It Happened
in History!
(Go to It Happened in History Archives) 


Isaac Asimov

Born 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 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," 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.  There, young 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 find..

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 Asimov's pieces. 

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 fast."

His The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960) and other books on history and literary topics have been well received. 

Asimov 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.

The Mule 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 randomly. 

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 the 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 human-form robot.  The books were set respectively on an overpopulated Earth and a barely populated colony world.

In all, Asimov 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 later.

Discover Isaac Asimov

Search Now:

Indulge Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling
Fiction - Nonfiction - DVDs

- HOME -

NOTE: All material on this site is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  Contact the editors for right to reprint.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2006 by the American Society of Authors and Writers.







Hit Counter