Remembering Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was a lot like the science-fiction magazines he wrote for as a boy genius: astonishing, astounding, and amazing. Astonishing for an output that allowed him to publish, in 1984, his Opus 300, with selections from his first 300 books. Astounding for both the range and the lucidity of his scientific learning. He could produce, off the top of his head, guidebooks to any scientific subject as up-to-date and well organized as a textbook vetted by a committee of specialists, and so yes-of-course comprehensible that even quantum mechanics could be understood in the Asimov version.
He was amazing, most of all, for his coinvention, with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, of modern science fiction. ”Nightfall,” the story he wrote at age 21, has repeatedly been hailed as the greatest SF tale of all time. It tells the story of a panic that overwhelms a planet when there is a total eclipse of its six suns and for the first time in its history the stars become visible — and the size of the universe imaginable.
That gasp of wonder was the Asimovian grail, and it is evoked most powerfully in the early novels of the Foundation series, and in the books mandating the Three Laws of Robotics, especially The Caves of Steel (1954). Caves is also Asimov’s first cautionary tale about the dangers of overpopulation. Unlike most other technophile SF writers, who have acted as NASA’s unpaid cheerleaders, Asimov was a political liberal throughout his life and became the president of the American Humanist Association.
He was also a lifelong teenager, and his persona, whenever he was far enough away from the typewriter to wear one, was that of a typical slide rule-toting high school science nerd. But in Asimov’s case, the nerd was triumphant. Every month his face could be seen, with its bushy white muttonchops, on the cover of the science-fiction magazine named in his honor. Often he’d be costumed as an astronaut, by way of reminding us that it’s not the jocks but brains like Asimov who are the real architects of our futures.
Representative Asimov includes: * Asimov’s New Guide to Science The best one-volume science reference book for home libraries. * The Foundation Trilogy A space-opera version of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and probably the mostly widely read SF work of all time. * The Robot Novels Sci-fi whodunits featuring Baley (human) and Olivaw (robot), the Nick and Nora of time and space. * The End of Eternity By literary standards, this tale of time travel from the 95th century is generally rated Asimov’s best.