I have been reading some of Isaac Asimov’s essays on science fiction over the last few days. Over the course of his prolific career, the Good Doctor wrote thousands of essays ranging a wide variety of subjects. I’ve probably read most (although certainly not all) of these essays and it occurred to me yesterday that one might consider Isaac Asimov one of the earliest bloggers–or at the very least, a “proto-blogger”. In honor of his 91st birthday today, I thought I would discuss this in more detail.
There are some common features to most successful blog:
- They have an audience
- They are updated with some degree of regularity
- They often contain commentary on a specific topic area, although some run the gamut
- The engage readers in a discussion or dialog through the comment system
In the world of science fiction, blogging often involves any or all of the following:
- Reviews or critiques of science fiction
- Discussions of the writing process or the business of writing
- Social commentary from the perspective of a science fiction writer
- Occasional discussions of science as it relates to society (or science fiction)
And every now and then, the blogger will write about his or her personal life.
Isaac Asimov’s thousands of essays meet almost all these criteria and then some:
- He had a huge audience, one that continued to grow from the mid-1950s (when his essays became more regular) until his death.
- The essays appeared with an unprecedented degree of regularity. He wrote 399 consecutive monthly essays on science for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; he wrote columns for American Way for a decade or more; he wrote columns for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate; and he wrote editorials for each issue of Asimov’s for more than 15 years. In addition, he had essays appearing in all kinds of other places from TV Guide to the New York Times, to say nothing of the hundred of introductions he wrote for other people’s books.
- Several of his columns focused on a broad area, such as science. Others were political commentary, or literary critiques, or personal essays about writing or about science fiction.
The most significant difference between Asimov’s essays and blogs today lies in the discussion aspect. And even there, readers of the essays could and did write to Asimov to engage him on various points and opinions in his essays. And where he could, Asimov responded (there were more than 100,000 letters in his files, according to his brother).
Reading Asimov’s essays on science fiction (many of which appeared as editorials for Asimov’s Science Fiction), I can’t help but look at them as a primitive form of blogging, a kind of Whatever, twenty years before Scalzi’s pioneering blog appeared. They often talked about science fiction or the writing of science fiction, but they sometimes also commented on some kind of social or political issue, and his views were discussed by fans in the letter columns, a kind of primitive comment system. He was what I call a proto-blogger.
I wonder what would have happened if he had lived into the early 21st century. Would he have become a full-fledged blogger? I suspect not? He was set in his ways and already had a vast audience for the essays he wrote. I think he would have approved of the notion of blogging, but I don’t think that he personally would have embraced it (in the way that, say, Frederik Pohl has).
Happy 91st birthday, Isaac!