Tag: isaac asimov

Perfect Stories

One of the things I love about baseball is that it is possible to have a “perfect game.” A perfect game is one in which a pitcher faces 27 batters, and not one of them gets on base. There are no hits, no walks, no one hit by a pitch, no one ever making it on base. Period. The perfect game, as you might imagine, is incredibly rare. From 1903 to the present, the era of “World Series” baseball, spanning 118 years, there have been 21 perfect games. In that same period of time, there have been approximately 220,000 regular season baseball games. That’s one perfect game for every 10,500 games played, which is itself about 4-5 seasons of baseball.

Like an elusive perfect game, I think stories can be perfect, too. The guidelines for a perfect story are not as well-defined as those of a perfect game, but I suspect they are just as rare, and just as impressive. In all of my reading, I’ve encountered only a handful of what I consider perfect stories.

My paperback copy of The Illustrated Man
My paperback copy of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

My list of perfect stories, and the writers who wrote them, are:

  1. “The Rocket Man” by Ray Bradbury. You can find this one in The Illustrated Man.
  2. “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” by Harlan Ellison. You can find this one in Slippage.
  3. “The Bicentennial Man” by Isaac Asimov. This one appears in The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
  4. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King. This one appears in my favorite Stephen King collection of novellas, Different Seasons.
  5. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. It turns out this one is currently available online, on Gizmodo
  6. “Understanding Entropy” by Barry N. Malzberg. This one can found in In the Stone House.
  7. “A Death” by Stephen King, making him the only author with 2 perfect stories on my list. I wrote about “A Death” when it first came out. This story can be found in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

I’ve never tracked the stories I’ve read in the way I keep track of the books I’ve read, but I would guess that by now, I’ve read thousands of short stories. These are the 7 out of all those thousands that, to me, are the fictional equivalent of the perfect game. Over the years, I’ve tried to think about what makes a story “perfect” in my mind. I think it involved a couple of factors:

  • After reading it the first time, when it seems that any possible change would diminish the story, it is a sign that it is perfect.
  • A perfect story keeps me thinking about it for a long time after I’ve read it.
  • A perfect story gets better with each re-read.
  • A perfect story involves a deep appreciation of the craft involved in its creation, in much the way one can marvel at the skill of a pitcher who tosses a perfect game.

There are some stories that have come close to perfection–these are the no-hitters of the short fiction world. This list is obviously longer, but here are three that immediately come to mind as close to perfect:

As I was writing this, it occurred to me that there is probably such as thing as a perfect essay as well. But I’ll save my list of perfect essays for another time.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on WordPress.com

Foundation Day

Today, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation makes its television debut on Apple TV+. I haven’t watched it yet, but I plan to watch the first two episodes, which were released last night, before the end of the day. It has been a long journey from original concept to the silver screen. H.B.O. attempted to do it and failed. Isaac Asimov first got the idea for Foundation on August 1, 1941. It was 8 months before the first story, “Foundation” appeared in the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story was written before the United States had entered the Second World War and was published after we’d entered the war. Today’s debut of the series marks just over 80 years from first concept of the story to appearance on television.

The original 1942 “Foundation” story is not the story that appears at the beginning of the first Foundation novel. That novel, and the two that followed, were fixups–collections of the original stories woven together in a more seamless narrative. The first part of the Foundation novel, “The Encyclopedists” was actually written in 1950. The original 1942 “Foundation” story makes up the second part of the Foundation novel. In the original story, Hari Seldon made only brief appearance during his life at the very beginning of the story. It was only with the addition of “The Encyclopedists” that Seldon was introduced more fully during his life.

The original “Foundation” story in my copy of the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

I’ve written a fair amount about Foundation here on the blog. My post popular Foundation post is one I wrote back in 2009. It’s a post aimed to recommend the best order in which to read the original Foundation books called “If you are planning on reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation…” That post has received more than 50,000 views in recent years, which isn’t bad, considering it is something I wrote in 12 years ago. In recent weeks, I’ve seen a big uptick in interest in that post. More recently, I wrote some thoughts on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and the Apple TV+ adaptation. During my Vacation in the Golden Age, when I went through the first 40+ issue of Astounding Science Fiction beginning with the July 1939 issue, I wrote more about Foundation in Episode 35.

Although Foundation is probably Isaac Asimov’s most popular science fiction novel, it is not my favorite Asimov fiction. That title belongs to his story, “The Bicentennial Man” which makes my very short list of “perfect” stories. (Also on that list: Ray Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man” and Harlan Ellison’s “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore.”) Foundation is a novel of ideas, not so much emotion. There is much more of the latter in Asimov’s later fiction (Forward the Foundation is my favorite of the series) and “The Bicentennial Man” is the height of this. There was a mediocre movie made of “The Bicentennial Man” starring Robin Williams. It wasn’t bad, it just doesn’t capture the beauty of the original story. This is part of the reason for the trepidation I have this morning as I get ready to watch Foundation. Will the Apple TV adaptation do the story justice?

Come back in a few days and I’m sure I’ll have some answers to this question. In the meantime, if you watch Foundation on Apple TV, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope even more that it encourages you to check out the Foundation novels, and go beyond and find more of Asimov’s fiction and nonfiction that you’ll enjoy as well.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on WordPress.com

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and the Apple TV+ Adaptation

On March 29, 1997, I finished reading Forward the Foundation, the final entry in Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION series that he wrote himself, not long before he died in 1992. It was, I believe, the third time I’d read the complete series. The series is composed of 7 books, the first three of which were published in the 1950s, and the last four in the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite being published in the 1950, the first three books, the original FOUNDATION trilogy, were actually “fixups,” collections of stories that were original published in Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s. I absolutely loved the series, and ultimately ended up reading the entire series at least 5 times.

That day in 1997, I wrote the following in my diary:

I’ll start on the new Foundation series–Foundation’s Fear. I must admit, I’m nervous about it. FOUNDATION is perfect as it is, as far as I can see–which is the way Asimov conceived it. I have only 2 reasons for reading Foundation’s Fear: (1) Janet Asimov approved it–it was originally her idea, which gives it some credibility; and (2) I am genuinely curious as to what happens next. So much, it seems was left with loose ends. I only hope that I don’t regret reading it. It’s strange, but once I read it, I can’t take that away, ignore it–but it’s a risk, I suppose, I’m willing to take.

The “new” Foundation series I referred to was the Second Foundation Trilogy, three books authored by big name science fiction writers. The first, Foundation’s Fear was written by Gregory Benford. The second, Foundation and Chaos was written by Greg Bear. And the third and final installment, Foundation’s Triumph was written by David Brin. Over the next three years, I did end up reading all three. Some were better than others, but I did not regret reading them. They were clearly fans of the original books, and they knew what Asimov was getting at and built upon it. Indeed, as it turned out, the last few pages of Brin’s Foundation’s Triumph, contained a brilliant exchange between two of the long time characters that harked back to the very first words of the original Foundation novel, and tied everything together. It was worth reading all three just for that. I was lucky enough to talk to David Brin in the SFWA suite at Chicon 7, tell him how much I loved that scene, and asked him about how he came up with it.

the 7 books asimov write in the foundation series
My collection of FOUNDATION paperbacks.

In October, Apple TV+ will release the first season of the long-awaited FOUNDATION television series. I’ve seen all three previews, and watching them stirs up a mixture of feelings. On the one hand, I feel that same sense of trepidation I felt back in March 1997 when deciding whether or not I’d read the new trilogy. On the other hand, I’m curious to know if the story can really be pulled off in this medium. I’m skeptical because I thought the film adaptation of Asimov’s I. Robot was terrible. It made no sense to make that particular film in that way, especially when Harlan Ellison had written an amazing screenplay of the same collection of stories that would have been perfect for production.

Watching the trailers, I was alarmed by the number of explosions I saw. For all of their galactic-spanning intrigue, the FOUNDATION novels were not about big battles but ideas. Indeed, people often complained the most of what happens in the books is (especially the first three) is a lot of talking. But sitting around talking doesn’t hook viewers, and television isn’t always about big ideas; instead, entertainment and special effects take center stage. I understand this, and I’m okay with it so long as the core structure of the story still holds.

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before.

Those are the first words of the first Foundation novel. Clearly, some of the characters have been reinterpreted for television. Gaal Dornick, “just a country boy,” in the original Foundation novel, is a woman in the Apple TV+ series. I think this is good, too. A big critique of Asimov’s stories, especially the early ones, is that they were completely devoid of women. His excuse was that he was in his late teens and early twenties when writing these stories (he was 22 years old when the first Foundation story appeared in the May 1942 issue of Astounding), and he had no experience with women. To me, however, adaptations like this one–making Gaal a woman instead of a man–make the overall vision of a galactic empire much more realistic.

It turns out, looking at the casting of the series, that another significant character also appears as a woman: Eto Demerzel. First of all, I have to say that I was delighted to see that Demerzel appears in the Apple TV+ series. Readers of the entire series know all about Demerzel, and I won’t give away any spoilers. But I will say that it makes sense that Demerzel appears a woman in this adaptation. It would even have made sense in the books. To know why, you’ll either have to read the books, or ultimately, watch the Apple TV series (assuming they stay true to Demerzel’s character).

The first five books of the FOUNDATION series take place in chronological order. The final two books of the original series (and the three books of the Second Foundation trilogy) are prequels: they take place before the original FOUNDATION book. (Side note: one of the more popular evergreen posts I have here on the blog outside of my Going Paperless posts is a post I wrote on the best order in which to read the Foundation series.) Demerzel doesn’t show up until the sixth book in Asimov’s original series of seven. That means, though the first stories were written in 1941, Demerzel doesn’t show up in Foundation stories until the late 1980s. That Demerzel appears in the cast of the Apple TV+ series tells me the series is telling the story strictly chronologically, at least at first.

I’ve read some crazy theories over the years about how Asimov came up with the idea for Foundation and for psychohistory, the “science” that plays a central role within the story. Much of these theories ignore the available evidence: Asimov described exactly when and how he got the idea in the first volume of this autobiography:

On August 1, 1941, I took the subway to [John W.] Campbell’s office after class was over. On the way down I racked my brain for a story idea. Falling, I tried a device I sometimes used. I opened a book at random and then tried free association, beginning with whatever I first saw. The book I had with me was a collection of Gilbert and Sullivan plays. I opened it to Iolanthe–to the picture of the Fairy Queen throwing herself at the feet of Private Willis, the sentry. Thinking of sentries, I thought of soldiers, of military empires, of the Roman Empire–of the Galactic Empire–aha!

In Memory Yet Green, p.311

People also make the mistake of thinking the entire series had been planned out ahead of time, much like Robert Heinlein’s Future History series. In truth, Asimov said that Campbell loved the idea, but that it was too small for a short story, it needed to be an open-ended series of stories involving the fall of the First Galactic Empire and the rise of the Second Galactic Empire. He wanted Asimov to go home and write an outline for the entire series. About this, Asimov wrote,

I went home, dutifully, and began preparing an outline that got longer and longer and stupider and stupider until I finally tore it up. It was quite plain that I could work with an outline… I started the story I had originally intended to write… and the heck with possible future stories. I’d worry about them when the time came–and if the time came.

In Memory Yet Green, p.312

Over the decades, the lack of planning led to criticism that there were inconsistencies throughout the Foundation series. I always thought these inconsistencies were serendipitous. Consider: the entire Foundation saga is framed as being told from a time safely within the Second Galactic Empire. This is clear from the excerpts from the Encylopedia Galactica that are quoted throughout the books, the dates of which indicate being in the Foundation Era 1020, past the thousand years of dark ages. That is, whoever is telling the story is telling it long after the fall of the First Galactic Empire and after the thousand years of dark ages before the rise of the Second Galactic Empire. Of course there would be inconsistencies. A dark age separates the two empires, a time of chaos and disruption and war and strife. If would be incredible unlikely for the stories to be consistent given that context

Psychohistory, the science at the center of the Foundation novels, is simple in concept but complex in its implications: the man of history can be predicted through statistical analysis. In much the same way that Boyle’s Laws can predict the overall behavior of a volume of gas, but not the behavior of any one gas molecule, psychohistory can predict the overall behavior of all of humanity, but not the behavior of a single individual. At the time, this really seemed like science fiction. However, with AI algorithms that can predict what books you might be interested in (however poorly they may do so) or predict your morning route on a map based on patterns of your behavior, maybe it is not as farfetched as it seemed in 1942.

All of this is to say that there is a lot that has to fit into an adaptation of the books, and leaving seeming small things out can ultimately dictate the success or failure of the adaptation in the eyes of Asimov fans.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the first season will be centered around Seldon’s establishment of the Foundation, climaxing in the final episode with the revelation of the true purpose of the Foundation (and who its real enemy may be). Each subsequent season (assuming there is more than one) will focus on a new “psychohistorical crisis”. The logical choice for season 2 would be the introduction of the Mule–an idea that John Campbell pushed on Asimov and that Asimov took only reluctantly.

Over the course of my life, I’ve probably read more of Asimov’s writing than any other writer. Fiction was a small part of his overall output, which means I’ve read a lot more of his nonfiction, including thousands of his essays where he expressed his opinion on everything conceivable. While I may not be a scholarly expert on Asimov, I feel as if I am qualified, based on this exhaustive reading, to make the following claim: if Asimov were alive today, he would love the idea of this Apple TV+ series. I thought of this the other day when my friend Michael A. Burstein posted a video of Asimov being interviewed by David Letterman in 1980. In that interview, he talked about how he enjoyed movies like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. He joked that it was unfair because with 9 films planned, the last ones would likely come out after he was dead (they did). If Asimov had a blog today (he wouldn’t be on Twitter, but he’d definitely be a blogger) he’d be posting about the forthcoming series, reminding people that the series was coming out in October. He would be thrilled to see characters he created beginning in 1941 come to life on the screen with such spectacular effects, 80 years after he invented them.

Somehow, knowing in my heart that Asimov would have loved this series on Apple TV makes it not matter much to me whether I do or not. I hope I do, but as is the case with all adaptations, they can never really spoil the original. Those original books are right there on my shelf, and I can pick them up any time I want to.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on WordPress.com

Isaac Asimov and Information Theory

I have been reading a lot about information theory these last two months. In the course of this reading, the same people keep showing up again and again. Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, J. C. R. Lichlider, Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, and John McCarthy to name just a few.

It is the last few that caught my attention. Having read much of what Isaac Asimov wrote over the course of his life–including his 3-volume autobiography, which I’ve read at least 14 times–the last three names were already familiar. Marvin Minsky, Norbert Wiener, and John McCarthy were mentioned a number of times in the second volume of Asimov’s autobiography, In Joy Still Felt.

Asimov knew them in his years living in the Boston area. All three worked in information theory at M.I.T. Asimov, who had quite the ego, said of Minsky that he was one of two people that was smarter than Asimov himself. The other was Carl Sagan. At a party for Asimov’s 50th birthday which both Sagan and Minsky attended, Asimov wrote that “Carl did not fail to point out that I had in the same room with me the two men I conceded were more intelligent than I was.”

Minksy was involved with robotics at the time. Norbert Wiener coined the term “cybernetics.” He also tried to get Asimov to collaborate on a mystery with him. McCarthy worked with Minsky on artificial intelligence.

Thinking back on this, it seemed that Asimov’s interaction with these men was purely social, and a matter of proximity, and knowing the same people. What is remarkable to me is that, knowing these people at the forefront of information theory, I can’t think of a single instance where Asimov wrote about information theory in the way he wrote about other sciences. He had the best and the brightest in the field over to his house, but as far as I can tell, he never showed any intellectual interest in the theory.

Sure, Asimov wrote about robots and the Three Laws, but that is not information theory. Asimov wrote about entropy in physics and chaos theory, but not about the parallels between entropy and information. He wrote popular pieces about using computers, but I could find a single essay in the 399 monthly science columns he wrote for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from the late 50s until his death in 19922 that went into any detail on information theory. The closet I can come are 2 essays in the 1970s.

The first, “The Age of the Computer” is really more about the impact of computers on society, not information theory. The other, perhaps a little closer, is “The Ancient and the Ultimate” is about how information is contained (book form or digital).

I can’t explain this lack, especially given his camaraderie with Minsky, McCarty and Wiener. Asimov admitted that there were certain fields he simply didn’t understand. Economics was one such example that he gave. Could information theory have been another? After all, he did admit that Minsky was more intelligent than he was. By implication, could that mean he just didn’t get information theory?

It’s too bad, really. I would love to read an F&SF-style essay on information theory written by Asimov.

Isaac Asimov and Stephen King: A Few Words Between Fellow Writers

Since I am (obviously) on a Stephen King kick again, I thought it apropos to share snippets from a few letters between Isaac Asimov and Stephen King that I recalled reading in Stanley Asimov’s book, Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime of Letters.

According to Stan Asimov: Stephen King wrote this letter to Isaac on the occasion of the publication of Isaac’s 262nd book, which was eventually to become Isaac’s first bestseller:

September 9, 1982

Good luck with Foundation’s Edge–not that you’ll need it, you dog, you!

Isaac replied to king as follows:

14 September 1982

Foundation’s Edge seems to show promise, but I am careful not to let my hopes get too high. After all, I get a best seller about as often as you don’t get one.

And a few years later, King wrote this one:

May 29, 1987

I wanted to write a fan letter telling you how much I’m enjoying working my way through The World’s Greatest SF Stories. I simply refuse to countenance your death until you have reached at least the year 2000.

And Isaac replied:

25 June 1987

I imagine you never expected your life to be this crazy because how could anyone not be surprised at finding himself the most successful writer in the history of the world. And so good that you clearly deserve to be.

I don’t know about you, but I just get a kick out of these behind the scenes exchanges between two fantastic writers. They show a charming humility in each that isn’t always visible when they are in the spotlight.

Asimov’s Annotations (mostly for Fred Kiesche and Paul Weimer)

Because Fred Kiesche, Paul Weimer and I were discussing them on Twitter yesterday, here is a photo for Fred and Paul designed to turn them green with envy:

Click to enlarge

Technically, Asimov’s Guide to Shakepeare and Asimov’s Guide to the Bible are not annotations in the sense that the entire work is included and commented on. But Asimov wrote that he thought it wasn’t practical to include the entire work because both the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are far too long.

The one I find people forget about the most is Familiar Poems, Annotated, which is itself a fascinating read. I sometimes wish I’d read it before taking AP English in 12th grade. I might have argued with the teacher’s interpretations more.

The only one that I am missing is, naturally, the one I want the most and that is Asimov’s Annotated Paradise Lost.

Anyway, there they are, prime examples that Asimov wrote more than just science and science fiction. And the four actual annotations pictured above are all first editions. (Guide to the Bible and Guide to Shakespeare are not.)


Charming Asimovian modesty

Isaac Asimov was known as a bit of an egoist1 but this was something that he openly acknowledged. He called these “charming Asimovian immodesties” and later referred to his attitude as “cheerful self-appreciation.” However, once in a while, he could come across as brilliantly modest. For instance, this quote from him which I read a few days back. I think it is especially applicable today, when the Internet acts as a gigantic megaphone-without-filters and we see follies magnified all around us, from those within and without the spotlight.

It is always a little difficult for me to laugh freely at the follies of mankind. If I look closely enough, I find that I share them all.

Would that we could all take this attitude from time-to-time before making dumb decisions.

  1. That is a bit of understatement.

My annual Isaac Asimov autobiography reading

in memory yet green.jpg

Last year, I skipped my annual Isaac Asimov autobiography reading. I was busy with writing, blogging, and my Vacation in the Golden Age reading and it was all too much for me. But I didn’t want to skip it two years in a row, as I so enjoy sitting down with In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. I’ve cut back on some writing and the fact that I delayed Episode 37 of my Vacation in the Golden Age to April 30 has given me the opportunity to squeeze in this reading. I started this weekend, sitting in my back yard with a beer and cracking open In Memory Yet Green.  This is my 15th time reading the book since I started keeping records on January 1, 1996. And indeed, I have much of the book memorized. So why read it again and again and again?

I’ve written before that one regret I have is not having entered active fandom sooner than I did1 for the singular reason that I never got to meet Isaac Asimov. Perhaps, if I had been active as a youngster in the 1980s, I might have had a chance to meet him. I love his books, fiction and nonfiction alike and I was breathless after reading his memoir, I. Asimov for the first time in the spring of 1994. (He’d already been dead 2 years at that point.) When I discovered he’d written an even more detailed autobiography, I set about obtaining copies at once and they were even better than I imagined. The voice that Asimov uses when writing about himself is unique. I haven’t seen it with any other writer. His words disappear and it’s as if he’s sitting in the chair next to me, sipping from a mug of coffee, and rattling off one story after another about his life, about writing, about science fiction, you name it. When I read these books, I hear his Brooklyn accent and it’s as if he is talking directly to me. So it really doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the stories more than a dozen times. Reading these books is the closest I’ll ever get to sitting down with the Good Doctor and listen to him speak.

The books have had a queer side-effect. There are countless people in the science fiction world mentioned in the books, and I felt like I’ve gotten to know some of them quite well, albeit through Asimov’s lenses. So reading these books is like a mini-convention for me–a rather remarkable one, granted, at which all the lights of science fiction have gathered around me and decided to share their stories. It is a remarkable experience every time I do it and just when I start to think that maybe I’ll skip it this year–the urge to dive into the books becomes unbearably strong.

I imagine that most people have some book that they could read again and again and again for the sheer pleasure of it. These just happen to be mine.

  1. I only entered active fandom after I made my first professional story sale back in January 2007.

How Isaac Asimov made me feel better about my current hiatus from fiction-writing

Taking a break from fiction-writing was a particularly difficult decision for me. But I was getting burned out. Life was intruding and something had to give. Once I made the decision, I felt pretty good about it, but in the back of my mind, it still bugged me a little. “I should be writing,” I’d tell myself. “That’s what my heroes would have done.” But it turns out that is not entirely true. While walked to the grocery store, I recalled a passage from Isaac Asimov’s autobiography that described something similar. The year was 1942. Asimov was 22 years old, was working on an advanced degree, had already published some of his robot stories, as well as classics like “Nightfall” and “Foundation.” And he was about to move to Philadelphia to work at the Navy Yard with Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp as part of the war effort. He ended up on a routine of visiting New York regularly during his stay in Philly. This was happening around May 1942. He wrote:

It was a dreadful routine, but I kept it up for week after week. Because I was in New York only for the twenty-four-hour period centered about Saturday night I could never see Campbell, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to see anybody but Gertrude, and writing, which had been at a halt since February, continued to be nonexistent.

I was under the impression, after all, that the purpose of my writing had been to pay my way through school. Now there was no school to be paid. Indeed, the work I was doing was paying me. Why should I write, therefore? I even stopped reading science-fiction magazines, for the first time in thirteen years (I think because reading science fiction magazines activated guilt feelings over my failure to write it.)

It wasn’t until January of 1943 that Asimov tried his hand at writing again.

Recalling and re-reading this made me feel better because it showed me that everyone needs a break at times, at that even as big a science fiction star (and one so prolific) as my idol, Isaac Asimov, needed them, too. Life intrudes on everyone. His break didn’t seem to stop his writing career. Indeed, when he came back to writing in January 1943, he was even more successful than before.

I’ll go with that assumption.

My annual Asimov autobiography re-read

I started reading Isaac Asimov’s retrospective memoir, I. Asimov last night.

I’ve written here often enough about my ritual, each April, where I read Isaac Asimov’s 3 autobiography volumes. I always read I. Asimov first, even though that was written last, because that one is a retrospective of his whole life. In the epilogue, Janet Asimov writes of Isaac’s death, and I don’t want to end on a sad note. So once that book is finished, I turn to the first volume of his massive autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, and follow that up immediately with In Joy Still Felt, so that when I am all done (after nearly 1,000,000 words worth of reading!) Asimov is still alive and well in 1979.

I was a senior in college when the hardcover of I. Asimov first came out. Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a whole lot of Asimov at the time. My science fiction experience was still very narrow-focused on a few writers (like Piers Anthony) that I had discovered as a teenager. But I bought the first edition hardcover (it was on the bestseller lists, if I recall) and took it back to my apartment to start reading. Almost immediately, I fell in love with Asimov’s colloquial style. It was as if he was sitting in my living room, telling me the story, instead of my reading it off the page. I was also fascinated by his life story, not so much because anything exciting happened, but because in many ways, he was so normal, yet became a great science and science fiction writer–it was almost like reading an instruction manual on How To Do It.

Read more

Isaac Asimov at 92

Today would have been Isaac Asimov’s 92nd birthday. Come April, he’ll have been dead for 20 years. It is hard to believe. It is still one of my biggest regrets that I never got to meet him. I really started to broaden my science fiction reading right around the time he passed away. At the time, I may have only read one or two things by Asimov, but of course I knew who he was. In the spring of 1994, his retrospective memoir, I. Asimov was released and I learned a whole lot more about him–and regretted at once never reading his stuff sooner. In the 20 years since, I’ve read that book, and his two other autobiography volumes nearly 20 times. And I’ve read just about everything else he’s ever written. My Asimov collection is my favorite part of my personal library.

At times like this, I often imagine an alternate history in which Asimov did not die at 72, but continued to live on for another twenty-five years or so, much like his friends Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl. What would Isaac have thought about the Internet? Would he, like Pohl, have started a blog? What would he think of the publishing world today, with e-books and the battle for profits? It is impossible to say for certain, but he wrote enough during his life to make some educated guesses.

Read more

My Isaac Asimov books: a bibliography in pictures

Reading my friend Michael A. Burstein’s post earlier today, “Thoughts: The Last Shuttle by Isaac Asimov” not only got my thinking about the end of the manned U.S. space program, but about Asimov and what he would think about the situation today. That in turn got me thinking about how much he’d written and how many books of his I’ve read and tried to collect. And so, I present below a bibliography in pictures of the Good Doctor. Or at least those books that I’ve managed to collect and cram onto my shelves. All images are high res and you can click on them and be able to read most of the titles. (Unless they are otherwise obscured.)

Click to enlarge

We start (above) with the first shelf. I used sort my books alphabetically by author and then chronologically within an author, but as you’ll see, I never got them sorted chronologically after the last move nearly two years ago. So the Asimov books are all together, but pretty random. Probably the most interesting book above is Familiar Poems: Annotated. I own all of Isaac Asimov’s annotations, except Paradise Lost.

Read more