Ba mhaith le hAsimov seomraí beaga cluthara. Ní fhéadfá clástrafóibe a chur ina leith. Sa chéad chuid dá bheathaisnéis, cuimhníonn sé ar an aisling a bhí aige ina bhuachaill beag dó: theastaigh uaidh, ansin, seastán nuachtán a bheith aige ar stáisiún an iarnróid faoi thalamh, i gcruth is go bhféadfadh sé a chuid léitheoireachta a dhéanamh i mboth beag seascair agus na traenacha ag dul thart leis.

Bhí eagla ar Asimov roimh eitilt, agus ní dheachaigh sé ar bhord eitleáin ach faoi dhó, nuair a bhí sé ar fiannas san arm, ionas nach bhféadfadh sé é a sheachaint. Dá thoradh sin, ní minic a chuireadh sé turasanna fada taistil de, rud a d'fhág a lorg ar a chuid scríbhneoireachta, go háirithe ar na scéalta faoin mbleachtaire Wendell Urth agus na scéalta faoi Elijah Baley. Ina fhear cnagaosta dó, fuair sé amach go raibh sé ag baint an-taithnimh as cúrsáil loinge, agus ba mhinic a thugadh sé cainteanna faoi chúrsaí eolaíochta ar bhord loinge leis na paisinéirí eile a ghiúmaráil. Óráidí den chéad scoth a bhí ann a d'fhéadfadh draíocht a chur ar a lucht éisteachta. Bhí ciall dhian aige don am, nó bhí sé ábalta an t-am a bhí curtha ar fáil dó a spíonadh gan é a shárú gan oiread is súil chaitheamh ar an uaireadóir.

Ón taobh eile de, ní raibh mórán lúith ina ghéaga, nó níor fhoghlaim sé riamh conas snámh nó rothaíocht a dhéanamh. Mar sin féin, nuair a d'aistrigh sé go Bostún, d'éirigh leis teacht isteach ar thiomaint an ghluaisteáin. Ina leabhar scéilíní magaidh ''Asimov Laughs Again'', thug sé "ainriail ar na rothaí" ar thrácht na sráideanna i mBostún.

Bhí suim ag Asimov ina lán rudaí éagsúla, nó nuair a bhí sé ag teannadh anonn san aois, ghlac sé ballraíocht in eagraíochtaí a bhí ag coinneáil cuimhne ar Gilbert agus Sullivan nó ar scéalta Nero Wolfe le Rex Stout. Bhí sé fosta ina bhall tábhachtach den chumann úd Baker Street Irregulars, an cumann is tábhachtaí dóibh siúd a bhfuil suim acu in eachtraí Sherlock Holmes. Ón mbliain 1985 go lá a bháis, bhí sé ina Uachtarán ar an American Humanist Association, agus b'é a chara Kurt Vonnegut, scríbhneoir eile, a tháinig i gcomharbas air. Bhí sé mór le Gene Roddenberry freisin, an fear a chruthaigh an Réaltaistear, agus luadh a ainm ar na teidil chreidiúna don scannán [[Star Trek: The Motion Picture]] a bhuí leis an gcomhairleoireacht a rinne sé le linn an léiriúcháin. Go bunúsach, bhí sé ag áitiú ar fhoireann an chomhlachta Paramount Pictures nach raibh Roddenberry ag síneadh srianta na heolaíochta ní b'fhaide amach thar a raibh dlisteanach san fhicsean eolaíochta.

Fuair Asimov bás ar an séú lá de Mhí Aibreáin sa bhliain 1992. D'fhág sé an dara bean chéile agus an chlann a rugadh dó sa chéad phósadh ina dhiaidh. Deich mbliana i ndiaidh a bháis, nocht an t-eagrán dá dhírbheathaisnéis a chóirigh Janet Asimov gurbh é an SEIF ba thrúig bháis dó. Tholg sé an galar ón aistriú fola a fuair sé nuair a bhí sé ag dul faoi scian dochtúra le máinliacht seach-chonaire corónaí a fháil. Bhí Asimov féin toilteanach a phoibliú go raibh an galar seo air, ach d'áitigh a chuid dochtúirí air gan an tsreang a bhaint den mhála, nó bhí siad buartha faoi na réamhbhreithiúnaisí coitianta i leith an ghalair a ghoillfeadh ar a chlann. Nuair a bhí sé tar éis bháis, bheartaigh a theaghlach an scéal a nochtadh don tsaol mhór, ach ansin, i bhfianaise an challáin a tharraing an réaltóg leadóige Arthur Ashe nuair a nocht seisean go raibh an SEIF air, chinn siad gan a dhath a rá faoi go raibh an galar céanna ar Asimov. Deich mbliana ina dhiaidh sin, nuair a bhí na dochtúirí a raibh Asimov ina othar acu básaithe iad féin, chinn Janet agus Robyn, an iníon, go raibh sé chomh maith acu an fhírinne a insint go hoscailte.

A Dhearcadh Intleachtúil


Daonnachaí agus réasúnaí ab ea e Isaac Asimov. Ní raibh sé ag cur in aghaidh fíor-áitiús reiligiúnda, ach d'ionsaíodh sé go fíochmhar gach sórt pisreog. Nuair a bhí sé óg, d'urramaíodh a thuismitheoirí traidisiún reiligiúnda an Ghiúdachais Cheartchreidmhigh, ach ní dhearna siad riamh aon iarracht Isaac a thógáil leis an traidisiún seo in aghaidh a thola. Mar sin, nuair a tháinig sé i mbun a mhéide, is é an tátal a bhain sé as an mBíobla gurbh í díolaim na miotas Giúdach a bhí ann, cosúil leis an Iliad, ina raibh na miotais Ghréagacha curtha ar taifead. (Ar feadh tamaill bhig, bhí a athair, Judah Asimov, ag obair sa tsionagóg áitiúil le sult a bhaint as an timpeallacht agus le tuiscint a fháil ar an scrioptúr naofa. Is beag a chuaigh an taithí seo i bhfeidhm ar Isaac óg, ach amháin gurbh ansin a d'fhoghlaim sé aibítir na hEabhraise.) Thar na blianta, deireadh Asimov go raibh sé ina aindiachaí, ach ní raibh sé sásta leis an téarma seo, ó bhí sé inbharúla go raibh sé ag cur an iomarca béime ar an rud nár chreid sé ann, gan a dhath a rá i leith na rudaí ar chreid sé iontu. Níos deireanaí, fuair sé gurbh fhearr leis "daonnachaí" a thabhairt air féin.

Sa leabhar deireanach dírbheathaisnéise a tháinig óna pheann, scríobh sé: "Mura mbeinn i m'aindiachaí, chreidfinn i nDia a shábhálfadh na daoine de réir iomlán a saoil, seachas an cineál cainte a chleachtann siad. Sílim gurbh fhearr Leis an t-aindiachaí macánta cneasta ná an seanmóirí teilifíse nach bhfuil ina bhéal ach Dia, Dia, Dia, agus nach bhfuil idir lámhaibh aige ach peaca, peaca, peaca." Sa leabhar céanna, tagraíonn sé d'Ifreann mar "aisling shaobh an tSádaí" agus é greamaithe ar dhóigh amscaí de Dhia atá lán trócaire. Má bhí rialtais na stát daonna féin in ann srianta a chur le pionóis chruálacha nó neamhghnácha, ar seisean, cén fáth nach gcuirfí teorainn ama leis an bpionós sa saol eile? Dhiúltaigh Asimov don smaoineamh go dtarraingeodh aon chreideamh nó gníomh daonna pionós síoraí ar an duine. Má bhí an saol eile ann agus gach duine ag fáil an rud a bhí tuillte aige thall ansin, ar seisean, nach raibh an pionós ba mheasa, ba déine agus ab fhaide ag dul dóibh siúd a bhí i ndiaidh "Ifreann a cheapadh le Dia a chlúmhilleadh"? Mar is léir óna leabhair ''Treasury of Humor'' agus ''Asimov Laughs Again'', bhí sé thar a bheith ábalta scéilíní magaidh a insint faoi Dhia an Ghiúdachais is na Críostaíochta, faoin Diabhal, faoi Pharthas agus faoi ábhar reiligiúnda eile, nó bhí sé den bharúil gur minic a spreag scéilín maith magaidh ní ba mhó smaointí ná comhrá faidréiseach fadaraíonach fealsúnachta.

Bhí dearcadh forásach ag Asimov ar an gcuid ba mhó de cheisteanna polaitiúla a linne, agus é ag tacú go daingean leis an bPáirtí Daonlathach. Bhí sé ag cur in aghaidh Chogadh Vítneam sna seascaidí, agus lá i dtús na seachtóidí, nuair a bhí sé faoi agallamh ar an teilifís, thacaigh sé le George McGovern go poiblí. Bhí sé míshásta le fás na míréasúntachta agus na pisreogachta i measc na bhforásach Meiriceánach ó dheireadh na seascaidí ar aghaidh. Sa leabhar dírbheathaisnéise ''In Joy Still Felt'', chuimhnigh sé ar an teagmháil a bhí aige le hAbbie Hoffman, fear mór an fhrithchultúir. B'é an tátal a bhain Asimov as Hoffman agus a leithéidí go raibh siad ag leanúint tonn mhór na mothúchán is na maoithneachta a d'fhág i "bhfásach spioradálta" iad, agus ní raibh sé cinnte, an bhfillfidís as an bhfásach sin choíche. An dóigh a raibh sé ag cosaint na stáisiún adamhach leictreachais fiú i ndiaidh na n-imeachtaí i Three Mile Island, Harrisburg, rinne sé dochar dá chaidreamh le cuid de na Liobrálaigh eile sna Stáit Aontaithe. I litir a cuireadh in athchló sa leabhar úd ''Yours, Isaac Asimov'', dúirt sé, siúd is gurbh fhearr leis "a shaol a chaitheamh gan dul in aon seans" ná a bheith ina chónaí in aice le himoibritheoir núicléach, go mbeadh sé ní b'fhonnmhaire é a chaitheamh in aice le himoibritheoir núicléach ná in aice le sluma, le Love Canal nó "le gléasra de chuid Union Carbide a bheadh ag táirgiú isicianáit mheitile" (tagairt ab ea é seo don olltubaiste i mBhopal san India, a bhí díreach i mbéal an phobail). Is iomaí achainí a d'eisigh sé, leis, ag éileamh go gcuirfí srianta le ródhaonrú an domhain, agus é go mór mór faoi thionchar daoine ar nós Thomas Malthus agus Paul R. Ehrlich i leith na ceiste seo.

Bhí Asimov ag tacú le cúis na mban sular éirigh an feimíneachas faisiúnta fairsing mar ghluaiseacht. Bhí sé den tuairim go raibh ceist na mban fite fuaite le ceist an daonra. Thairis sin, chreid sé gur chóir an homaighnéasachas a cheadú, mar ghníomhaíocht ghnéis nach raibh ag cur leis an daonra (féach an leabhar ''Yours, Isaac Asimov'').

Ag druidim chun deiridh dá shaol, lochtaigh sé an dóigh a raibh an saol i gCathair Nua-Eabhraic, dar leis, ag dul chun donais de réir mar a bhí an mheánaicme ag éalú go dtí na bruachbhailte. An leabhar deireanach neamhfhicseanúil a tháinig óna pheann, mar atá, ''Our Angry Earth'' (1991), a scríobh sé i gcomhar lena sheanchara Frederik Pohl, scríbhneoir eile ficsin eolaíochta, bhí sí ag plé cheisteanna na géarchéime éiceolaíche, ar nós téamh an domhain agus ciseal an ózóin.


Writing career


Asimov's career can be divided into several time periods. His early career, dominated by science fiction, began with short stories in 1939 and novels in 1950. This lasted until about 1958, all but ending after publication of The Naked Sun. He began publishing nonfiction in 1952, co-authoring a college-level textbook called Biochemistry and Human Metabolism. Following the brief orbit of the first man-made satellite Sputnik I by the USSR in 1957, his production of nonfiction, particularly popular science books, greatly increased, with a consequent drop in his science fiction output. Over the next quarter century, he would write 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 would publish several sequels and prequels to his existing novels, tying them together in a way he had not originally anticipated.

In his own view, Asimov believed that his most enduring contributions would be his "Three Laws of Robotics" and the Foundation Series (see Yours, Isaac Asimov, p. 329). Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary credits his science fiction for introducing the words positronic (an entirely fictional technology), psychohistory (frequently used in a different sense than the imaginary one Asimov employed) 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 mechanics, hydraulics and so forth. (The original word robot derives from the Czech word for "forced labor", robotovat, robota and was first employed by the playwright Karel Čapek.) Unlike his other two coinages, the word robotics continues in mainstream and technical use with Asimov's original definition. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured androids with "positronic brains", giving Asimov full credit for inventing this (fictional) technology.
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Science fiction

Asimov began contributing stories to science fiction magazines in 1939, "Marooned Off Vesta" being his first published story, written when he was 18. Two and a half years later, he published his 32nd short story, "Nightfall" (1941), which has been described as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time" [3]. In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall" the best science fiction short story ever written [4]. 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 archetypical example of social science fiction, a term coined by Asimov to describe a new trend in the 1940s, led by authors including Asimov and Heinlein, away from gadgets and space opera and toward speculation about the human condition.
Hari Seldon's holographic image on the cover of Foundation. The Foundation Series is among Asimov's most famous fiction works.
Enlarge
Hari Seldon's holographic image on the cover of Foundation. The Foundation Series is among Asimov's most famous fiction works.

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

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

The recent film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was based on the Hardwired script by Jeff Vintar with Asimov's ideas incorporated later after acquiring the rights to the I, Robot title. 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. See: I, Robot, [5]

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

In 1948 he also wrote a spoof science article, "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline". At the time, Asimov was preparing for his own doctoral dissertation. Fearing a prejudicial reaction from his Ph.D. evaluation board, he asked his editor that it be released under a pseudonym, yet it appeared under his own name. 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". After a twenty-minute wait, he was summoned back into the Examination Room and congratulated as "Dr. Asimov."

He continued writing short stories for science fiction magazines in the 1950s, which he referred to as his golden decade. A number of these are included in his Best of anthology, including "The Last Question" (1956), on the ability of humankind to cope with and reverse entropy. It was his personal favorite and considered by many to be a contender 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 things endears any story to any writer.

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

In December 1974, the former Beatle Paul McCartney approached Asimov and asked him if he could write the screenplay for a science-fiction movie musical. McCartney had a vague idea for the plot and a small scrap of dialogue; he wished to make a film about a rock band whose members discover they are being impersonated by a group of extraterrestrials. The band and their imposters 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 in consequence, McCartney rejected the story. The treatment now exists only in Boston University's archives.

Beginning in 1977, he 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 stablemates Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine's "anthologies").
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Popular science

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Asimov shifted gears somewhat, and substantially decreased his fiction output (he published only four adult novels between 1957's The Naked Sun and 1982's Foundation's Edge, two of which were mysteries). At the same time, he greatly increased his non-fiction production, writing mostly on science topics; the launch of Sputnik in 1957 engendered public concern over a "science gap", which Asimov's publishers were eager to fill with as much material as he could write. Meanwhile, the monthly Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction invited him to continue his regular non-fiction column, begun in the now-folded bimonthly companion magazine Venture Science Fiction, ostensibly dedicated to popular science, but with Asimov having complete editorial freedom. The first of the F&SF columns appeared in November of 1958, and they followed uninterrupted thereafter, with 399 entries, until Asimov's terminal illness took its toll. These columns, periodically collected into books by his principal publisher, Doubleday, helped make Asimov's reputation as a "Great Explainer" of science and were referred to by him as his only pop-science writing in which he never had to assume complete ignorance of the subjects at hand on the part of his readers. The popularity of his first wide-ranging reference work, The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science, also allowed him to give up most of his academic responsibilities and become essentially a full-time freelance writer.

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

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

It is a mark of the friendship and respect accorded Asimov by Arthur C. Clarke that the so-called "Asimov-Clarke Treaty of Park Avenue", put together as they shared a cab ride along Park Avenue in New York, stated that Asimov was required to insist that Clarke was the best science fiction writer in the world (reserving second best for himself), while Clarke was required to insist that Asimov was the best science writer in the world (reserving second best for himself). 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."
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Other

In addition to his interest in science, Asimov was also greatly interested in history. Starting in the 1960s, he wrote fourteen popular history books, most notably The Greeks: A Great Adventure (1965), The Roman Republic (1966) and The Roman Empire (1967).

He published Asimov's Guide to the Bible in two volumes—covering the Old Testament in 1967 and the New Testament in 1969—and then combined them into one 1300-page volume in 1981. Replete 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.

Never entirely lacking wit and humor, towards the end of his life Asimov published a series of collections of limericks, mostly written by himself, starting with Lecherous Limericks, which appeared in 1975. Limericks: Too Gross, whose title displays Asimov's love of puns, contains 144 limericks by Asimov and an equal number by John Ciardi. He even created a slim volume of Sherlockian limericks (and embarrassed one fan by autographing her copy with an impromptu limerick that rhymed 'Nancy' with 'romancy'). Asimov's best attempt at Yiddish humor is found in Azazel, The Two Centimeter Demon where the two characters, both Jewish, talk over dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, the 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 shortly after his death. It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet, is a condensed version of his three autobiographies.
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Literary themes
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Much of Asimov's fiction dealt with themes of paternalism. His first robot story, "Robbie", concerned a robotic nanny. Just as well, 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", a robot masquerading as a human successfully runs for elective office. In "The Evitable Conflict", the robots run humanity from behind the scenes, acting as nannies to the whole species.

Later, in The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, a robot develops what he calls the Zeroth Law of Robotics, which states that "A robot may not injure humanity, 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 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.

In The Foundation Series (which did not originally have robots), a scientist implements a semi-secret plan to create a new galactic empire over the course of 1000 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 must decide whether or not to allow the development of Galaxia, a larger version of Gaia, encompassing the entire galaxy. Gaia is one of Asimov's best attempts at exploring the possibility of a collective awareness, and is compounded further in Nemesis, in which the planet Erythro composed primarily of prokaryotic life has a mind of its own and seeks communion with human beings.

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

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

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

One of the most common impressions of Asimov's fiction work is that his writing style is extremely unornamental. In 1980, SF scholar James Gunn wrote of I, Robot that

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

This description applies well to a large proportion of Asimov's fiction, including that written after 1980. However, it is worth noting that this applies to majority of science fiction produced during the so-called "Golden Age," of science fiction, and certainly, authors who are a product of that era are no exception. It has been argued that early science fiction in particular (and authors of it) were deliberately more focused on imagining future technologies rather than in depth characterization, and although this trend appears to have played itself out, it is still apparent even in modern day science fiction that the interactions of the character with the technology and future social situations are frequently of greater importance than the characters themselves.

Gunn observes that there are places where Asimov's style rises to the demands of the situation; he cites the climax of "Liar!" as an example. Sharply-drawn characters occur at key junctures of his storylines: in addition to Susan Calvin in "Liar!" and "Evidence", we find Arkady Darell in Second Foundation, Elijah Baley in The Caves of Steel and Hari Seldon in the Foundation prequels. (In Forward the Foundation, Seldon becomes a partial mirror of Asimov himself.)

These criticisms are to some extent the flip side of Asimov's aforementioned rationalism: his books, like his characters, tend to be cerebral and more interested in ideas and puzzles than in character and feeling. His idea of "psychohistory," where the individual quirks of human beings could be averaged out at the statistical level of an entire galaxy's population, is perhaps revealing in that regard. What helps keep Asimov's fiction readable is the charm of the author, which is conveyed to his characters.

Asimov was also criticised for the lack of sex and aliens 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.

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 25 August 1985 Washington Post's "Book World" section reports of Robots and Empire as follows:

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

A considerable portion of such criticism boils down to the charge that Asimov's works are simply dated. In fact, some details of Asimov's imaginary future technology as he described more than fifty years ago have not aged well. He has, for example, described powerful robots and computers from the distant future as still using punch cards or punched tape and engineers using slide rules. 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 retcon his own fictional history.

Other than the books by Gunn and Patrouch, there is a relative dearth of "literary" criticism on Asimov (particularly when compared to the sheer volume of his output). Cowart and Wymer's Dictionary of Literary Biography (1981) gives a possible reason:

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

In fairness, Gunn 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 (and nor does Patrouch), but he does call some passages in The Caves of Steel "reminiscent of Proust". When discussing how that novel depicts night falling over futuristic New York City, Gunn says that Asimov's prose "need not be ashamed anywhere in literary society".

Although he prided himself on his unornamented prose style (for which he credited Clifford Simak as an early influence), Asimov also enjoyed giving his longer stories complicated narrative structures, often by arranging chapters in non-chronological ways. Some readers have been put off by this, complaining that the nonlinearity is not worth the trouble and adversely impacts 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 [6]. (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.) Asimov's tendency to contort his timelines is perhaps most apparent in his later novel Nemesis, in which one group of characters live in the "present" and another group starts in the "past", beginning fifteen years earlier and gradually moving toward the time period of the first group.

In 2002, Donald Palumbo, an English professor at East Carolina University published Chaos Theory, Asimov’s Foundations and Robots, and Herbert’s Dune: The Fractal Aesthetic of Epic Science Fiction. This includes a review of Asimov's narrative structures that compares them with the scientific concepts of fractals and chaos. Palumbo finds that a fascination with the Foundation and Robot metaseries remains, and 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. [7]

In the Hugo Award-winning novella, "Gold", Asimov describes an author clearly based on himself who has one of his books (The Gods Themselves) adapted into a "compu-drama", essentially photo-realistic computer animation. The director criticizes the fictionalized Asimov ("Gregory Laborian") for having an extremely non-visual 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. Ironically, the story mimics the same style the author in it uses to describe his work, and one can see it as Asimov's reply to his critics.
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Quotations
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Isaac Asimov

  • "Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."
  • "When asked what I would do 'If my doctor told me I had only six months to live' I answered 'I'd type faster'."
  • "Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers."
  • "Night was a wonderful time in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Air conditioning was unknown except in movie houses, and so was television. There was nothing to keep one in the house. Furthermore, few people owned automobiles, so there was nothing to carry one away. That left the streets and the stoops. The very fullness served as an inhibition to crime."
  • "What I will be remembered for are the Foundation Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for", September 20, 1973, Yours, Isaac Asimov, page 329.
  • "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." Salvor Hardin, a character in Foundation. (Derived from "I do not believe in violence; it is the last resource of fools." Lady Anne Bellamy, a character in Dawn by H. Rider Haggard.)
  • "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it) - but 'That's funny...'

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Selected bibliography

In addition, see Isaac Asimov complete bibliography. For Asimov's suggested reading order see the Foundation Series list of books. Asimov aspired to write 500 books but did not quite reach that total; he wrote over 463 titles. If all titles, charts, and edited collections are counted, there are currently 509 items in his complete bibliography. Asimov could have written an Opus 400, which would have been a celebration of his 400th title; the bibliography lists only up to his commemorative Opus 300.
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Science fiction
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"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.

The Robot series:

  • The Caves of Steel (1954), ISBN 0553293400 (first Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)
  • The Naked Sun (1957), ISBN 0553293397 (second Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)
  • The Robots of Dawn (1983), ISBN 0553299492 (third Elijah Baley SF-crime novel)
  • Robots and Empire (1985) (sequel to the Elijah Baley trilogy)
  • The Positronic Man (1993) (with Robert Silverberg, a novel based on Asimov's earlier short story "The Bicentennial Man")

Galactic Empire series:

  • Pebble in the Sky (1950)
  • The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
  • The Currents of Space (1952)

Original Foundation trilogy:

  • Foundation (1951), ISBN 0553293354
  • Foundation and Empire (1952), ISBN 0553293370
  • Second Foundation (1953), ISBN 0553293362

Extended Foundation series:

  • Foundation's Edge (1982), ISBN 0553293389
  • Foundation and Earth (1986), ISBN 0553587579
  • Prelude to Foundation (1988), ISBN 0553278398
  • Forward the Foundation (1993), ISBN 0385247931 (hardcover), ISBN 0553404881 (paperback)

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Novels not part of a series

  • The End of Eternity (1955) (there is a loose connection with Foundation's Edge, in which this story is referenced)
  • Fantastic Voyage (1966) (a novelization of the movie featuring a team of American scientists traveling within a human body)
  • The Gods Themselves (1972)
  • Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987) (not a sequel to the first Fantastic Voyage, but an independent story)
  • Nemesis (1989)
  • Nightfall (1990) (with Robert Silverberg, a novel based on the earlier short story)
  • The Ugly Little Boy (1992) (with Robert Silverberg, a novel based on the earlier short story, appeared in the UK under the title Child of Time)

(While primarily independent, some of these novels have very minor connections to the Foundation series.)
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Short story collections

Also see List of short stories by Isaac Asimov

  • I, Robot (1950), ISBN 0553294385
  • The Martian Way and Other Stories (1955)
  • Earth Is Room Enough (1957)
  • Nine Tomorrows (1959)
  • The Rest of the Robots (1964)
  • Asimov's Mysteries (1968)
  • 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)
  • Azazel (1988)
  • Gold (1990)
  • Robot Visions (1990) ISBN 0-451-45064-7
  • Magic (1995)

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Mysteries
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Novels

  • The Death Dealers (1958) (later republished as A Whiff of Death)
  • Murder at the ABA (1976) (also published as Authorized Murder)

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Short story collections

  • Asimov's Mysteries

Black Widowers and others

  • Tales of the Black Widowers (1974)
  • More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)
  • The Key Word and Other Mysteries (1977)
  • Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980)
  • The Union Club Mysteries (1983)
  • Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984)
  • The Disappearing Man and Other Mysteries (1985)
  • The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov (1986)
  • Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)
  • Return of the Black Widowers (2003) contains stories uncollected at the time of Asimov's death, in addition to contributions by Charles Ardai and Harlan Ellison

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Nonfiction
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Popular science

Collections of columns from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

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

Others

  • Asimov on Numbers (1959)
  • Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery (1989, second edition extends to 1993)
  • Asimov's Chronology of the World (1991)
  • The Chemicals of Life (1954)
  • The Clock We Live On (1959)
  • The Collapsing Universe (1977) ISBN 0-671-81738-8
  • The Earth (2004, revised by Richard Hantula)
  • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos (1982)
  • The Human Brain (1964)
  • Inside the Atom (1956)
  • Isaac Asimov's Guide to Earth and Space (1991)
  • The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1965)
  • Jupiter (2004, revised by Richard Hantula)
  • Life and Energy (1962)
  • The Neutrino (1966)
  • Our World in Space (1974)
  • The Sun (2003, revised by Richard Hantula)
  • The Universe: From Flat Earth to Quasar (1966)
  • Venus (2004, revised by Richard Hantula)
  • Views of the Universe (1981)
  • Words of Science and the History Behind Them (1959)
  • The World of Carbon (1958)
  • The World of Nitrogen (1958)
  • Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor (1971)

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Annotations

  • Asimov's Annotated "Don Juan"
  • Asimov's Annotated "Paradise Lost"
  • Asimov's Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan
  • The Annotated "Gulliver's Travels"

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Guides

  • Asimov's Guide to the Bible, vols I and II (1981), ISBN 0-517-34582-X
  • Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, vols I and II (1970), ISBN 0-517-26825-6

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Other

  • Opus 100 (1969)
  • The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (1971)
  • Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (1972)
  • Opus 200 (1979)
  • Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts (1979)
  • The Roving Mind (1983) (collection of essays). New edition published by Prometheus Books, 1997, ISBN 1-57392-181-5.

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In popular culture

On a Garfield comic strip from January 2, 1991, Garfield wanted to celebrate an event, so he celebrated Isaac Asimov's birthday.

In the novel The Flying Sorcerers by Larry Niven and David Gerrold, the hero is never named explicitly, but is referred to as "Purple", short for the local planetary dialect translation of his Earthly name to "Like a Reddish-Purple Color" (i.e. "as a mauve").
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References

1. ^ Asimov FAQ: Did you know that Asimov is the only author to have published books in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System?
2. ^ Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. March 2000. P. 71

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Print media

  • Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green (1979).

In Joy Still Felt (1980).
I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994). ISBN 0-3854-1701-2 (hc), ISBN 0-5535-6997-X (pb).
Yours, Isaac Asimov (1996), edited by Stanley Asimov. ISBN 0-3854-7624-8.
It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet Asimov. ISBN 1-5739-2968-9.

  • Goldman, Stephen H., "Isaac Asimov", in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8, Cowart and Wymer eds., (Gale Research, 1981), pp. 15-29.
  • Gunn, James. "On Variations on a Robot", IASFM, July 1980, pp. 56-81. Reprinted in the 1982 book.

Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982). ISBN 0-19-503060-5.
The Science of Science-Fiction Writing (2000). ISBN 1-5788-6011-3.

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Online

The following links were last verified on 4 February 2006.

  • Isaac Asimov Home Page
o Complete list of works
o FAQ
  • Jenkins' Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov (reviews and ratings)

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Further reading
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Print media

  • Fiedler, Jean; Jim Mele (1982). Isaac Asimov. ISBN 0-8044-2203-6.
  • Joseph D. Oleander and Martin H. Greenberg (editors) (1974). Isaac Asimov. ISBN 0-8008-4258-8, Hardback ISBN 080084257X.
  • Patrouch, Joseph F. (1977). The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. ISBN 0-385-08696-2.
  • Touponce, William F. (1991). Isaac Asimov. ISBN 0-8057-7623-0.
  • White, Michael (1994). Asimov: The Unauthorized Life. ISBN 0140041303.

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Online
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Isaac Asimov

The following links were last verified 15 March 2006.

  • Isaac Asimov at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • Isaac Asimov at the Internet Movie Database
  • Isaac Asimov at NNDB
  • Isaac Asimov at the Internet Book Database of Fiction {Work in Progress}
o Discussion group for Asimov at The Internet Book Database of Fiction
  • The Future of humanity: What Asimov thinks is the way forward for us
  • Religion in Asimov's Writings: An essay by Michael Brummond
  • www.asimovians.com (Forum on Asimov, his works and everything else)
  • 1987 Audio Interview with Isaac Asimov - RealAudio (24 min. 59 sec.)
  • Isaac Asimov's online fiction at Free Speculative Fiction Online
  • Guardian Books "Author Page", with profile and links to further articles.
  • Encyclopedia Galactica - an exhaustive reference to Asimov's fictional worlds.
  • Detailed timeline for the Robots and Foundation Universe
  • Lists of Isaac Asimov’s short fiction (by category)
  • Short story online "Life Without Fuel" (1977)
  • "Profession" - A short story online (1957) An allegorical description of the manner in which education currently functions in our primitive Western societies.
  • 15-Book Reading Order as Suggested by Asimov From "Author's Note" of "Prelude to Foundation" Doubleday 1988 hardcover edition