Isaac Asimov

Isaac_Asimov

Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was a highly prolific Russian-born American author and professor of biochemistry and is considered to be one of the three grand masters of science fiction together with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he has won both the Hugo and Nebula award several times .  His most famous work is the Foundation series, an epic science fiction story spanning 500 years consisting of seven volumes.

Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia (the exact date of birth is an uncertainty due to the differences in the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars as well as a lack of records), as the son of Judah Asimov and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov, a Jewish family of millers.  Isaac Asimov never learned to speak Russian or learn his parent’s native culture since his family moved to the United States when he was three years old and would only speak to him in English and Yiddish.  He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and had taught himself to read by the age of five.  He was educated at several public schools in New York and studied chemistry at Columbia University where he graduated in 1939 and received his M.A. in 1941.

Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman  on July 26, 1942.  They had two children, David  and Robyn Joan.  He got divorced in 1973, and  married Janet O. Jeppson later that year.  In 1977 Asimov had a heart attack and in 1983 he had triple bypass surgery. During the winter of 1989-90 Asimov spent his time in a hospital due to a congenital weakness of the mitral valve in the heart, eventually his heart and kidney failure worsened and he died at New York University Hospital on April 6, 1992.  It was later revealed that he had died from the AIDS virus due to a blood transfusion that he had received as part of the coronary-artery bypass operation in December 1983.

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”, robota, and was first employed by the playwright Karel Capek.) 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.

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”. In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted “Nightfall” the best science fiction short story ever written. In his short anthology 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 1940’s, led by authors including Asimov and Heinlein, away from gadgets and space opera and toward speculation about the human condition.

In 1942 he began his Foundation stories-later collected in the : 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 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 movie starring Robin Williams.

The 3 Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Quotes of Asimov:

  • Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.
  • I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
  • I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
  • I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books.
  • Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.
  • Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.
  • Nothing interferes with my concentration. You could put on an orgy in my office and I wouldn’t look up. Well, maybe once.
  • Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.
  • To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.

Bibliography:

Selected bibliography / novels, poetry, and short stories:

  • Nightfall, 1941 – Yö saapuu (uusi versio yhteistyössä Robert Silverbergin kanssa, suom. Sari Kallioinen & Anita Puumalainen)
  • Pebble in the Sky, 1950
  • I, Robot, 1950 – film 2004, dir. by Alex Proyas, starring Will Smith, Bridget Moyhnahan, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride
  • The Stars, Like Dust -, 1951
  • Foundation, 1951 – Säätiö (suom. Tuulikki Lahti)
  • David Starr: Space Ranger, 1952 (as Paul French)
  • The Caves of Steel, 1952 – Teräsluolat (suom. Matti Kannosto)
  • The Currents of Space, 1952 – Avaruuden merivirrat (suom. Anja Toivonen)
  • Foundation and Empire, 1952 – Säätiö ja Imperiumi (suom. Tuulikki Lahti)
  • Second Foundation, 1953 – Toinen säätiö (suom. Tuulikki Lahti)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, 1953 (as Paul French)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, 1954 (as Paul French)
  • The End of Eternity, 1955 – Ikuisuuden loppu (suom. Aulikki Lehkonen, Markku Lehkonen)
  • The Martian Way and Other Stories, 1955
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury, 1956 (as Paul French)
  • The Naked Sun, 1956 – Alaston aurinko (suom. Matti Kannosto)
  • Earth is Room Enough, 1957
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter, 1957 (as Paul French)
  • The Death Dealers, 1958
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, 1958 (as Paul French)
  • Nine Tomorrows, 1959
  • The Rest of the Robots, 1964
  • Fantastic Voyage, 1966
  • Through a Glass, Clearly, 1967
  • Asimov’s Mysteries, 1968
  • Nightfall and Other Stories, 1969
  • The Best New Thing, 1971
  • The Early Asimov, 1972
  • The Gods Themselves, 1972 – Itse jumalat (suom. Ari Koskinen)
  • The Best of Isaac Asimov, 1973
  • Tales of Black Widowers, 1974
  • Have You sen These?, 1974
  • Buy Jupiter and Other Stories, 1975
  • The Heavenly Host, 1975
  • Lecherous Limericks, 1975
  • “The Dream”, “Benjamin’s Dream”, and “Benjamin’s Bicentennial Blast”, 1976
  • Good Taste, 1976
  • The Bicentennial Man, 1976
  • More Lecherous Limericks, 1976
  • More Tales of the Black Widowers, 1976
  • Murder at the ABA, 1976
  • The Key Word and Other Mysteries, 1977
  • Still More Lecherous Limericks, 1977
  • Asimov’s Sherlockian Limericks, 1978
  • Limericks Too Gross, 1978
  • Casebook of the Black Widowers, 1980
  • Views of the Universe, 1981
  • A Grossery of Limericks, 1981
  • Three by Asimov, 1981
  • Foundation’s Edge, 1982 – Säätiö veitsen terällä (suom. Pekka Markkula)
  • The Complete Robot, 1982 – Robotit (suom. Matti Kannosto)
  • Norby, the Mixed-up Robot, 1983 (with Janet Asimov) – Norby, seonnut robotti (suom. Jyrki Kiiskinen)
  • The Robots of Dawn, 1983 – Aamunkoiton robotit (suom. Pekka Markkula)
  • The Winds of Change, 1983
  • The Union Club Mysteries, 1983
  • Banquets of the Black Widowers, 1984
  • Norby’s Other Secret, 1984, 1984 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Norby and the Lost Princess, 1985 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Robots and Empire, 1985 – Robotit ja Imperiumi (suom. Pekka Markkula)
  • Norby and the Invaders, 1985 (with Janet Asimov)
  • The Edge of Tomorrow, 1985
  • It’s Such a Beautiful Day, 1985
  • The Disappearing Man and Other Stories, 1985
  • Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov, 1986
  • Foundation and Earth, 1986 – Säätiö ja maa (suom. Pekka Markkula)
  • Robot Dreams, 1986
  • Norby and the Queen’s Necklace, 1986 (with Janet Asimov)
  • The Alternate Asimovs, 1986
  • Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, 1986
  • Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, 1987
  • Norby Finds a Villain, 1987 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Other Worlds of Isaac Asimov, 1987
  • Azazel, 1988
  • Prelude to Foundation, 1988 – Säätiön alkusoitto (suom. Anu Niroma)
  • Norby Down to Earth, 1988 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Nemesis, 1989 – Nemesis (suom. Anu Niroma)
  • All the Troubles of the World, 1989
  • Franchise, 1989
  • Robbie, 1989
  • Sally, 1989
  • The Asimov Chronicles, 1989
  • Norby and Yobo’s Great Adventure, 1989 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Puzzles of the Black Widowers, 1990
  • Nightfall, 1990 (with Robert Silverberg)
  • Robot Visions, 1990
  • Norby and the Oldest Dragon, 1990 (with Janet Asimov)
  • The Asimov Chronicles, 1990 (3 vols.)
  • Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, 1990-92 (2 vols.)
  • The Asimov Chronicles, 1991
  • Child of Time, 1991 (with Robert Silverberg)
  • Our Angry Earth, 1991 (with Frederik Pohl)
  • The Ugly Little Boy, 1992 (with Janet Asimov)
  • Forward the Foundation, 1993 – Kohti Säätiötä (suom. Jorma-Veikko Sappinen)
  • Norby and the Court Jester, 1993 (with Janet Asimov)
  • The Positronic Man, 1993 (with Robert Silverberg)
  • Gold, 1995
  • Magic, 1995

Memoirs:

  • In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov (1920-1954), 1979
  • In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov (1954-1978), 1980
  • Asimov Laughs Again, 1992
  • I. Asimov: a Memoir, 1994

Non-fiction and other:

  • Biochemistry and Human Metabolism, 1952
  • The Chemicals of Life, 1954
  • Races and Peoples, 1955
  • Chemistry and Human Health, 1956
  • Inside the Atom, 1956
  • Only a Trillion, 1957
  • Building Blocks of the Universe, 1957
  • The World of Carbon, 1958
  • The World of Nitrogen, 1958
  • The Clock We Live On, 1959
  • The Living River, 1959
  • Realm of Numbers, 1959
  • Words of Science and the History Behind Them, 1959
  • The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science, 1960
  • The Double Planet, 1960
  • The Kingdom of the Sun, 1960
  • Realm of Measure, 1960
  • The Wellsprings of Life, 1960
  • Realm of Algebra, 1961
  • Words from the Myths, 1961
  • Words in Genesis, 1962
  • Words on the Map, 1962
  • Life and Energy, 1962
  • Fact and Fancy, 1962
  • The Search for the Elements, 1962
  • The Genetic Code, 1963
  • The Human Body, 1963
  • View fro a Heights, 1963
  • Words from the Exodus, 1963
  • A Short History of Biology, 1964
  • The Human Brain, 1964
  • Quick and Easy, 1964
  • Adding a Dimension, 1964
  • Planets for Man, 1964 (with Stephen H. Dole)
  • Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 1964
  • The Greeks, 1965
  • The New Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science, 1965
  • Of Time and Space and Other Things, 1965
  • An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule, 1965
  • The Noble Gasses, 1966
  • The Neutrino, 1966
  • The Roman Republic, 1966
  • Understanding Physics, 1966 (3 vols.)
  • The Genetic Effects of Radiation, 1966 (with Theodosius Dobzhansky)
  • The Universe, 1966
  • From Earth to Heaven, 1966
  • The Egyptians, 1967
  • Environments Out There, 1967
  • From Earth to Heaven, 1967
  • Is Anyone There?, 1967
  • The Roman Empire, 1967
  • The Dark Ages, 1968
  • The Near East, 1968
  • Photosynthesis, 1968
  • Science, Numbers, and I, 1968
  • Words from History, 1968
  • Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, 1968-69
  • The Shaping of England, 1969
  • Opus 100, 1969
  • Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, 1970
  • Constantinople, 1970
  • Unseen World, 1970 (teleplay)
  • The Land of Canaan, 1970
  • To the Solar System and Back, 1970
  • The Space Dictionary, 1971
  • The Starts in their Courses, 1971
  • The Left Hand of the Electron, 1971
  • Asimov’s Treasury of Humor, 1971
  • The Sensuous Dirty Old Man, 1971 (as Dr. A.)
  • The History of Science Fiction from 1938 to the Present, 1971 (filmscript, with James Gunn)
  • Electricity and Man, 1972
  • The Shaping of France, 1972
  • Worlds within Worlds, 1972
  • More Words of Science, 1972
  • The Story of Ruth, 1972
  • Asimov’s Annotated “Don Juan”, 1972
  • Physical Science Today, 1973
  • The Shaping of North America from Earliest Times to 1763, 1973
  • Today and Tomorrow and…, 1973
  • The Tragedy of the Moon, 1974
  • Asimov on Astronomy, 1974
  • Asimov on Chemistry, 1974
  • The Birth of the United States, 1763-1816, 1974
  • Our World in Space, 1974
  • Asimov’s Annotated “Paradise Lost”, 1974
  • Birth and Death in the Universe, 1975
  • Of Matters Great and Small, 1975
  • Our Federal Union, 1975
  • Science Past – Science Future, 1975
  • Eyes on the Universe, 1975
  • The Ends of the Earth, 1975
  • Asimov on Physics, 1976
  • The Planet that Wasn’t, 1976
  • Asimov on Numbers, 1977
  • The Beginning and the End, 1977
  • The Collapsing Universe, 1977
  • The Golden Door, 1977
  • Familiar Poems Annotated, 1977
  • Quasar, 1978
  • Life and Time, 1978
  • The Road to Infinity, 1979
  • Opus 200, 1979
  • A Choice of Catastrophes, 1979
  • Extraterrestrial Civilizations, 1979
  • Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, 1979
  • The Annotated “Gulliver’s Travels”, 1980
  • Opus, 1980
  • In the Beginning, 1981
  • Visions of the Universe, 1981
  • The Sun Shines Bright, 1981
  • Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981
  • Change!, 1981
  • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos, 1982
  • Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 1982
  • Isaac Asimov Presents Superquiz, 1982 (with Ken Fisher)
  • Isaac Asimov Presents Superquiz 2, 1983 (with Ken Fisher)
  • Counting the Eons, 1983
  • The Roving Mind, 1983
  • The Measure of the Universe, 1983 – Maailmankaikkeuden mitat (suom. Risto Varteva)
  • Isaac Asimov’s Aliens and Outworlders, 1983
  • Isaac Asimov’s Space of Her Own, 1983
  • Isaac Asimov on the Human Body and the Human Brain, 1984
  • X Stands for Unknown, 1984
  • The Exploding Suns, 1985
  • The Subatomic Monster, 1985
  • Opus 300, 1985
  • The Impact of Science on Society, 1985 (with James Burke and Jules Bergman)
  • Asimov’s Guide to Halley’s Comet, 1985
  • Robots, 1985
  • The Dangers of Intelligence and Other Science Essays, 1986
  • Future Days, 1986
  • Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worldwide Science Bazaar, 1986
  • The Alternate Asimov’s, 1986
  • Isaac Asimov, 1986
  • Past, Present, and Future, 1987
  • As Far as Human Eye Could See, 1987
  • How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort, 1987 (with Janet Asimov)
  • The Relativity of Wrong, 1988
  • Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, 1988
  • Asimov on Science, 1989
  • Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Technology, 1989
  • The Secret of the Universe, 1989
  • Asimov’s Galaxy, 1989
  • The Tyrannosaurus Prescription and One Hundred Other Essays, 1989
  • The March of Millennia, 1990
  • The Next Millennium, 1990
  • Out of Everywhere, 1990
  • Library of the Universe, 1988-90 (24 vols.)
  • Asimov’s Chronology of the World, 1991
  • Isaac Asimov Laughs Again, 1991
  • Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space, 1991
  • Atom, 1991
  • Frontiers, 1991
  • Our Angry Earth, 1991 (with Fredrik Pohl)
  • Frontiers II. 1993
  • The Future in Space, 1993 (with Robert Giraud)
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