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||Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) - psedonym Paul French|
Highly prolific American writer, one of the three grand masters of science fiction with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein. For five decades Isaac Asimov was one of the central figures of science fiction. His popular works include Nightfall (1941), Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953), The Caves of Steel (1954), The End of Eternity (1955), The Naked Sun (1957), and The Gods Themselves (1972), which won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.
"I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it." (from I. Asimov, 1994)
Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia, the son of Judah Asimov and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov. His father was educated within the limits of Orthodox Judaism, but religion did not play a central role in Isaac's childhood. "He didn't even bother to have me bar mitzvahed at the ago of thirteen," Asimov remarked later. Judah Asimov was well read in Russian literature, but especially he loved Sholem Aleichem's Yiddish stories. During World War I he served in the Russian Army. In 1923 the family moved to the United States, and settled in New York. Before opening a sweet-shop, Judah worked in odd jobs, and learned also to speak English. In old age, when he retired to Florida, he became Orthodox again. Asimov himself never learned Russian, and the culture of his parents' native country remained him distant.
Asimov could read before he entered the first grade. He also had "a near-photographic memory." At school Asimov finished books in a few days. His father got him a library card, but did not supervise the books his son read. A classic "bookworm", Asimov devoured early works on Greek mythology, the Iliad, William Shakespeare plays, history books, all kinds of miscellaneous reading. One library was not enough - he used to go to every one within reach. After leaving Boys High School in Brooklyn, an elite school in those days, Asimov studied chemistry at Columbia University, New York, where he graduated in 1939 and received his M.A. in 1941.
In 1942 Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman; they had two children. The marriage was not easy - "sex didn't work out too well", recalled Asimov, "with neither of us possessing experience." She also smoked. During WW II Asimov worked in the US Naval Air Experimental Station alongside such science fiction writers as L. Sprague de Camp, who, according to Asimov, had "something very British about his appearance", and Robert A. Heinlein, who made Asimov feel "particularly gauche" with his courtly way. Asimov's relationship with Heinlein became later somewhat strained. He believed that Heinlein, a liberal during the war, adopted "rock-ribbed far-right conservative" attitudes afterwards under the influence of his wife. At the NAES Asimov remained from 1942 to 1945. After the end of the war Asimov served in the army as a corporal - he received his draft notice in September 1945. Asimov served eight months and twenty-six days. In 1948 he received his Ph. in biochemistry from Columbia University. Asimov's pseudo-dissertation, 'The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline', was published in 1948 in Astounding Science Fiction.
In 1949 Asimov joined the Boston University School of Medicine, where he was made an associate professor of biochemistry in 1955. Asimov was one of the best lecturers at the university, but after 1958 he taught only from time to time. Research did not interest him much. "As far as I know, not a single research paper to which my name was attached ever proved of the slightest importance," Asimov said. He devoted himself to writing and focused mostly on non-fiction, publishing such works as The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960), and books on history and literary topics. Asimov remained an associate professor until 1979, and subsequently held the title of professor.
Asimov married in 1973 the writer and psychoanalyst Janet Opal Jeppson. He had met her already in the 1950s. During the following years, Asimov saw her from time to time on his visits to New York. Correspondence with her convinced Asimov that she was the kind of person that suited him perfectly. Janet Jeppson began to write science fiction in the 1970, most of it for children. Her early works she published under the name J.O. Jeppson. Among her books are The Second Experiment (1974), The Last Immortal (1980), Laughing Space (anthology, 1982), The Mysterious Cure, and Other Stories of Pshrinks Anonymous (1985), and Mind Transfer (1988). For young readers she created in collaboration with Isaac Asimov the Norby Chronicles, which depicted the adventures of a robot.
"Since I am an atheist and do not believe that either God or Satan, Heaven or Hell, exists, I can only suppose that when I die, there will only be an eternity of nothingness to follow." (from I. Asimov) Asimov had in 1977 a heart attack and in 1983 he had triple bypass surgery. Given a blood transfusion, he contracted the HIV virus, which was not discovered until 1990. The doctors adviced against going public on this; Janet Asimov tested negative. The winter of 1989-90 Asimov spent in a hospital due to a congenital weakness of the mitral valve in the heart. In Forward the Foundation (1993) Asimov said farewell to Hari Seldon. Asimov's heart and kidney failure worsened and he died at New York University Hospital on April 6, 1992.
Asimov began to write at the age of eleven. When he worked at his father's store, he became interested in pulp magazines, and imitated their language in his early works. At the age of 18 Asimov sold his first story, 'Marooned Off Vesta'. One of the magazines, which printed his tales, was Astounding Science Fiction. It was edited by John W. Campbell Jr, who encouraged and trained many of the field's rising writers. Fredrik Pohl, a few weeks older than Asimov, edited Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, both of which bought several of Asimov's stories. Asimov's first novel, Pebble in the Sky (1950), was published by Doubleday. The first nonfiction book Asimov wrote for the general public, The Chemicals of Life (1954), was published by Abelard-Schuman.
Asimov's breakthrough work, 'Nightfall' (1941), is acclaimed to be the best science fiction story ever written - an overstatement of course. The poetic story depicts a world which has six suns, at least one of which is always shining. The world have experienced a universal eclipse every two millennia, and lost its social organization as a result. When the darkness falls the reason for this cyclical development is revealed: suddenly the thousands of stars are visible. Most of Asimov's books are pure adventure, and good entertainment, often giving solutions to all kinds of problems of human society and technology. Among his most popular works are the Foundation novels - based very very loosely on Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - and Robot novels and stories.
The first Foundation trilogy is perhaps the most impressive of Asimov's achievements. Set in the far future, the space opera depicts the period between the fall and the rise a new Galactic Empire. Hari Seldon, the mysterious inventor of psychohistory, has established two Foundations to control this development. The first 'Foundation' is public and based on the physical sciences. But there is also a second Foundation, which is secret. It copes with the unknown factors, which Hari Seldon could not have anticipated. The grand scheme is thrown away when the "Mule", a mutant warlord, comes on the scene. Using his ability to manipulate minds by direct force, the Mule gives history a new direction. According to the science of psychohistory, the behaviour of humans in the mass can be predicted by purely statistical means - if the human conglomerate is unaware of the psychohistoric analysis and act randomly. The third part of the trilogy concerns the efforts of the Second Foundation both to get history back on course and to avoid detection and destruction by the First, which perceives it as a rival. Outside this epic future history Asimov wrote The End of Eternity, which examined the paradoxes of time travel.
In the 1960s Asimov did not publish science fiction novels - he felt it had passed beyond him. The "New Wave" was more experimental and radical compared to the Golden Age tradition, but Asimov's works still sold well. He returned to novels in 1980s and started the ambitious project to amalgamate the Robot and Foundation sequences into one huge tale. The new books included Foundation's Edge (1982), The Robots of Dawn (1983), Robots and Empire (1985), Foundation and Earth (1986), Prelude to Foundation (1988), and Forward the Foundation (1993), in which Hari Seldon struggles to create his twin foundations, to preserve human civilization in the future of the Galaxy. In Robots and Empire (1985) R. Daneel Olivaw learns the tricks of telepathy, a step toward the Foundation. The Second Foundations Trilogy was a homage to Asimov's grand vision, beginning with Foundation's Fear (1977) by Gregory Benford, and continuing with Foundation and Chaos (1998) by Greg Bear, and Foundation's Triumph (1999) by David Brin.
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine was founded by Davis Magazines. It started to appear quaterly from 1977, monthly from 1979 and 4-weekly from 1981. IASFM was a success from the start and its stories have won an extraordinary high number of awards. Its title changed in 1992 to Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, when the magazine was sold to a new publisher. The actual editorial work was done first by George Scithers and then by a succession of other editors. Asimov himself wrote a 1,500-word editorial in every issue, and answered letters.
Asimov's Robot stories were based on the Three Laws of Robotics, a set of programmed instructions, introduced in the 'Liar!' (1941), about a telepathic robot. Asimov formulated the laws with John W. Campbell, Jr.: 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 it by human beings except where such orders would conflict 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. Most of Asimov's Robot stories, collected as I, Robot (1950) and The Rest of the Robots (1964), revolve around various interpretations of these laws. They are also basis for the novels The Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957), introducing the detective team of Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot. The books were set respectively on an overpopulated Earth and barely populated colony world.
Asimov was extraordinarily prolific writer of a prodigious number of works including science fiction, science fact, mystery, history, short stories, guides to the Bible and Shakespeare, and discussions of myth, humor, poems, limericks, as well as annotations of literary works. Asimov authored nearly 500 books, but never wrote a screenplay for a major film. Several attempts have been made to adapt Foundation trilogy for the screen. TriStar Pictures purchased its rights in 1994, but then sold them to New Line. Dennis Feldman was assigned to work on a script, which would cover the first novel.
Asimov's strength as a fiction writer was in his great skill to develop logically interesting ideas within a conventional story frame, which did not have much sensual or visual references. His critics noted that the stories resembled "a diagram on a blackboard", as Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove described Asimov's Empire in Trillion Year Spree (2001). " I make no effort to write poetically or in a high literary style," Asimov admitted. Usually he sat down at his old Selectronic III IBM typewriter from 7:30 until 10 P.M. - the word processor he used only for the preparation of manuscripts. His autobiographies, In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980), give a detailed picture of the enormously popular author. I. Asimov (1994) was a collection of vivid sketches of important people and events in his life. Asimov had ended the manuscript with hope that he would see it published before his death. It appeared posthumously. The completed manuscript was edited by Janet Asimov.
For further reading: Asimov Analyzed by Neil Goble (1972); The Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov by Joseph F. Patrouch, Jr. (1974); Isaac Asimov, ed. by Joseph D. Olander and Martin H. Greenberg (1977); Asimov: The Foundations of His Science Fiction by George Edgar Slusser (1980); Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction by James Gunn (1982); Isaac Asimov by Jean Fiedler and Jim Mele (1982); St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, ed. by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast (1999); Trillion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss & David Wingrove (2001); It's Been a Good Life, by Janet Jeppson Asimov (2002)
Selected bibliography / novels, poetry, and short stories:
Non-fiction and other: