Review of "Isaac Asimov"
Isaac grew up helping to run his parents sweet shop, and was no doubt gifted as a young child. Picking up reading and writing very early in life. his autobiography even says that once he knew the very basics, reading was self taught. Although later on in school life, and on to university Isaac went from being an exceptional student, to being a very bright one. Was this to do with what and where interests really lay? Even not knowing what he may want to do himself, and the conflicts between what held his interest and what he studied at school?There was an explosion of Science Fiction magazines when Isaac was in his teens / early twenties, and Isaac began writing letters to some of these, sometimes with criticisms of stories they included. As his letter writing expanded, he made the move of actually writing his own short stories and sending them to magazines to be published.
They were published, and Isaac states that this could have been one of the major factors why he became such a prolific writer, and one of the "Big Three" (this list includes Arthur C Clarke, and L Sprague de Camp - both of whom Isaac became good friends with).
As there were so many magazines in circulation with space to fill, this meant that stories were in short supply, good or bad. A young Isaac Asimov grew in confidence and even if those early stories had been poor quality, over time he would see his writing style improved - influenced by the pulp comics and stories of his youth. (he used to read those that were for sale in the sweet shop).
Still writing though, and always under his own name. Isaac Asimov had success with his Science Fiction novels. He had married, and later was to have two children, but, by his own admission, his marriage was not a strong one, and he and his wife would be seen to divorce years later (after the children had grown up).Science Fiction was not his only outlet though, and he particularly liked writing non fiction. especially his guides to science, which became bestsellers in their own right.
It was these non fiction books, and the money they earned him that made him finally accept that he could make a living being a writer, and to not have to rely on his professorial role.
Isaac Asimov became one of the most prolific writers in the world, and even his early magazine short stories were collected and made into anthologies (the book I - Robot being one of the most famous titles).
(You can find a list of his titles at this website address
He also became a popular public speaker, (which he very much enjoyed), and was very much in demand to give speeches on a variety of subjects, and not just science. These speeches would be without notes and be adlibbed, although he did have a general idea of what the speech was to involve. This meant that no speech would ever be the same twice, even if on the same subject and would add even more to his popularity as a speaker.A Jewish Writer?
Isaac liked his name as a young boy, and the trend was to rename families to enable integration into communities. When Isaac's mother was advised to change their name to something more western. He was horrified, but fortunately the change never took place. He made sure that his real name was printed whenever his work was published, and was even criticised by some of the Jewish sommunity for not having Jewish issues in his publications as "an example to young Jews". however Isaac was not a practicing Jew, and even though he made no attempt to hide his heritage, also made no attempt to write about Jewish culture in his work.One thing that springs to memory is, when critised for hding his heritage. Isaac calmly asked the other party (a Jew), to tell him his name, as he already knew Isaac's and was at the disadvantage. When the other man replied, giving his name out as a western styled name (possibly changed as the trend mentioned earlier). Isaac cooly stated along the lines as."Well *such and such*, I would think that if I was ashamed of my heritage - the first thing I would do is to change my name to *such and such*). The phone was hung up on Isaac at this point. Classic Style
Self described as an old fashioned science fiction writer, Asimov books have little violence, no explicit sex and little in the way of swearing. (the word "jehosaphat" being the word I remember the most as the expletive used in his novels - mainly by his character Elijah Bailey).This may also be the reason why so few of his novels have been made into film. Recently the film I Robot (starring Will Smith) was released, based around characters and events from his robot stories, but was an entirely new story in its own right. Although some die hard Asimov fans disliked this hollywood treatment, I enjoyed the film, but it's not the first time the Asimov name has been linked to film.
Another film of note is Fantastic Voyage", where you may remember the submarine being miniaturised and injected into a comatose scientist. Although Isaac was only asked to write the novel based on the film.
"The Bicentennial Man" with Robin Williams keeps alot closer to Asimov stories though, and even though there is little action I thought the film was terrific.
There are others but probably the most overlooked Asimov influence and ironically probably the best known is in Star Trek - The Next Generation, with the android character Data. Asimov's own robot stories featured around "The Positronic Robot" and Indeed Data himself has a positronic brain. His character reminding me very much of the Asimov novel character "Daneel Olivaw" from his Robot novels and later to appear in Foundation novels. (In the early episodes Data is referred to as Asimov's dream)
Sometimes accused of writing towards teenagers, I think this is misleading. I feel that his books are aimed at everyone who is old enough to understand them, I can't think of any publications that he has written which I havent enjoyed.
Mainly I have read his science fiction work, but that doesn't mean I haven't read any of his non fiction. His style in each type of book is the same, and warms you to the author without realising you are. This is helped in some novels by his introductions at the front of some of his works, and in his anthologies, even more of this personalised writing is included.
From this you get the feeling that Isaac has a strong sense of morals, and a loyalty to his family and friends: his writing being important to him, but also the people in his life. his colleagues in the publishing industry (editors, etc) do not stay colleagues for long and become drawn to him as close friends. If not then they drift away usually into other jobs, mainly because they lack the passion that he (and his friends) have.
He describes his feelings towards his parents and siblings, estranged family members from Russia. His first wife and children, his friends in the literary field and his second wife.
Also, his thoughts and feeling about himself as he journeys through his life, and even though it is just a small section at the end, the last few years of his life as he realises his time is at an end and his body, with age, starts to let him down. It is this last section that is the most poignant and moving writing I have ever read. coupled with the afterword by Janet.
Unless you are an avid sci-fi reader I wouldn't recommend that either of these be the first asimov book you read. This is not to say the aren't excellent, more that it would be like being dropped in the deep end and may be heavy going for some.
However, if you do like Sci Fi, I would instead recommed some of the shorter stories, such as those contained in "I-Robot" and "The Rest of the Robots", which while some may be a little dated, still make good reading, and with the additional thoughts by Isaac himself, they would make a good place to start.There are also his mystery novels, and his non fiction work, but again, these may be a little heavy going for a first read.
Terry Pratchett (known for his discworld series of books(Arthur C Clarke (I find Clarke very similar to Asimov)
Stephen Baxter (who wrote the sequel to the time machine - The Time Ships- the first Baxter novel I read)Michael Crighton (The Andromeda Strain, Sphere)
Piers Anthony (Mode)Patrick Moore (non fiction - astronomy)
Product Information : Isaac Asimov
Manufacturer's product description
Type: Writer's corner
Author: Isaac Asimov
Listed on Ciao since: 07/03/2007