Name Isaac Asimov
|Occupation Writer, professor of biochemistry|
Nationality Russian (early years), American
Education Columbia University, PhD. Biochemistry, 1948
Genre Science fiction (hard SF, social SF), mystery
Subject Popular science, science textbooks, essays, literary criticism
Died April 6, 1992, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States
Short stories The Last Question, Nightfall, The Bicentennial Man
Spouse Janet Asimov (m. 1973–1992), Gertrude Blugerman (m. 1942–1973)
Books I - Robot, Second Foundation, The Caves of Steel, Foundation and Earth, Foundation's Edge
Similar People Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Jules Verne, Philip K Dick
Isaac asimov visions for the future 1992
Isaac Asimov (; born Isaak Ozimov; c. January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992) was a Russian-American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of science fiction and popular science. Asimov was a prolific writer, and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.
- Isaac asimov visions for the future 1992
- Interview with isaac asimov 1975
- Early life
- Education and career
- Personal life
- Illness and death
- Science fiction
- Popular science
- Coined terms
- Other writings
- Awards and recognition
- Alien life
- Portrayal of women
- Social issues
- Environment and population
- Other authors
- Television music and film appearances
Asimov wrote hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series. The Galactic Empire novels are explicitly set in earlier history of the same fictional universe as the Foundation series. Later, beginning with Foundation's Edge, he linked this distant future to the Robot and Spacer stories, creating a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He wrote hundreds of short stories, including the social science fiction novelette "Nightfall", which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much nonfiction. Most of his popular 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 Guide to Science, the three-volume set Understanding Physics, and Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as works on astronomy, mathematics, history, William Shakespeare's writing, and chemistry.
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". He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association. The asteroid 5020 Asimov, a crater on the planet Mars, a Brooklyn elementary school, and a literary award are named in his honor.
Interview with isaac asimov 1975
Asimov was born between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi near Klimovichi, then Gomel Governorate in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (now Smolensk Oblast, Russia) to Anna Rachel (née Berman) and Judah Asimov, a family of Jewish millers. His exact date of birth within that range is unknown, but Asimov himself celebrated it on January 2. The family name derives from a word for winter crops, in which his great-grandfather dealt. This word is spelled озимые (ozimye) in Russian, and азімыя (azimiya) in Belarusian. Phonetically, both words are almost identical because in Russian 'О' in the first unstressed syllable is always pronounced as 'А'. Accordingly, his name originally was Исаак Озимов (Isaak Ozimov) in Russian; however, he was later known in Russia as Ayzek Azimov (Айзек Азимов), a Russian Cyrillic adaptation of the American English pronunciation. Asimov had two younger siblings: a sister, Marcia (born Manya, June 17, 1922 – April 2, 2011), and a brother, Stanley (July 25, 1929 – August 16, 1995), who was vice-president of New York Newsday.
In 1921 Asimov and 16 other children in Petrovichi caught double pneumonia; only Asimov survived.
His family emigrated to the United States when he was three years old. Since his parents always spoke Yiddish and English with him, he never learned Russian, but he remained fluent in Yiddish as well as English. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov taught himself to read at the age of five, and his mother got him into first grade a year early by claiming he was born on September 7, 1919. (In third grade he learned about the "error" and insisted on an official correction to January 2.) Asimov wrote of his father, "My father, for all his education as an Orthodox Jew, was not Orthodox in his heart", noting that "he didn't recite the myriad prayers prescribed for every action, and he never made any attempt to teach them to me". After becoming established in the U.S., his parents owned a succession of candy stores, in which everyone in the family was expected to work. The candy stores sold newspapers and magazines, a fact that Asimov credited as a major influence in his lifelong love of the written word, as it presented him with an unending supply of new reading material as a child that he could not have otherwise afforded. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928 at the age of eight.
Education and career
Asimov began reading science fiction pulp magazines at a young age. His father, as a matter of principle, forbade reading the pulps, as he considered them to be trash, but Asimov persuaded him that because the science fiction magazines had "Science" in the title, they must be educational. Around the age of 11, he began to write his own stories, and at age 18 he joined science fiction fan club the Futurians, where he made a number of friends who went on to become science fiction writers or editors. Also at that age, he sold his first story to a science fiction magazine, and "Marooned off Vesta" appeared in the March 1939 issue of Amazing Stories. John W. Campbell, then editor of Astounding Science Fiction, had a strong formative influence on Asimov and eventually became a personal friend.
Asimov attended New York City public schools from age 5, including Boys High School in Brooklyn. Graduating at 15, he went on to Seth Low Junior College, a branch of Columbia University in Downtown Brooklyn designed to absorb some of the Jewish and Italian-American students who applied to Columbia College, then the institution's primary undergraduate school for men with quotas on the number of admissions from those ethnic groups. Originally a zoology major, Asimov switched to chemistry after his first semester as he disapproved of "dissecting an alley cat". After Seth Low Junior College closed in 1938, Asimov finished his BS degree at University Extension (later the Columbia University School of General Studies) in 1939.
When he failed to secure admission to medical school, Asimov applied to the graduate program in chemistry at Columbia; initially rejected and then only accepted on a probationary basis, he completed his Master of Arts degree in chemistry in 1941 and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in biochemistry in 1948. In between, he spent three years during World War II working as a civilian at the Philadelphia Navy Yard's Naval Air Experimental Station, living in the Walnut Hill section of West Philadelphia from 1942 to 1945. In September 1945, he was drafted into the U.S. Army; if he had not had his birth date corrected, he would have been officially 26 years old and ineligible. In 1946 a bureaucratic error caused his military allotment to be stopped, and he was removed from a task force days before it sailed to participate in Operation Crossroads nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll. He served for almost nine months before receiving an honorable discharge on 26 July 1946. He had been promoted to corporal on 11 July.
After completing his doctorate, Asimov joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine, with which he remained associated thereafter. 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, he retained the title of associate professor (which he had held since 1955), and in 1979, the university honored his writing by promoting him to full professor of biochemistry. Asimov's personal papers from 1965 onward are archived at the university's Mugar Memorial Library, to which he donated them at the request of curator Howard Gotlieb.
In 1959, after a recommendation from Arthur Obermayer, Asimov's friend and a scientist on the U.S. missile protection project, Asimov was approached by DARPA to join Obermayer's team. Asimov declined on the grounds that his ability to write freely would be impaired should he receive classified information. However, he did submit a paper to DARPA titled "On Creativity" containing ideas on how government-based science projects could encourage team members to think more creatively.
Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman (1917, Toronto, Canada – 1990, Boston, U.S.) on July 26, 1942. The couple lived in an apartment in West Philadelphia, as Asimov was then employed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (where two of his co-workers were L. Sprague de Camp and Robert A. Heinlein). They moved to Boston in May 1949, then to nearby suburbs Somerville in July 1949, Waltham in May 1951, and finally West Newton in 1956. They had two children, David (born 1951) and Robyn Joan (born 1955). In 1970, they separated and Asimov moved back to New York, this time to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he lived for the rest of his life. He immediately began seeing Janet O. Jeppson and married her on 30 November 1973, two weeks after his divorce from Gertrude.
Asimov was a claustrophile: he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces. In the third volume of his autobiography, he recalls a childhood desire to own a magazine stand in a New York City Subway station, within which he could enclose himself and listen to the rumble of passing trains while reading.
Asimov was 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). Consequently, he seldom traveled great distances. 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, Asimov found enjoyment traveling on cruise ships; on several cruises, he was part of the entertainment program, giving science-themed talks aboard ships such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth II.
Asimov was an able public speaker and was a frequent fixture at science fiction conventions, where he was friendly and approachable. 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 mutton chop whiskers and a distinct New York accent. His physical dexterity was very poor. He never learned to swim or ride a bicycle; however, he did learn to drive a car after he moved to Boston. In his humor book Asimov Laughs Again, he describes Boston driving as "anarchy on wheels."
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. Many of his short stories mention or quote Gilbert and Sullivan. He was a prominent member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the leading Sherlock Holmes society, for whom he wrote an essay arguing that Professor Moriarty's work "The Dynamics of An Asteroid" involved the willful destruction of an ancient civilized planet. He was also a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of his fictional group of mystery solvers, the Black Widowers. He later used his essay on Moriarty's work as the basis for a Black Widowers story, "The Ultimate Crime", which appeared in More Tales of the Black Widowers.
In 1984, the American Humanist Association (AHA) named him the Humanist of the Year. He was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto. From 1985 until his death in 1992, he served as president of the AHA, an honorary appointment. His successor was his friend and fellow writer Kurt Vonnegut. He was also a close friend of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and earned a screen credit as "special science consultant" on Star Trek: The Motion Picture for advice he gave during production.
Asimov was a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, CSICOP, (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) and is listed in its Pantheon of Skeptics. In a discussion with James Randi at CSICon 2016 regarding the founding of CSICOP, Kendrick Frazier said that Asimov was "a key figure in the Skeptical movement who is less well known and appreciated today, but was very much in the public eye back then." He said that Asimov being associated with CSICOP "gave it immense status and authority" in his eyes.
Asimov described Carl Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky.
Illness and death
Asimov suffered a heart attack in 1977, and had triple bypass surgery in December 1983, during which he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. When his HIV status was understood, his physicians warned that if he publicized it, the anti-AIDS prejudice would likely extend to his family members. When he died in New York City on April 6, 1992, he was survived by his brother Stanley, his second wife Janet Asimov, and his children from his first marriage. Stanley reported the cause of death as heart and kidney failure. The family chose not to disclose that these were complications of AIDS, because within two days, on April 8, Arthur Ashe announced his own HIV infection (also contracted in 1983 from a blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery), which resulted in much public controversy; also doctors continued to insist on secrecy. Ten years later, after most of Asimov's physicians had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that the HIV story should be made public; Janet revealed it in her edition of his autobiography It's Been a Good Life.
Asimov's remains were cremated.
Asimov's career can be divided into several periods. His early career, dominated by science fiction, began with short stories in 1939 and novels in 1950. This lasted until about 1958, all but ending after publication of The Naked Sun. He began publishing nonfiction in 1952, co-authoring a college-level textbook called Biochemistry and Human Metabolism. Following the brief orbit of the first man-made satellite Sputnik I by the USSR in 1957, his production of nonfiction, particularly popular science books, greatly increased, with a consequent drop in his science fiction output. Over the next quarter century, he wrote only four science fiction novels. Starting in 1982, the second half of his science fiction career began with the publication of Foundation's Edge. From then until his death, Asimov published several more sequels and prequels to his existing novels, tying them together in a way he had not originally anticipated, making a unified series. There are, however, many inconsistencies in this unification, especially in his earlier stories.
Asimov believed his most enduring contributions would be his "Three Laws of Robotics" and the Foundation series (see Yours, Isaac Asimov, p. 329). Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary credits his science fiction for introducing the words 'positronic' (an entirely fictional technology), 'psychohistory' (which is also used for a different study on historical motivations) and 'robotics' into the English language. Asimov coined the term 'robotics' without suspecting that it might be an original word; at the time, he believed it was simply the natural analogue of words such as mechanics and hydraulics, but for robots. Unlike his word 'psychohistory', the word 'robotics' continues in mainstream technical use with Asimov's original definition. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured androids with "positronic brains" and the first-season episode "Datalore" called the positronic brain "Asimov's dream".
Asimov first began reading the science fiction pulp magazines sold in his family's confectionery store in 1929. In the mid-1930s, he came into contact with science fiction fandom, particularly the circle that became the Futurians. He began writing his first science fiction story, "Cosmic Corkscrew", in 1937; finished it on June 19, 1938, inspired by a visit to the offices of Astounding Science Fiction; and personally submitted it to Astounding editor John W. Campbell two days later. Campbell rejected "Cosmic Corkscrew", but encouraged Asimov to keep trying, and Asimov did. In October, he sold the third story he finished, "Marooned Off Vesta", to Amazing Stories, then a monthly sci-fi magazine edited by Raymond A. Palmer, and it appeared in the March 1939 issue. Two more of his stories appeared that year, "The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use" in the May Amazing and "Trends" in the July Astounding. For 1940, ISFDB catalogs seven stories in four different pulp magazines, including one in Astounding.
In September 1941, Astounding published the 32nd story Asimov wrote, "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 gadgets and space opera and toward speculation about the human condition.
By 1941, Asimov had begun selling regularly to Astounding, which was then the field's leading magazine. From 1943 to 1949, all of his published science fiction appeared in Astounding.
In 1942, he published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953)—which recount the fall of a vast interstellar empire and the establishment of its eventual successor. Taken together, they are his most famous work of science fiction, along with the Robot series. In 1966 they won the Hugo Award for the all-time best series of science fiction novels. 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.
His "positronic" robot stories—many of which were collected in I, Robot (1950)—were begun at about the same time. They promulgated a set of rules of ethics for robots (see Three Laws of Robotics) and intelligent machines that greatly influenced other writers and thinkers in their treatment of the subject. Asimov notes in his introduction to the short story collection The Complete Robot (1982) that he was largely inspired by the almost relentless tendency of robots up to that time to fall consistently into a Frankenstein plot in which they destroyed their creators.
The robot series has led to film adaptations. With Asimov's collaboration, in about 1977 Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay of I, Robot that Asimov hoped would lead to "the first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction film ever made". The screenplay has never been filmed and was eventually published in book form in 1994. The 2004 movie I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was based on an unrelated script by Jeff Vintar titled Hardwired, with Asimov's ideas incorporated later after the rights to Asimov's title were acquired. (Ironically, the title was not original to Asimov but had previously been used for a story by Eando Binder.) Also, one of Asimov's robot short stories, "The Bicentennial Man", was expanded into a novel The Positronic Man by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and this was adapted into the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams.
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, David Brin, and Donald Kingsbury. At least some of these appear to have been done with the blessing of, or at the request of, Asimov's widow, Janet Asimov.
In 1948, he also wrote a spoof chemistry article, "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline". At the time, Asimov was preparing his own doctoral dissertation, and for the oral examination to follow that. Fearing a prejudicial reaction from his graduate school evaluation board at Columbia University, Asimov asked his editor that it be released under a pseudonym, yet it appeared under his own name. 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, "What can you tell us, Mr. Asimov, about the thermodynamic properties of the compound known as thiotimoline". The hysterically laughing Asimov was then led out of the room. After a five-minute or so wait, he was summoned back into the room and congratulated as "Dr. Asimov".
In 1949, 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. Doubleday went on to publish five more original science fiction novels by Asimov in the 1950s, along with the six juvenile Lucky Starr novels, the latter under the pseudonym of "Paul French". Doubleday also published collections of Asimov's short stories, beginning with The Martian Way and Other Stories in 1955. The early 1950s also saw Gnome Press publish one collection of Asimov's positronic robot stories as I, Robot and his Foundation stories and novelettes as the three books of the Foundation trilogy. More positronic robot stories were republished in book form as The Rest of the Robots.
When new science fiction magazines, notably Galaxy magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, appeared in the 1950s, Asimov began publishing short stories in them as well. He would later refer to the 1950s as his "golden decade". A number of these stories are included in his The Best of Isaac Asimov anthology, including "The Last Question" (1956), on the ability of humankind to cope with and potentially reverse the process of entropy. It was his personal favorite and considered by many to be equal to "Nightfall". Asimov wrote of it in 1973:
Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn't have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer.
Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they 'think' I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don't remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably "The Last Question". This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, 'Dr. Asimov, there's a story I think you wrote, whose title I can't remember—' at which point I interrupted to tell him it was "The Last Question" and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.
In 1972 his novel The Gods Themselves (which was not part of a series) was published to general acclaim, and it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the Locus Award for Best Novel.
In December 1974, former Beatle Paul McCartney approached Asimov and asked him if he could write the screenplay for a science-fiction movie musical. McCartney had a vague idea for the plot and a small scrap of dialogue; he wished to make a film about a rock band whose members discover they are being impersonated by a group of extraterrestrials. The band and their impostors would likely be played by McCartney's group Wings, then at the height of their career. Intrigued by the idea, although he was not generally a fan of rock music, Asimov quickly produced a "treatment" or brief outline of the story. He adhered to McCartney's overall idea, producing a story he felt to be moving and dramatic. However, he did not make use of McCartney's brief scrap of dialogue, and probably as a consequence, McCartney rejected the story. The treatment now exists only in the Boston University archives.
Beginning in 1977, Asimov lent his name to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (now Asimov's Science Fiction) and penned an editorial for each issue. There was also a short-lived Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine and a companion Asimov's Science Fiction Anthology reprint series, published as magazines (in the same manner as the stablemates Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine's "anthologies").
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 nonfiction 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 nonfiction column, begun in the now-folded bimonthly companion magazine Venture Science Fiction Magazine, ostensibly dedicated to popular science, but with Asimov having complete editorial freedom. The first of the F&SF columns appeared in November 1958, and they followed uninterrupted thereafter, with 399 entries, until Asimov's terminal illness. These columns, periodically collected into books by his principal publisher, Doubleday, helped make Asimov's reputation as a "Great Explainer" of science, and were referred to by him as his only pop-science writing in which he never had to assume complete ignorance of the subjects at hand on the part of his readers. His first wide-ranging reference work, The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960), was nominated for a National Book Award. The popularity of his science books and the income he derived from them 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".
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".
The feelings of friendship and respect between Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were demonstrated by the so-called "Clarke-Asimov Treaty of Park Avenue", put together as they shared a cab ride in New York. This 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."
Asimov coined the term "robotics" in his 1941 story "Liar!", though he later remarked that he believed then that he was merely using an existing word, as he stated in Gold ("The Robot Chronicles"). While acknowledging the Oxford Dictionary reference, he incorrectly states that the word was first printed about one-third of the way down the first column of page 100, Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942 printing of his short story "Runaround".
Asimov also coined the term "spome" in a paper entitled, "There's No Place Like Spome" in Atmosphere in Space Cabins and Closed Environments, originally presented as a paper to the American Chemical Society on September 13, 1965. It refers to any system closed with respect to matter and open with respect to energy capable of sustaining human life indefinitely.
Asimov coined the term "psychohistory" in his Foundation stories to name a fictional branch of science which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire. It was first introduced in the five short stories (1942–1944) which would later be collected as the 1951 novel Foundation. Somewhat later, the term "psychohistory" was applied by others to research of the effects of psychology on history.
In addition to his interest in science, Asimov was also greatly interested in history. Starting in the 1960s, he wrote 14 popular history books, including The Greeks: A Great Adventure (1965), The Roman Republic (1966), The Roman Empire (1967), The Egyptians (1967) and The Near East: 10,000 Years of History (1968).
He published Asimov's Guide to the Bible in two volumes—covering the Old Testament in 1967 and the New Testament in 1969—and then combined them into one 1,300-page volume in 1981. Complete with maps and tables, the guide goes through the books of the Bible in order, explaining the history of each one and the political influences that affected it, as well as biographical information about the important characters. His interest in literature manifested itself in several annotations of literary works, including Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare (1970), Asimov's Annotated Paradise Lost (1974), and The Annotated Gulliver's Travels (1980).
Asimov was also a noted mystery author and a frequent contributor to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He began by writing science fiction mysteries such as his Wendell Urth stories, but soon moved on to writing "pure" mysteries. He published two full-length mystery novels, and wrote 66 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 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. 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'" (although his full name was printed on the paperback edition, first published 1972).
Asimov published three volumes of autobiography. In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980) cover his life up to 1978. The third volume, I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), covered his whole life (rather than following on from where the second volume left off). The epilogue was written by his widow Janet Asimov after his death. The book won a Hugo Award in 1995. Janet Asimov edited It's Been a Good Life (2002), a condensed version of his three autobiographies. He also published three volumes of retrospectives of his writing, Opus 100 (1969), Opus 200 (1979), and Opus 300 (1984).
In 1987, the Asimovs co-wrote How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort. In it they offer advice on how to maintain a positive attitude and stay productive when dealing with discouragement, distractions, rejection, and thick-headed editors. The book includes many quotations, essays, anecdotes, and husband-wife dialogues about the ups and downs of being an author.
Asimov and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry developed a unique relationship during Star Trek's initial launch in the late 1960s. Asimov wrote a critical essay on Star Trek's scientific accuracy for TV Guide magazine. Roddenberry retorted respectfully with a personal letter explaining the limitations of accuracy when writing a weekly series. Asimov corrected himself with a follow-up essay to TV Guide claiming that despite its inaccuracies, 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.
In 1973, Asimov published a proposal for calendar reform, called the World Season Calendar. It divides the year into four seasons (named A–D) of 13 weeks (91 days) each. This allows days to be named, e.g., "D-73" instead of December 1 (due to December 1 being the 73rd day of the 4th quarter). An extra 'year day' is added for a total of 365 days.
Awards and recognition
Asimov won more than a dozen annual awards for particular works of science fiction and a half dozen lifetime awards. He also received 14 honorary doctorate degrees from universities.
One of the most common impressions of Asimov's fiction work is that his writing style is extremely unornamented. In 1980, science fiction scholar James Gunn, professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas wrote of I, Robot:
Except for two stories—"Liar!" and "Evidence"—they are not stories in which character plays a significant part. Virtually all plot develops in conversation with little if any action. Nor is there a great deal of local color or description of any kind. The dialogue is, at best, functional and the style is, at best, transparent..... The robot stories and, as a matter of fact, almost all Asimov fiction—play themselves on a relatively bare stage.
Gunn observes 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: Susan Calvin in "Liar!" and "Evidence", Arkady Darell in Second Foundation, Elijah Baley in The Caves of Steel, and Hari Seldon in the Foundation prequels. Asimov addresses this criticism at the beginning of his book Nemesis:
I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing—to be 'clear'. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics—Well, they can do whatever they wish.
Other than books by Gunn and Patrouch, a relative dearth of "literary" criticism exists 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.
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 D. Simak as an early influence), Asimov also enjoyed giving his longer stories complicated narrative structures, often by arranging chapters in nonchronological ways. Some readers have been put off by this, complaining that the nonlinearity is not worth the trouble and adversely affects the clarity of the story. For example, the first third of The Gods Themselves begins with Chapter 6, then backtracks to fill in earlier material. (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 lives in the "present" and another group starts in the "past", beginning 15 years earlier and gradually moving toward the time period of the first group.
Asimov was sometimes criticized for the general absence of sexuality (and of extraterrestrial life) in his science fiction. He claimed he wrote The Gods Themselves to respond to these criticisms, which often came from New Wave science fiction (and often British) writers. The second part (of three) of the novel is set on an alien world with three sexes, and the sexual behavior of these creatures is extensively depicted.
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 science fiction stories because the alien characters were portrayed as superior to the humans. The nature of the rejection led him to believe that Campbell may have based his bias towards humans in stories on a real-world racial bias. Unwilling to write only weak alien races, and concerned that a confrontation would jeopardize his and Campbell's friendship, he decided he would not write about aliens at all. Nevertheless, in response to these criticisms, he wrote The Gods Themselves, which contains aliens and alien sex. The book won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973. Asimov said that of all his writings, he was most proud of the middle section of The Gods Themselves, the part that deals with those themes.
In the Hugo Award-winning novella "Gold", Asimov describes an author clearly based on himself who has one of his books (The Gods Themselves) adapted into a "compu-drama", essentially photo-realistic computer animation. The director criticizes the fictionalized Asimov ("Gregory Laborian") for having an extremely nonvisual style, making it difficult to adapt his work, and the author explains that he relies on ideas and dialogue rather than description to get his points across.
Portrayal of women
Asimov was criticized for a lack of strong female characters in his early work. In his autobiographical writings, such as Gold ("Women and Science Fiction"), 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 science-fiction stories, brought this matter to a wider audience. For example, the August 25, 1985 Washington Post's "Book World" section reports of Robots and Empire as follows:
In 1940, Asimov's humans were stripped-down masculine portraits of Americans from 1940, and they still are. His robots were tin cans with speedlines like an old Studebaker, and still are; the Robot tales depended on an increasingly unworkable distinction between movable and unmovable artificial intelligences, and still do. In the Asimov universe, because it was conceived a long time ago, and because its author abhors confusion, there are no computers whose impact is worth noting, no social complexities, no genetic engineering, aliens, arcologies, multiverses, clones, sin or sex; his heroes (in this case R. Daneel Olivaw, whom we first met as the robot protagonist of The Caves of Steel and its sequels), feel no pressure of information, raw or cooked, as the simplest of us do today; they suffer no deformation from the winds of the Asimov future, because it is so deeply and strikingly orderly.
However, some of his robot stories, including the earliest ones, featured the character Susan Calvin, a forceful and intelligent woman who regularly out-performed her male colleagues.
Isaac Asimov was an atheist, a humanist, and a rationalist. He did not oppose religious conviction in others, but he frequently railed against superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off as genuine science. During his childhood, his father and mother observed Orthodox Jewish traditions, though not as stringently as they had in Petrovichi; they did not, however, force their beliefs upon young Isaac. Thus, he grew up without strong religious influences, coming to believe that the Torah represented Hebrew mythology in the same way that the Iliad recorded Greek mythology. When he was 13 he chose not to have a bar mitzvah. As his books Treasury of Humor and Asimov Laughs Again record, Asimov was willing to tell jokes involving God, Satan, the Garden of Eden, Jerusalem, and other religious topics, expressing the viewpoint that a good joke can do more to provoke thought than hours of philosophical discussion.
For a brief while, his father worked in the local synagogue to enjoy the familiar surroundings and, as Isaac put it, "shine as a learned scholar" versed in the sacred writings. This scholarship was a seed for his later authorship and publication of Asimov's Guide to the Bible, an analysis of the historic foundations for both the Old and New Testaments. For many years, Asimov called himself an atheist; however, he considered the term somewhat inadequate, as it described what he did not believe rather than what he did. Eventually, he described himself as a "humanist" and considered that term more practical. He did, however, continue to identify himself as a nonobservant Jew, as stated in his introduction to Jack Dann's anthology of Jewish science fiction, Wandering Stars: "I attend no services and follow no ritual and have never undergone that curious puberty rite, the bar mitzvah. It doesn't matter. I am Jewish."
When asked in an interview in 1982 if he was an atheist, Asimov replied,
I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.
Likewise he said about religious education: "I would not be satisfied to have my kids choose to be religious without trying to argue them out of it, just as I would not be satisfied to have them decide to smoke regularly or engage in any other practice I consider detrimental to mind or body."
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 existed, he claimed, the longest and most severe punishment would be reserved for those who "slandered God by inventing Hell".
Asimov said about using religious motives in his writing:
I tend to ignore religion in my own stories altogether, except when I absolutely have to have it. ...and, whenever I bring in a religious motif, that religion is bound to be seem vaguely Christian because that is the only religion I know anything about, even though it is not mine. An unsympathetic reader might think that I am "burlesquing" Christianity, but I am not. Then too, it is impossible to write science fiction and really ignore religion.
Asimov became a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party during the New Deal, and thereafter remained a political liberal. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and in a television interview during the early 1970s he publicly endorsed George McGovern. He was unhappy about what he considered an "irrationalist" viewpoint taken by many radical political activists from the late 1960s and onwards. In his second volume of autobiography, In Joy Still Felt, Asimov recalled meeting the counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman. Asimov's impression was that the 1960s' counterculture heroes had ridden an emotional wave which, in the end, left them stranded in a "no-man's land of the spirit" from which he wondered if they would ever return.
Asimov vehemently opposed Richard Nixon, considering him "a crook and a liar". He closely followed Watergate, and was pleased when the president was forced to resign. Asimov was dismayed over the pardon extended to Nixon by his successor: "I was not impressed by the argument that it has spared the nation an ordeal. To my way of thinking, the ordeal was necessary to make certain it would never happen again."
After Asimov's name appeared in the mid-1960s on a list of people the Communist Party USA "considered amenable" to its goals, the FBI investigated him. Because of his academic background, the bureau briefly considered Asimov as a possible candidate for known Soviet spy ROBPROF, but found nothing suspicious in his life or background.
Though from a Jewish family, Asimov appeared to hold an equivocal attitude towards Israel. In his first autobiography, he indicates his support for the safety of Israel, though insisting that he was not a Zionist. In his third autobiography, Asimov stated his opposition to the creation of a Jewish state, on the grounds that he was opposed to the concept of nation-states in general, and supported the notion of a single humanity. Asimov especially worried about the safety of Israel given that it has been created among hostile neighbours, and that Jews have merely created for themselves another "Jewish ghetto".
Asimov considered himself a feminist even before women's liberation became a widespread movement; he argued that the issue of women's rights was closely connected to that of population control. Furthermore, he believed that homosexuality must be considered a "moral right" on population grounds, as must all consenting adult sexual activity that does not lead to reproduction. He issued many appeals for population control, reflecting a perspective articulated by people from Thomas Malthus through Paul R. Ehrlich.
In a 1988 interview by Bill Moyers, Asimov proposed computer-aided learning, where people would use computers to find information on subjects in which they were interested. He thought this would make learning more interesting, since people would have the freedom to choose what to learn, and would help spread knowledge around the world. Also, the one-to-one model would let students learn at their own pace.
Environment and population
Asimov's defense of civil applications of nuclear power even after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant incident damaged his relations with some of his fellow liberals. In a letter reprinted in Yours, Isaac Asimov, 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", the latter being a reference to the Bhopal disaster.
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, though he continued to support high taxes on the middle class to pay for social programs. His last nonfiction 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 overpopulation, oil dependence, war, global warming, and the destruction of the ozone layer. In response to being presented by Bill Moyers with the question "What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?", Asimov responded:
It's going to destroy it all... if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren't you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears.
Asimov stated, both in his autobiography and in several essays, that he enjoyed the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. He paid tribute to The Lord of the Rings in a "Black Widowers" story. (In his letter to Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, who had previously interviewed him for Daily Telegraph Magazine, Tolkien said that he enjoyed the science fiction of Isaac Asimov.)
He admired a number of his contemporaries, in particular fellow science-fiction author and science writer Arthur C. Clarke, with whom he entered into the lighthearted "Treaty of Park Avenue", which stipulated that Clarke was free to refer to himself as the best science fiction writer in the world (Asimov being second-best), provided he admitted that Asimov was the best science writer in the world (Clarke being second-best). He freely acknowledged a number of his fellow writers as superior to himself in talent, saying of Harlan Ellison, "He is (in my opinion) one of the best writers in the world, far more skilled at the art than I am."
Asimov was also a fan of mystery stories, and his favourite mystery writer was Agatha Christie. He wrote "I make no secret of the fact that in my mysteries I use Agatha Christie as my model. In my opinion, her mysteries are the best ever written, far better than the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Hercule Poirot is the best detective fiction has seen. Why should I not use as my model what I consider the best?"
In contrast, although he enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories, he considered author Arthur Conan Doyle to be "a slapdash and sloppy writer."
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." Along with such figures as Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, Asimov left his mark as one of the most distinguished interdisciplinarians of the 20th century. "Few individuals", writes James L. Christian, "understood better than Isaac Asimov what synoptic thinking is all about. His almost 500 books—which he wrote as a specialist, a knowledgeable authority, or just an excited layman—range over almost all conceivable subjects: the sciences, history, literature, religion, and of course, science fiction." Asimov explained his quest for holistic knowledge:
Through a series of developments of absorbing lack of interest (as far as these pages are concerned), I found myself doing research on a biochemical topic. In that area of study I obtained my Ph.D., and in no time at all I was teaching biochemistry at a medical school.
But even that was too wide a subject. From books to nonfiction, to science, to chemistry, to biochemistry—and not yet enough. The orchard had to be narrowed down further. To do research, I had to find myself a niche within biochemistry, so I began work on nucleic acids...
And at about that point, I rebelled! I could not stand the claustrophobia that clamped down upon me. I looked with horror, backward and forward across the years, at a horizon that was narrowing down and narrowing down to so petty a portion of the orchard. What I wanted was all the orchard, or as much of it as I could cover in a lifetime of running...