number of Asimov's
books published in the UK.
Penguin Group published Asimov's books under several
Tor Books is publishing new hardcover editions of Asimov's
science fiction novels. Their
website provides information about their science fiction and
fantasy books, and has links to other SF resources on the web.
Houghton Mifflin Company has published 44 of Asimov's books,
but there is no mention of him at their website.
Jenkins' Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov is a collection
of John Jenkins' reviews of every one of Isaac Asimov's books.
Well, he hasn't actually reviewed all of Asimov's books yet, but
he's working on it. John offers his views of what he likes and
dislikes in Asimov's books from the point of view of a dedicated
Asimov enthusiast, and provides a graphical rating system that
neatly summarizes his evaluations for both the Asimov fan and
the intended audience of each book. He has included reviews of
Asimov's short fiction. John's opinions are highly personal,
comprehensive, and clearly written, and definitely worth a look.
Search the science fiction review archives of the
Science Fiction Resource Guide to view their collection of
reviews of Asimov's books.
brief review of Forward the
Foundation by Matthew B. Tepper.
A Graph of Asimov's Book Publications
It took nineteen years for Asimov to publish his first 100 books,
ten years to publish the next 100, and only five years to bring the
total up to 300. Thanks to Tony Neilson (email@example.com), here
is a graph of the number of books Asimov published each year
throughout his career:
Some Items of Interest
Isaac Asimov's Birthplace
Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia, in 1920. Petrovichi
is very proud of their native son, and have honored the place of his
birth with a memorial stone. A
picture was supplied by Alexander Azimov, who is almost
certainly a relative of Isaac's.
Essays by Johnny Pez
Johnny Pez dispenses his knowledge in a series of essays:
The publishing history of the Positronic Robot and Foundation
The publishing history of the Positronic Robot and Empire novels,
The Rise and Fall of the Spacers
Articles from the Encyclopedia Galactica:
A Piece of History
By March 18, 1941, Isaac Asimov had written thirty-one stories,
sold seventeen, and fourteen had been published. At that time, he
considered himself nothing more than a third-rate writer. That
evening, he sat down to write his thirty-second story, based on an
idea suggested by Astounding editor John W. Campbell the day before.
By April 8, he finished the story, titled "Nightfall", and on April
9 he took it to Campbell. Two days later, he received
this letter from Campbell, and the history of science fiction
was changed forever.
Science Fiction writer
Michael A. Burstein pays homage to Isaac in
Cosmic Corkscrew, his Hugo Award nominated story which appeared
in the June 1998 issue of Analog, and honors the 60th anniversary of
Asimov's submission of his first story to Astounding Science
Asimov and Religion
Mike Brummond's scholarly essay
Religion in Asimov's Writings considers the aspects of religion
that appear in Asimov's fiction, and Asimov's views on religion, as
expressed in his nonfiction.
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine has a website containing
feature articles, excerpts from upcoming issues, book reviews,
online interviews, reprints of Isaac Asimov's editorials, and much
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Home to Isaac Asimov's monthly science column for over
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, founded in 1949, is
the award-winning SF magazine which is the original publisher of SF
classics like Stephen King's Dark
Tower, Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon" and Walter M.
Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz.
The website has selections from recent and upcoming issues, current
issue contents, writer's guidelines, and subscription information.
Other Asimov Resources
Encyclopedia Galactica is the ultimate reference work for
the universe detailed in Isaac Asimov's robot, Galactic Empire,
and Foundation stories. Providing information on people,
chronology, robotics, and other topics, it is published by the
Encyclopedia Galactic Publishing Co., via the efforts of Mike
Carlin of Bristol, England.
Imperial Galaxy, a gallery of original artwork illustrating
the Foundation universe, brought to us by Slawek Wojtowicz.
- In the early sixties, Asimov regularly contributed book
Horn Book, a children's literary review journal, who marked
their 75th anniversary in October 1999. At their virtual history
exhibit is a
letter from Asimov to an editor at Horn Book, after he
received an unexpectedly large payment, asking to make sure that
he wasn't overpaid.
- On September 25, 1987, Asimov was interviewed by Terry
Gross for the National Public Radio program Fresh Air. A
RealAudio version of the 27-minute interview can be found at
the New York Times website. To listen to this interview, you'll
need the RealAudio player, which can be downloaded from the
Life & Times section of the
New York Times website also features articles by and about
Asimov, as well as reviews of Asimov's books that appeared in
the Times (registration required).
- Science Fiction writer Michael A. Burstein, winner of the
1997 John Campbell Award for Best New Writer, remembers Isaac
"Asimov and Me", first published in the Fanzine
Mimosa in December 1997.
1988 interview with Asimov by Slawek Wojtowicz, a science
fiction fan from Poland.
- The transcript of a lecture by Asimov on
the future of humanity.
obituary for Isaac that appeared in
chronology of Asimov's Susan Calvin stories, robot novels,
galactic empire novels and Foundation series.
essay by Robert J. Sawyer on why the Three Laws of Robotics
aren't used in the real world.
A Few Science Fiction Resources
Isaac Asimov in 1956
c. January 2, 1920
April 6, 1992 (aged 72)
Science fiction (hard
Golden Age of Science Fiction
Foundation Series, the
The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science,
Planets for Man
Isaac Asimov (c. January 2, 1920
– April 6, 1992; originally Исаак Озимов but now transcribed
Айзек Азимов), was a
American author and professor of
biochemistry, 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 more than 500
books and an estimated 9,000 letters and
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).
Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction
genre and, along with
Robert A. Heinlein and
Arthur C. Clarke, was considered one of the "Big Three"
science-fiction writers during his lifetime.
Asimov's most famous work is the
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
history" for his stories much like those pioneered by
Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by
Cordwainer Smith and
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
fantasy, as well as a great amount of
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
William Shakespeare's works and, of course,
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",
but also said that the only two people he had ever met who he
would admit were more intelligent than he was were
Marvin Minsky and
He took more joy in being president of the
American Humanist Association.
5020 Asimov, the magazine
Asimov's Science Fiction, a
Brooklyn, NY elementary school, and two different and
distinctive awards are named in his honor.
Asimov was born sometime between October 4, 1919 and January
2, 1920 in
Russia) to Anna Rachel Berman Asimov and Judah Asimov, a
Jewish family of
millers. His exact date of birth is uncertain because of
differences in the
Hebrew calendars and a lack of records. Asimov himself
celebrated it on January 2.
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
This is a Russian Cyrillic adaptation of the American English
pronunciation. Asimov had two younger siblings; a sister, Marcia
(born June 17, 1922), and a brother, Stanley (born July 25,
His family emigrated to the
United States when he was three years old. Since his parents
English with him, he never learned
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
pulp magazines were sold in the stores, and he began reading
them. His father in general forbade reading the pulps, but he
persuaded Poppa 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, having discovered
science fiction fandom, he was selling them to the science
John W. Campbell, then editor of
Astounding Science Fiction, was a strong formative
influence and eventually became a personal friend.
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
World War II working as a civilian at the
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
After completing his doctorate, Asimov joined the faculty of
Boston University School of Medicine, with which he remained
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 are archived at the university's
Mugar Memorial Library, to which he donated them at the
curator Howard Gottlieb. The collection fills 464 boxes, on
seventy-one metres of shelf space.
Personal life and quirks
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.
In the first 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
afraid of flying,
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)
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
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.
Asimov was an able public speaker, and enjoyed doing so.
Asimov was a frequent fixture at
science fiction conventions, where he remained friendly and
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
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."
Asimov's wide interests included his participation in his
later years in organizations devoted to the
comic operas of
Gilbert and Sullivan
and in The Wolfe Pack,
a group of devotees of the
Nero Wolfe mysteries written by
Rex Stout. Indeed, his interest in Gilbert and Sullivan
Foundation Series, and many of his short stories mention or
He was a prominent member of the
Baker Street Irregulars, the leading
Sherlock Holmes society.
He was also a member of the all-male literary banqueting club
Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of his
fictional group of mystery solvers the
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; his successor was his friend and fellow
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
Illness and death
Asimov died on April 6, 1992, in New York City. 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 his death was
caused by the
AIDS virus. He had contracted
HIV from a blood transfusion that he received as a necessary
part of coronary-artery bypass operation in December 1983.
The specific cause of death was heart and kidney failure, as
complications of an HIV infection. 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 Dr.
Asimov's doctors had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that
the AIDS story should be made public.
Isaac Asimov was a
humanist and a
He did not oppose religious conviction in others, but he
frequently railed against
pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off
as genuine science. During his childhood, his father and mother
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
Bible represented Hebrew mythology in the same way that the
Greek mythology. (For a brief while his father worked in the
synagogue to enjoy the familiar surroundings and "shine as a
learned scholar" versed in the sacred writings. This experience
had little effect upon Isaac beyond teaching him the
Hebrew alphabet). 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.
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."
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".
As his books Treasury of Humor and Asimov Laughs Again
record, Asimov was willing to tell
jokes involving 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 liberal 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. (This
attitude is echoed by
The Wave Speech in
Hunter S. Thompson's
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) His defense of civil
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,
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
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
More seriously, he argued that the issue of women's rights was
closely connected to that of population control. Furthermore, he
homosexuality must be considered a "moral right" on
population grounds, as must all
consenting adult sexual activity that does not lead to
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
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
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
Asimov believed that his most enduring contributions would be
Laws of Robotics" and the
Foundation Series (see Yours, Isaac Asimov, p. 329).
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
hydraulics, but for
robots. Unlike his word psychohistory, the word
robotics continues in mainstream technical use with Asimov's
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. He is considered one of few authors who
have the potential to bring older teenagers in to the realm of
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
Astounding Science Fiction. He finished "Cosmic
Corkscrew" on June 19, and submitted the story in person to
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".
In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall"
the best science fiction short story ever written.
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
space opera and toward speculation about the
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 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,
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.
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
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
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
Robot stories have inspired other derivative works of
science fiction literature, many by well-known and established
authors such as
Roger MacBride Allen,
Gregory Benford and
David Brin. These appear to have been done with the
blessing, and often at the request of, Asimov's widow
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,
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
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
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
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").
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
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
Asimov wrote several essays on the social contentions of his
time, including "Thinking About Thinking" and "Science: Knock
The great variety of information covered in Asimov's writings
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
Thomas Pynchon admitted that he relied upon Asimov's science
popularizations (and the
Oxford English Dictionary) to provide his knowledge of
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).
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."
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).
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
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.
Toward the end of his life, Asimov published a series 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
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
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.
Much of Asimov's fiction dealt with themes of
paternalism. 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.
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, nor, through 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.
The Foundation Series (which did not originally have
robots), a scientist implements a semi-secret plan to create a
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 paternalistic 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
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
Nemesis, in which the planet Erythro composed
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, perhaps the reverse of paternalism,
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
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
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
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
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
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
English at the
University of Kansas wrote of
Except for two stories—"Liar!"
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
Elijah Baley in
The Caves of Steel and
Hari Seldon in the Foundation prequels.
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.
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",
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.
Others have criticised 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
genetic engineering, aliens,
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.
Be that as it may, a considerable portion of such criticism
boils down to the charge that Asimov's works are simply dated.
More precisely, some details of Asimov's imaginary future
technology as he described in the 1940s and 1950s have not aged
well. He, for example, described powerful robots and computers
from the distant future as still 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
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
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
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.
(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
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.
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
chaos. Palumbo finds that though the traditional interests
of literature (such as
characterization) are often somewhat lacking or even absent,
a fascination with the
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.
John Jenkins, who has reviewed the vast majority of Asimov's
written output, once observed:
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.
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
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
"Notes From Curator: Isaac Asimov".
Seiler, Edward; Jenkins, John H. (2008-06-27).
"Isaac Asimov FAQ" (HTML). Isaac Asimov Home Page.
Retrieved on 2008-07-02.
Freedman, Carl (2000), Critical Theory and
Science Fiction, Doubleday, pp. 71
"Isaac Asimov Biography and List of Works" (HTML).
Retrieved on 2008-03-05.
Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Doubleday. pp. 475–476.
Asimov, Isaac (1994), I, Asimov: A Memoir, New
York: Doubleday, pp. 380
Isaac Asimov (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The
Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978.
Doubleday/Avon. p. 217,302.
Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Doubleday. pp. 500.
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."
Asimov, Isaac (2002). Janet Asimov. ed. It's Been a
Good Life. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.
Gunn, James (1982). Isaac Asimov: The Foundations
of Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
pp. 12–13, 20.
Isaac Asimov Interview with Don Swaim (1987)
Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Doubleday. pp. 129–131.
Asimov, Isaac (1979). In Memory Yet Green: The
Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. Garden
City, New York: Doubleday.
Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Doubleday. pp. 125–129.
Asimov, Isaac (1992). Asimov Laughs Again. New
York: HarperCollins Publishers.
^ White (2005), pp. 83 and 219–20
^ Asimov, Isaac. I. Asimov, a Memoir, New
York, Doubleday, 1994, pages 376-377.
"Asimov FAQ". 2004-09-27.
Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
"Locus Online: Letter from Janet Asimov". 2002-04-04.
Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
^ 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.
Asimov, Isaac (1995). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Bantam. pp. 338.
Asimov, Isaac (1995). I. Asimov: A Memoir. New
York: Bantam. pp. 336–338.
b Asimov, Isaac (1996).
Yours, Isaac Asimov, edited by Stanley Asimov.
Asimov, Isaac (1991). Isaac Asimov's Treasury of
Humor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 346-347.
Asimov, Isaac (1988), Prelude to Foundation,
Bantam Books, xiii–xv
Spud, The Invincible.
"Isaac Asimov: The Good Doctor". Bewildering
Retrieved on 2007-05-13.
"Isaac Asimov Obituary". quotes
The New York Times, April 7, 1992 edition.
Retrieved on 2007-05-13.
Michael Sampson (2004-01-14).
"The Bottom of Things".
Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
"Isaac Asimov FAQ, Part 1". 2001-02-09.
Retrieved on 2007-01-17.
Asimov, Isaac (1991), Puzzles of the Black Widowers,
Bantam Books, xiii–xiii
Gunn, James (1980-07), "On Variations on a Robot",
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: 56–81
Asimov, Isaac (1994), I, Asimov: A Memoir, New
York: Doubleday, pp. 250
"Review of The Gods Themselves".
Retrieved on 2007-05-13.
^ Asimov, Isaac (1952),
The Currents of Space, explanation of "kyrt"
"Review of an Asimov biography, The Unauthorized Life".
Retrieved on 2007-05-13.
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
For a listing of Asimov's books in chronological order within
his future history, see the
Foundation Series list of books.
Fantastic Voyage series
"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:
- Extended Foundation series:
- Further Extended Foundation series — Second
Lucky Starr series
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
List of short stories by Isaac Asimov
I, Robot (1950),
The Martian Way and Other Stories (1955),
Earth Is Room Enough (1957),
Nine Tomorrows (1959),
The Rest of the Robots (1964),
Through a Glass, Clearly (1967),
Nightfall and Other Stories (1969),
The Early Asimov (1972),
The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973),
Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975,
The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976),
The Complete Robot (1982)
The Winds of Change and Other Stories (1983),
The Alternate Asimovs (1986),
The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov (1986)
Robot Dreams (1986),
Robot Visions (1990)
Short story collections
Collections of columns from the
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Fact and Fancy (1962)
View from a Height (1963)
Adding a Dimension (1964)
Of Time, Space, & Other Things (1965)
From Earth to Heaven (1966)
Science, Numbers and I (1968)
The Solar System and Back (1970)
The Stars in Their Courses (1971)
Left Hand of the Electron (1972)
The Tragedy of the Moon (1973)
Of Matters Great & Small (1975)
The Planet that Wasn't (1976)
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1977)
Road to Infinity (1979)
The Sun Shines Bright (1981)
Counting the Eons (1983)
X Stands for Unknown (1984)
The Subatomic Monster (1985)
Far as Human Eye Could See (1987)
The Relativity of Wrong (1988)
Out of the Everywhere (1990)
The Secret of The Universe (1990)
Atom: Journey Across the Subatomic Cosmos (1991)
Opus 100 (1969),
- The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (A collection of
- Limericks, Two Gross (More limericks)
Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology
Opus 200 (1979),
Our Federal Union (1975), ISBN 0-395-2283-3
Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts (1979),
The Roving Mind (1983) (collection of essays). New
edition published by
Prometheus Books, 1997,
Opus 300 (1984),
TV and film appearances
- Stranieri in America 1988
- Oltre New York 1986
- Voyage to the Outer Planets and Beyond 1986
- Target... Earth? 1980
The Dick Cavett Show 1970
The Nature of Things 1969
News" coverage of
Apollo 11, 1969, with
Fred Pohl, interviewed by
Tell The Truth", CBS, approximately 1968, playing the
"real" Isaac Asimov.
- ARTS Network talk show hosted by
Studs Terkel and
Calvin Trillin, approximately 1982. Other guests
Harlan Ellison and
Frost" interview program, August 1969. This is the show
in which Frost asked Asimov if he had ever tried to find God
and, after some initial evasion, Asimov answered, "God is
much more intelligent than I—let him try to find me."
^ Cite error: Invalid
<ref> tag; no text
was provided for refs named AsimovFAQ-DeweyDecimal
- In Joy Still Felt (1980,
- I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994).
ISBN 0-385-41701-2 (hc),
ISBN 0-553-56997-X (pb).
- Yours, Isaac Asimov (1996), edited by Stanley
- It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet
- 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
- The Science of Science-Fiction Writing
Исаак Озимов (Russian); Айзек Азимов (Russian); French,
Paul (pseudonym); Dale, George E. (pseudonym)
Russian-born American novelist, short story author,
essayist, historian, biochemist, textbook writer,
|DATE OF BIRTH
January 2?, 1920?
|PLACE OF BIRTH
|DATE OF DEATH
April 6, 1992
|PLACE OF DEATH
NOVEMBER 29, 2010
(11:00 AM - NOON /
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The Program can also now be viewed on the
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