Author profile: Isaac Asimov

Author profile: Isaac Asimov

This is the first in what I think will be a series of posts where I focus on a particular author.

Isaac Asimov embodied what was best about the human mind. The author was like a walking world-wide web, with one idea leading to another…but also like the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with in-depth knowledge and explanations, while at the same time being an easily accessible author of science fiction, mysteries, and even limericks.

Prolific doesn’t begin to describe Isaac Asimov. Amazon lists 502 books (which does include different formats) at the

Isaac Asimov page at Amazon

and a search at Goodreads pulls up 1,762 titles (partially because different editions of the same book count as different titles there)

Goodreads search for Isaac Asimov

While Asimov famously has a book in nine out of ten of the Dewey Decimal major categories (although there is some argument about that…some suggest it might be all ten), I think my favorite thing was when Isaac did a commercial years ago (I think it was for tires). Β Under the eclectic writer’s name on the screen, it just said, “Expert”. πŸ˜‰

You can’t write about robotics without Isaac Asimov…in part, because he coined the term (although he later claimed he thought it was an already existing word). Even today, we see many references to his “Three 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 the 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 Laws.

Robby the Robot famously (but unofficially) demonstrates the concept in Forbidden Planet (which is available to Prime members as streaming video at no additional cost). The movie is based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest…and Asimov wrote one of the great popular guides to the Bard.

It is fair to say that Isaac Asimov’s fictional novels and short stories are works of ideas more than of people. An average fan could quickly name ten titles, but might be hard pressed to name ten characters. One notable exception might be Susan Calvin, an industrial robopsychologist, who reappears in several works. Yes, I thought it was cool that her last name was “Calvin”. πŸ˜‰ If you knew my family, she would fit right into it (we do have a Nobel Prize winner in the clan: I grew up with Melvin Calvin as my “Uncle Mel”, although he’s actually my father’s cousin).

So, where to start reading Asimov on the Kindle?

Unfortunately, Random House, publisher of many of the works as e-books, is blocking text-to-speech access on some of the best-known.

I think that

Caves of Steel

might be a good introduction. It’s both science fiction and a mystery, and is the first novel in the Robot series. Although short stories precede it, it can be read without first reading those. It was also published in 1953, so you can read it for its sixtieth anniversary. If you are a fan of the movie Blade Runner, you might see some familiar things, even though that work was based on Philip K. Dick.

From there, range on. πŸ™‚

I want to conclude this with a bit observation on Isaac Asimov as a person.

I was at a World Science Fiction Convention (Discon II in 1974), and Asimov was there. I have a hard time thinking of Asimov as less than fifty years old…and I suppose the fact that he was in his early fifties at the time is part of it.

I remember seeing a knot of all female fans (not super common back then), and back to a wall holding court was Asimov. πŸ™‚

He was also having a “feud” with Harlan Ellison. That was all in fun, but they were seen as the old school versus the new school. Asimov pretty much didn’t write about sex (in his fiction), and, well, Ellison doesn’t have that inhibition. Their styles were quite different in other ways as well: Ellison was seen as young and hip, and Isaac was, well, “Uncle Isaac”. πŸ™‚

As I recall it, they were doing a “lecture” (more like stand up comedy, almost) together. Asimov told a story about going in for surgery, and saying to the doctor just before succumbing to the anesthesia, “Doctor, cut my throat.” He said that later on, the doctor said he was laughing so much, he had to wait to proceed. Ellison responded, “Isaac, do you have to be such a yenta and always talk about your operation?”

I’ve wondered if that line of Asimov’s to the doctor was related to this quotation:

“Observe the universe, young man. If you can’t force amusement out of it, you might as well cut your throat, since there’s damned little good in it.”
–Gillbert Oth Hinriad

The Stars, Like Dust
written by Isaac Asimov
category:literature
decade: 1950s
collected inΒ The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations

That’s certainly what Isaac Asimov did: forced amusement out every possible corner of the universe, and shared it with the rest of us.

What about you? What are your favorite Isaac Asimov books? What would you suggest someone read? If you’ve heard of Asimov and never read him, what has held you back? Do you think of him as something other than a science fiction writer? If you are a fan, who do you think writes like him today? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in theΒ I Love My Kindle blog.

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9 Responses to “Author profile: Isaac Asimov”

  1. Kutya Run The World Says:

    OH, yes. Isaac is my favorite author of sci-fi. I love his I, robot – this one was my the very first sci-fi book. (Movie is not so good for me. I know, Will Smith is great, but I miss main idea).

    Foundation is good too. Or Dreams of Robot – very emotional (for me) I love all books from him πŸ™‚

  2. K L Myers Says:

    Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite authors. Mostly, I have read his classic SF; favorites include I, Robot, Pebble in the Sky, Caves of Steel (and the next two in the series), Nightfall (both the short story and the novel), and Fantastic Voyage. I have also enjoyed his Black Widowers mystery stories. I read a few of his non-fiction educational books on mathematics and other sciences. I have even read some of the Lucky Starr and Norby juvenile novels for quick and light reads in my early middle adulthood. When I “discovered” science fiction in seventh grade, in1967, Isaac Asimov was the third author I encountered and first one I found on my own. I still remember the name of the boy in my class who told me about a book he had enjoyed reading and recommended: Podkayne of Mars, by Robert Heinlein. It was out on loan when I visited the school library, but I found Star Surgeon, by Alan E. Norse, on a nearby shelf. Before the end of the school year, I had read all the SF titles in my school’s library, except Asimov’s Foundation novels; I think I was too juvenile to understand the content; however, I tried reading them a few times in later years and still didn’t enjoy them.

  3. K L Myers Says:

    Almost a decade ago, as I was in the middle of a group of people at an informal party and we were chatting easily about a variety of topics, someone spoke the old cliche/aphorism, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I responded, seemingly out of context (and possibly out of my mind), “And Isaac Asimov has probably written a book about it.”

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, K.L.!

      Many people know that line from Buckaroo Banzai, but Buckaroo was actually quoting Confucius, as I understand it.

      Edited to add: your line was great, by the way, and after my own heart. πŸ™‚

  4. Mel Says:

    Slight correction —
    Goodreads does not count each edition as a separate book. Even if a book has been renamed or edited, it still counts as one book on Goodreads.

    Now, if an author has written two books with the same name but the contents are different (like a novella that was later expanded to a novel, or short story collections with a different combination of stories) those would be two different books in Goodreads eyes.

    Asimov has so many books on there because he’s written many, many short stories, and it lists the anthologies and some larger magazines he’s contributed to.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mel!

      I’ve only recently started using Goodreads more seriously, and I appreciate the education. πŸ™‚

      I wanted to test it, so I searched for Caves of Steel, and got eleven results. It seems completely understandable that an individual version of the novel is counted separately from an omnibus with three novels in it. There were two that seemed to be the single novel:

      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17730682-the-caves-of-steel

      http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41811.The_Caves_of_Steel

      The difference was, perhaps, that one of them had the series indicator in the title. I also wonder if the capitalization in the links above mattered.

      I also checked The Stars Like Dust, and it seemed to behave as you suggest.

      It’s probably just fluky when a book gets counted twice, and I think that might be something that the “librarians” catch and fix?

      Thanks again!

      • Mel Says:

        Yes, that would be something a librarian can fix. Luckily, I happen to be one and fixed it for you. When you see something that needs to get fixed, you can also post in the Librarians group and it generally gets taken care of within an hr or two.

        Librarians are unpaid volunteers who fix book info – either for the fun of it or for sake of their OCD. They aren’t Goodreads employees, for the most part.

        It’s not so much a fluke, as by design. Goodreads doesn’t automatically combine books just based on their names. Either someone manually goes in and links the books together, or the database gets info from one of its data sources that certain ISBNs/AISNs belong together. But with the first book you linked to, it was manually entered and doesn’t have an ISBN listed, so Goodreads will never automatically update any info for it.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Mel!

        Thanks for the fix! πŸ™‚ I had a vagues suspicion you might be a Goodreads librarian when you commented. πŸ™‚

        I understand the volunteer part…I’m a Kindle Forum Pro, and while our functions are quite different, are motivations are somewhat similar.

  5. SCIENCE-FICTION Says:

    […] Author profile: Isaac Asimov (ilmk.wordpress.com) […]

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