in Petrovichi, Russia, on January 2, 1920, Isaac Asimov became one of the
most prolific American writers in history. Recognized as part of
Science Fiction's Holy
Grail of writers, along with Arthur
C. Clarke and Robert
A. Heinlein, Asimov has been in the vanguard of science fiction for more than five
decades. His most popular works include Nightfall (1941),
Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second
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
"I received the fundamentals of my education in
school," Asimov wrote, "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."
Asimov was born of Judah Asimov
and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov. His father was educated within the limits of
Orthodox Judaism, although religion wasn't central to the child's
upbringing. "He didn't even bother to have me bar mitzvahed at the age of
thirteen," Asimov said.
In 1923, Judah Asimov moved
the family to the United States, where they settled in New York.
Isaac learned to read before he entered school. He also had a
photographic memory, which helped in his studies. A heavy library book
reader, Asimov read Greek mythology,
The Iliad, the plays of Shakespeare, various histories, and
miscellaneous other things. One library was not enough to placate him.
He used to go to every
one within walking distance to see what new and exciting things he might
By the time he was 11, Asimov was imitating the pulp magazine writing
style of the day. He sold his first story, Marooned Off Vesta, at
the age of 18. One of the magazines that ran his stories 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, who was a few weeks older than Asimov, edited Astonishing Stories
and Super Science Stories, both of which bought several of
After leaving Boys High School in Brooklyn, an elite
school in those days, Asimov studied chemistry at Columbia University, New
York, where he was graduated in 1939. He received his M.A. in 1941,
which is also the year he published his breakthrough work, Nightfall,
which some critics call the best science fiction story ever written. The
poetic saga depicts a world with six suns, at least one of which is
always shining. The world has experienced a universal eclipse every two
millennia and lost its social organization as a result.
Most of Asimov's books are pure adventure
and good entertainment, often offering solutions to all kinds of problems of
human society and technology. Among his most popular works are the
Foundation novels - based loosely on Edward Gibbon's History of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - and stories about robots.
In 1942, Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman, who would bare him two
children. He entered the service during WWII, working at the U.S.
Naval Air Experimental Station alongside Robert A. Heinlein. Following
the war, he joined Boston University's School of Medicine, where he was
made an associate professor of biochemistry in 1955.
Asimov's first novel, Pebble in the Sky, was
published by Doubleday in 1950. His first nonfiction book written for the
general public, The Chemicals of Life (1954), was published by Abelard-Schuman.
In the late Fifties, he began writing other nonfiction books. He felt
that Americans trailed the Russians in their gap of knowledge and set out to
define outer space and science in ways that were both interesting and easy
to understand. He continued writing these books for 25 years.
Calling himself a "born explainer," Asimov once met Kurt
Vonnegut Jr., who asked him how it felt to know everything. Asimov
replied, "I only know how it feels to have the reputation of knowing
everything. Uneasy." He said when he had to write about
something he knew little about, he closed his eyes and typed "very very
His The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960) and other books on
history and literary topics have been well received.
remarried in 1973, choosing author and psychoanalyst Janet Opal Jeppson for
his mate. Jeppson began writing science fiction in the 1970s, most of it for
children. Her early works were published under the name J. O. Jeppson.
She created the
Norby Chronicles, depicting the adventures of a robot, in
collaboration with her husband.
Of Asimov's wide range of work, his first Foundation trilogy is
among his best. Set in the far future, the space opera depicts the period
between the fall and the rise of a new Galactic Empire. The mysterious inventor
of psychohistory, Hari Seldon, has established two Foundations to control
this development. The first is public and based on the physical
sciences. The second is private and 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.
uses his ability to manipulate minds by direct force to give history a new
direction. According to the science of psychohistory, the behavior of
humans in the mass can be predicted by purely statistical means - so long as the
human conglomerate is unaware of the psychohistoric analysis and act
The third part of the trilogy concerns the efforts of the Second
Foundation to get history back on course and to avoid detection and
destruction by the First, which perceives it as a rival. Beyond this epic
future history, Asimov wrote The End of Eternity, which examines the
paradoxes of time travel.
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine was founded by Davis
Magazines as a quarterly in 1977. It moved to monthly from 1979
and 4-weekly from 1981. IASFM was a success from the start, and its stories
have won many 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 he answered readers' letters.
Asimov's Robot stories are based on the Three Laws of Robotics, a
set of programmed instructions. 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 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.
Asimov introduced the laws in
Liar! (1941), about a telepathic robot. Most of his Robot
stories, collected as I, Robot (1950) and The Rest of the Robots(1964),
revolve around various interpretations of these laws. They are also
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 human-form robot. The books were set respectively on an overpopulated
Earth and a barely populated colony world.
authored nearly 500 books, sitting behind his IBM Selectronic III typewriter
from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. His strength as a fiction writer was in his
great skill to develop logically interesting ideas within a conventional
story frame, which did not have many 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). But that never bothered the author. "I make no effort to write poetically or in a high
literary style," he admitted.
Asimov's last work, I. Asimov, was a collection of vivid
sketches of important people and events in his life. The author had
intended that it be published before his death.
Isaac Asimov died in
1992 at New York University Hospital of heart and kidney failure. I.
Asimov was edited by Janet Asimov and published posthumously two years
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