Tag Archives: isaac asimov

No Isaac Asimov April this year

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As many of you long-time followers know, each April I take a break from all my other reading and spend the month re-reading Isaac Asimov’s 3 volume autobiography. I typically start with the retrospective, I. Asimov, and then go back and read the two-volume In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. I’ve done this every April for 14 or 15 years. Despite having read the books more than a dozen times each, I always look forward to this time of the year.

But not this year.

Given everything I have going on in my life: the day job, parenting, blogging, fiction-writing, and my Vacation in the Golden Age, I simply don’t have time for any other reading, even Asimov’s autobiographies. So I’m skipping them this year.

Now it might be suggested that I take a vacation from my Vacation so that I can read Asimov’s books, but the truth of the matter is I’m having too much fun reading and writing about these old issues of Astounding. And besides, it won’t be an entirely Asimov-free month. In the upcoming issues, are the first of Asimov’s Robot stories, and later, his Foundation stories, and I’ll finally have the opportunity to write about them in detail, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Still, I wonder if April will feel like April without my annual ritual reading? I guess I will find out soon.

I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

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As I was writing my lastest Wayward Time Traveler piece for SF Signal, I couldn’t help but recall something that happened just before I went to Los Angeles last week. I was packing and went into the TV room to ask Kelly about something or other–and found her watching I, Robot on FX. This movie is the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and involving, as the title indicates, robots. I saw it a year or two after it came out, mostly out of curiosity, and have regretted it ever since. Not just because it was a terrible movie, you understand, but also because there was a masterful screenplay written for I, Robot by Harlan Ellison and–

I can see I’m getting ahead of myself here so let me back up and explain for those people who may not be as close to science fiction as I am.

Continue reading I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

For lack of creativity

Hot off my rant on movie reboots (just a voice in the wilderness, I suppose), I learned yesterday (from a Jason Alexander tweet) that the 1966 movie, Fantastic Voyage is going to be remade, and James Cameron is involved. Is this not a perfect example of what I was talking about? Here is yet another third generation remake. In this case, a script was produced, for which Isaac Asimov was asked to do a novelization. He did so and worked so quickly that his book came out six months before the movie (creating the impression that the movie was based on the book). And now, 45 years later, Cameron wants to remake it.

Once again this is going to be all about demonstrating special effects, whatever creativity is involved in the picture will be in the technical aspects. I really can’t understand why screenwriters and directors can’t come up with original stuff, why they have to remake remakes. If it was a timeless classic it’s a little more understandable, but Fantastic Voyage? The book wasn’t Asimov’s best, but it wasn’t so bad. The best thing about the movie was Raquel Welch.

Maybe I’m not looking at this the right way, but I find this lack of creativity enormously depressing. It’s why I generally stick with written science fiction, which is among the most creative literatures extant, and run away from sci-fi flicks, which are, with rare exceptions, as about original as a paperclip in a paperclip factory.

Writers and writers

I think that there is some kind of transition period between being just a fan of science fiction to being a science fiction writer. At least, that’s the way it is working out for me. Despite having some street cred (3 professional sales), I still look at other writers as if they are, well, Writers. I am not a naturally shy person, but I do get nervous around these Writers, and I know exactly why that it: I still think of them as demi-gods.

Part of it is that while I have some street cred, I don’t have a whole lot and I suppose there is a feeling of inadequacy surrounding that. I think to myself, here is this Science Fiction Writer who has sold dozens of stories, received countless award nominations, published several novels. They are so calm and self-assured about it all. And then there’s me, barely out of fandom with my 3 story sales. How can they possibly take me seriously? And yet, they usually do. They treat me like one of their own and yet they are still demi-gods to me.

I think I am doing better about trying to stand at eye-level with other professional science fiction and fantasy writers, but this whole notion of actually being a writer is sometimes still unsettling to me–in a good way. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I tried and tried and tried, and I was not a very good story-teller when I started out, but I kept at it until one day, I was just good enough. After that first sale, things started to get a little bit easier, and that is almost entirely due to the Writers who have treated me so kindly: Michael A. Burstein, Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer, Allen Steele, Jack McDevitt, to name just a few. These guys are my Babe Ruths and Mickey Mantles, and yet they’ve all taken me seriously as a writer. You would think that would make it easier to approach other writers at conventions, and introduce myself, but for some reason, that imagined wall is still there: they are Writers and I’m just a writer.

I’m hoping to finally surmount the imagined wall this year–or, as Pink Floyd urged, tear it down–but it is not an easy thing to do. I can’t quite seem to place myself at the same level of the Writers whose stories I’ve enjoyed for a couple of decades. But I’ll try.

I wonder if other writers at my stage feel the same way? There is a feeling that the first sale wasn’t a fluke because you had a second sale. And then there was that third sale to one of the Big Three that made you a Full Active SFWA member. To some extent you still can’t believe it. But you’re still tempted to hold up those three sales, dear as they are to you, against those Writers you love so much and think: gee whiz! this one here has sold forty stories; this one more than one hundred with a dozen nominations for various awards. Will I ever be that good? Meanwhile your still struggling to make that next sale. It is a fun struggle, I’ll grant that, but when you see these Writers operate, you can still glimpse the difference between a rookie and a Pro.

I have met other writers, in passing: Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. There are some writers I will never get to meet: Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, L. Sprague de Camp. Those lost opportunities, gone forever are what motivate me most to meet those writers that I can meet. I always try to tell them how much I’ve enjoyed the stories they’ve written, how theirs has been an example to me. It comes off sounding mawkish, I think, but sincere nevertheless. And I try never to forget my own motto: that I am a fan first, and a writer second.

Michael A. Burstein: A museum exhibit for Isaac Asimov

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Over on the Apex blog, my good friend and excellent science fiction writer, Michael A. Burstein is proposing a museum exhibit for Isaac Asimov on the Good Doctor’s centennial birthday. I wholeheartedly concur with him. Go now and check out what he has to say.

Isaac Asimov: Proto-blogger?

I have been reading some of Isaac Asimov’s essays on science fiction over the last few days. Over the course of his prolific career, the Good Doctor wrote thousands of essays ranging a wide variety of subjects. I’ve probably read most (although certainly not all) of these essays and it occurred to me yesterday that one might consider Isaac Asimov one of the earliest bloggers–or at the very least, a “proto-blogger”. In honor of his 91st birthday today, I thought I would discuss this in more detail.

There are some common features to most successful blog:

  1. They have an audience
  2. They are updated with some degree of regularity
  3. They often contain commentary on a specific topic area, although some run the gamut
  4. The engage readers in a discussion or dialog through the comment system

In the world of science fiction, blogging often involves any or all of the following:

  • Reviews or critiques of science fiction
  • Discussions of the writing process or the business of writing
  • Social commentary from the perspective of a science fiction writer
  • Occasional discussions of science as it relates to society (or science fiction)

And every now and then, the blogger will write about his or her personal life.

Isaac Asimov’s thousands of essays meet almost all these criteria and then some:

  • He had a huge audience, one that continued to grow from the mid-1950s (when his essays became more regular) until his death.
  • The essays appeared with an unprecedented degree of regularity. He wrote 399 consecutive monthly essays on science for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; he wrote columns for American Way for a decade or more; he wrote columns for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate; and he wrote editorials for each issue of Asimov’s for more than 15 years.  In addition, he had essays appearing in all kinds of other places from TV Guide to the New York Times, to say nothing of the hundred of introductions he wrote for other people’s books.
  • Several of his columns focused on a broad area, such as science. Others were political commentary, or literary critiques, or personal essays about writing or about science fiction.

The most significant difference between Asimov’s essays and blogs today lies in the discussion aspect. And even there, readers of the essays could and did write to Asimov to engage him on various points and opinions in his essays. And where he could, Asimov responded (there were more than 100,000 letters in his files, according to his brother).

Reading Asimov’s essays on science fiction (many of which appeared as editorials for Asimov’s Science Fiction), I can’t help but look at them as a primitive form of blogging, a kind of Whatever, twenty years before Scalzi’s pioneering blog appeared. They often talked about science fiction or the writing of science fiction, but they sometimes also commented on some kind of social or political issue, and his views were discussed by fans in the letter columns, a kind of primitive comment system. He was what I call a proto-blogger.

I wonder what would have happened if he had lived into the early 21st century. Would he have become a full-fledged blogger? I suspect not? He was set in his ways and already had a vast audience for the essays he wrote. I think he would have approved of the notion of blogging, but I don’t think that he personally would have embraced it (in the way that, say, Frederik Pohl has).

Happy 91st birthday, Isaac!

I have no desire to see Tron Legacy (and other sci-fi films)

Because many of my friends and coworkers know me to be a science fiction writer, I am often asked if I have seen the latest sci-fi blockbuster and what did I think of it. The truth, I’m afraid, tends to disappoint them.

I generally hate sci-fi movies.

There are some exceptions–very rare ones–but the truth of the matter is that I get bored almost instantly and if I stick it out too long, I can find myself growing angry over things in the film that probably mean little to anyone else.

But as a science fiction writer, how can I hate science fiction films?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Science fiction films are often based on source material originally found in science fiction literature, and in these cases, they are almost always far worse than the books. In fact, I can think of only one science fiction film that measured up to the book upon which it was based, and that is Carl Sagan’s Contact. Most people I know who like sci-fi movies, hated Contact. Go figure.
  2. The sole purpose of many science fiction films is to demonstrate how far we’ve come in terms of special effects. But when I read a book like Foundation or Rendezvous with Rama, I get all of the special effects I need by combining the words on the page with my imagination. So far, Hollywood as not been able to outdo my imagination when it comes to special effects.
  3. Science fiction films tend lean much more toward fiction and much less toward science. They tend to be fantasies more than anything else (take the entire Star Wars saga as an example).
  4. Science fiction films have taken audiences away from written science fiction. People are generally lazy. When Star Wars came out with its dazzling special effects, anyone who wanted to see spaceships battling it out among the stars could drop by their local movie house–which was much easier to do than to pick up a book like The Forever War and actually sit an read. Reading requires active participation. Watching a film is almost entirely passive.

This is nothing new for me; I’ve always been this way, and I admit, I am somewhat of an anomaly, I think, even among science fiction writers. I can’t recall ever seeing the original Tron, and I have no desire whatsoever to see the sequel.

A month or two ago, I finally got around to seeing Avatar because it showed up on HBO. I hated it. Absolutely despised it. The special effects were stunning, but the story was terrible, the characters were cardboard cutouts and the plot was recycled from a dozen or more science fiction classics. Even the dialog was terrible and made what I considered to be amateur mistakes in speaking to the audience as opposed to the characters in the story.  One example: the bad-guy colonel says, at one point, that if your not careful, “They’d suck your eyes out like Jujubes.” This is a story that is supposed to take place at least several hundred years in the future. I doubt that anyone in that time would know what the hell the Colonel was referring to, even if he himself knew it was a type of jelly candy.

I did like the movie based on Carl Sagan’s novel Contact. It was simplified a bit, and there were some things left out of it, but the thrust of the novel came across clearly and it was a well-done, well-acted film. Most people I know didn’t like it.  The same is true for the The Bicentennial Man, which was based on Robert Silverberg’s expansion of Isaac Asimov’s Hugo and Nebula-award-winning story of the same name. The film starred Robin Williams and even Williams later made fun of it in one of his standup routines. But I think the film captured the essence of the original story, which happens to be one of my favorite all-time pieces of short science fiction.

It is ironic that bad science fiction films are gold at the box office, while outstanding science fiction novels rarely made the bestseller lists, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that this played into my frustration with science fiction films. But the fact it that I love the literature of science fiction so much that I have no need for a visual medium in which to imagine my favorite stories. What goes on inside my head is good enough, and seeing it on the big screen might ruin for me an otherwise cherished image.

There will be some movies that I would go see out of sheer curiosity. If they end up making a movie for The Forever War, I’ll check it out. Ditto for Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. But I have no high hopes for them. Perhaps they will surprise me, but I doubt it. (The truth it, I’ll be surprised if they get made at all.)

Many years ago, when I lived in L.A., I attended a private screening of The Puppet Masters starring Donald Sutherland. We had to rate the film afterward and discuss it with a panel of people who were getting our opinions before release. I think I was the only one there who’d read (and enjoyed) the Heinlein novel upon which it was based. The movie was so terrible that I absolutely refused to see Starship Troopers when it was released. To this day, I haven’t seen that film.

I liked 2001: A Space Odyssey, but generally liked the first half better than the second half. I didn’t like the sequel, 2010 at all.

This is why I have no desire to see Tron: Legacy. Special effects don’t impress me. 3D doesn’t impress me. What impresses me most is a compelling story that fits neatly together with rich characters that come to life and for whom I want to love or hate. That’s pretty rare in science fiction in general, but it’s almost a recipe for disaster for a science fiction film.

Carl, Isaac, and Martin

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14 years ago today, I began reading Carl Sagan‘s book, The Demon-Haunted World, after reading an excerpt of it in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Three days later, I learned that Sagan had died and it was a sad day for me and for the cause of science and rationality as a whole. I wrote about this a few years ago, but I was thinking about it this morning, especially in light of my recent post on Isaac Asimov’s science essays.

Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Martin Gardner formed a kind of intellectual triad for me, people who I admired for many reasons, but especially for their promotion and defense of reason, rationality and science in an increasingly scientifically-illiterate world. (Stephen Jay Gould and James Randi formed a kind of second tier to this list as well.) It’s rather depressing to think that of the five men, only one of them (Randi) lives on. It’s even sadder to me when I realize that there really hasn’t been anyone of equal intellectual courage to take up their fight.

(Almost) Everything I learned about science I learned from Isaac Asimov

Two nights ago I braved the bitterly cold weather to check the mail. When I got outside, I looked up into a midnight blue sky, crystal clear in the cold air with stars shimmering brightly, and immediately saw a meteor disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. I remembered then that it was about the time of the Germinid meteor shower. I craned my neck back hoping to catch sight of another meteor, but that was it, the only one I saw. I was too cold to stand out there looking any longer. I ran to the mailbox, grabbed the mail, and came back into the warm house, stamping the cold out of my feet.

Looking up into that night sky reminded me of the sense of wonder that I felt when I looked up into a similar sky three decades earlier and realized for the first time that those lights in the sky I was seeing were actually distant suns, and that some of them were even planets. I was six or seven at the time. My parents bought me a telescope and I frustrated the librarians of the Franklin Township Public Library by repeatedly checking out the same book over and over again, The Nine Planets by Franklyn Mansfield Branley. It was my introduction to science.

I never learned about the Germinid meteor shower in any of my schooling. Instead, I learned about it and about meteor showers in general through Isaac Asimov’s science essays that appeared monthly in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The first of Asimov’s science essays appeared in the November 1958 issue (of which I happen to posses a copy).

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Those monthly science columns continued unabated for 399 consecutive months. (And eventually, Isaac’s wife, Janet, put together a 400th column after his death.) The essays were collected in more than two dozen books. The columns themselves ranged through all realms of science, and occasionally into philosophy and humanities. They were written in Asimov’s familiar colloquial style, making it easy for anyone to approach even arcane subjects. I devoured every one of those essays and it is from those essays that I truly believe that I learned nearly everything I know about science today.

Don’t get me wrong: I did learn some science in school. Prior to junior high school, I have little memory of any specific science lessons. In high school, I took AP biology, chemistry (for some reason the AP version was not offered), and AP physics. In biology, I learned about things like the Krebs cycle and the basics of genetics and inheritance, and cellular anatomy. This was essentially rote memorization and despite being an “advanced placement” class, I was more or less taking the teacher’s word on these things. From Isaac Asimov, I learned much more. I learned, for instance, how the Krebs cycle was discovered, which fixed it much more clearly in my mind. I learned the fascinating story of Gregor Mendel and how he discovered the laws of inheritance and how they were then lost to science for another generation.

In high school chemistry (and later, in college general and organic chemistry), I memorized the periodic table and was taught how to balance chemical formulas. Isaac Asimov taught me how Dmitri Mendeleev developed the period table and how he predicted the properties of elements long before they were ever discovered. The insights this gave me into chemistry went far beyond anything I learned in my formal classes. In his essay “Life’s Bottleneck” (F&SF, April 1959) he taught me biochemistry in a way that showed the precarious balance of nature and how remarkable it was that just the right conditions existed to support life.

I grew to love physics when I took AP physics in high school with Dr. Goldman, who was one of the few good explainers of science I’ve run into. Still, while I learned equations for light and magnetism in his class, Isaac Asimov made such subjects come to life in a practical way for me with essays like  “The Bridge of the Gods” (F&SF, March 1975) about rainbows, refraction and light, and his essay “Four Hundred Octaves” (F&SF, June 1982) on the physics of light. He was the Great Explainer and it was from essays like “The Man Who Massed the Earth” (F&SF, September 1969) that I learned that science was a continually evolving thing. It’s one thing to learn that the Earth weighs 5.9×10^24 kilograms. It’s something else to learn just how scientists figured that out. The former I learned in school; the latter I learned from Isaac Asimov.

Asimov’s essays taught me not only the hows and whys of science, they taught me the history of science. Taken together, anyone who reads all 399 F&SF science essays can’t miss certain patterns in logic and reasoning, can’t miss the evolution of thought and experiment. The essays taught me that scientists were real men and women.  Essays like “The Isaac Winner’s” (July 1963) highlighted the triumphs of some of the most remarkable scientists of all time. Other essays taught me that even scientists can make mistakes, can be wrong, and that a whole premise of the scientific method is to look for holes in theories, and to revise hypotheses as new data is accumulated.

Occasionally, Asimov’s science essayed ventured into the truly remarkable (in my opinion). His essay, “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover” (F&SF, September 1966) was a remarkably original (at the time) approach to cosmology.  His essays like “The Height of Up” (F&SF, October 1959) looked at how far away things could be and asked if there were limits.  He had other essays that looked at the smallest possible sizes, or the hottest possible temperature.

His essays on math and numbers fixed certain concepts more firmly in my mind than any trigonometry or algebra class ever did. His essay “Exclamation Point!” (F&SF, 1965) taught me factorials in a far better way than any of my math teachers. Essays like “The Ultimate Split of the Second” and “The Week Excuse” (F&SF, June 1972)  taught me about time and calendars in an original an vivid way.

Sometimes, Asimov’s essays ventured out from the realm of pure science and in most of these cases, the results were among some of the best nonfiction writing I’ve encountered.  His essay “Thinking About Thinking” (F&SF, January 1975) talked about the value (or lack thereof) of intelligence tests.  His essay, “Crowded!” introduced me to the population problem. And one of his most remarkable essays, “The Ancient and the Ultimate” (F&SF, January 1973) looked at the evolution of books.

Reading his essays on quasars and lunar eclipses and the tallest mountains and longest rivers sparked my imagination and my sense of wonder about the universe and probably have as much to do with my love of science fiction as his science fiction does. It was from Isaac Asimov that I learned things like the square-cube law, transfinite math, and compound math, things never covered in any of my high school textbooks.

Today, only a few of these essays are truly dated. Some facts have changed because science evolves, but the core is still valid and the history that these essays provides is an invaluable tool for understanding the cumulative nature of science. Seven of these early essays were never put into any collections, and there were six or seven that Asimov wrote before his death that have not, to my knowledge, been collected either. Perhaps I am a lone voice in the wilderness here, but I think it’s high time that a newly reissued compendium of all of Isaac Asimov’s F&SF science essays be put together and re-released. There is an audience of millions of school-aged children who are not getting adequate science educations out there and such a reissue could provide them (especially those curious ones) the additional nourishment they are lacking. And besides, there are any number of adults who might be interested in such a reissue as well.

There are some good science writers out there today, but none of them, in my opinion, come close to capturing full sweep of science, history, and sense of wonder that the Good Doctor did for more than thirty years in his essays in F&SF. When I say that I learned nearly everything I know about science from Isaac Asimov, I am not kidding.

Shouldn’t we make this knowledge available to kids (and grownups) today?

Science fiction mysteries

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I had an epiphany the other day.

There is a certain kind of science fiction story (including novels) that I particularly like. It’s been hard for me to classify what these stories are. In the past I’ve thought of them as space opera, like Isaac Asimov‘s FOUNDATION series or Arthur C. Clarke‘s ODYSSEY series. But I’ve read other types of space opera and sometimes, I don’t come away with the same sense of excitement as I do with others. What’s the difference?

The difference, it occurred to me the other day, is that the stories I like best are science fiction mysteries. Back in the day, these were called “puzzle stories”. It was an epiphany for me in multiple senses because not only are these my favorite type of stories to read, they are also my favorite type of stories to write. (My story, “Take One for the Road”, coming out in Analog in 2011 will be my first published science fiction mystery.)

I enjoy the FOUNDATION stories so much because they are, at their core, puzzles.  I enjoy Jack McDevitt‘s Alex Benedict novels so much because they, too, are puzzle stories. Even a novel like Joe Haldeman‘s THE FOREVER WAR is to some extent a puzzle story. And some of my favorite types of stories involve time travel and those are almost always puzzle stories. Not all science fiction stories are puzzles stories or even intended to be. And it would seem that the trend holds for me. If I got back through the list of science fiction books I’ve read, I tend to rate stories with a greater mystery or puzzle element higher than I do those that lack it. There are exceptions, but the general case is true. For instance, I did not particularly like Vernor Vinge’s RAINBOW’S END. And in looking back on it, I don’t see that as much of a mystery or puzzle story.  On the other hand, I loved Connie Willis’ DOOMSDAY BOOK and there was a definite element of mystery and puzzle-solving in that story.

Other examples:

I didn’t particularly enjoy Lois McMaster Bujold’s FALLING FREE, Samuel Delany’s BABEL-17, or Ray Bradbury’s FROM THE DUST RETURNED. As I can recall them, none had a particularly strong mystery element. However, I loved Joe Haldeman’s THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE, Barry Malzberg’s BEYOND APOLLO, and Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, all of which had stronger mystery and puzzle elements.

It is a great relief to discover this for a number of reasons. First, of course, it better describes what I enjoy reading and I can actively go seek this kind of stuff out more easily, now that I know what I’m looking for. Second, it helps me to understand why I don’t enjoy some of the more–shall we say, literary–efforts in science fiction that many of my friends and colleagues seem to love. I was not blown away by THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS or THE WINDUP GIRL the way others were, and I’ve always thought that to be a problem with me. In fact, those books simply don’t match my taste for the type of science fiction I really enjoy. It is a relief to discover that.  It also helps to explain why absolutely love David G. Hartwell’s mammoth anthology THE HARD S.F. RENAISSANCE.  Hard s.f. stories tend to me more puzzle-oriented.

This is not to say that I won’t or don’t read other science fiction or that I won’t or don’t attempt to write other types.  But for pure enjoyment, for slipping back into my vision of a Golden Age, the science fiction mystery is my drug of choice. There have been a lot of good writers in this subgenre over the years and it solves for me another mystery: why I like Jack McDevitt’s book so much:

He specializes in science fiction mysteries and in my opinion, there is no one better than Jack at this art.

An hour in the Golden Age

The Science Fiction Oral History Association has started a series of podcasts called their Space Dog Podcast and the first of which is an interview from 1976 with Arthur C. Clarke, followed by an extraordinary panel interview with Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Lester del Rey and Gordon R. Dickson.  I’ve heard individual interviews with Isaac Asimov and even Frederick Pohl before, but never have I heard an interview in which these four men bantered like they do here, talking mostly about science fiction and writing.  For an hour, I felt like I was sitting in a room with these giants of the genre and it was an absolutely delightful experience.  It made me realize how lucky I am to have read their work, and especially, how lucky I am to be considered a science fiction writer, even a lowly one, and be associated with their ranks.  If you like science fiction, you must listen to this interview.

What Isaac Asimov means to me

For the last 13 years, April is “Isaac Asimov” month for me. Each April, I re-read all three of Asimov’s autobiographies, beginning with his retrospective memoir, I. Asimov, and following that up with his 640,000 word, 2-volume autobiography from 1979-80, In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt.

Having just finished up Factoring Humanity, and there being only a few days left before April is here, I got started this morning on my 15th reading of I. Asimov. I know that this is strange behavior. But I don’t care. I look forward to this every year. It’s the beginning of spring for me, and since in past times, it was spring and not not winter that symbolized the beginning of the new year, I kind of think of April as my personal “new year”. I have the three books virtually memorized by now, but I never get bored by them. I was lost in the first few chapters of I. Asimov on the train into work this morning, almost as if I were reading it for the first time.

Asimov’s writing style in his autobiographies–as it was in most of his non-fiction–is so clear, so informal, that it almost feels like he’s sitting with you in the room, just chatting, telling stories of the old days, and I never get tired of that. Although I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, I have heard his voice in numerous recordings and videos and when I read the books, I hear his Brooklynese in my head, and it’s like he’s talking to me.

More than any other writer, it was Isaac Asimov whose writing had the biggest influence on my own. It was reading about how he became a writer that made me think I could be one too. Now that I am a writer–albeit a small-time science fiction writer–I am forever grateful to whatever fortune it was that allowed me to discover Asimov’s books. If I had never read Asimov, I’m pretty sure I would have never tried to become a writer, let along sell a single story.

In a similar vain, it was Isaac Asimov who renewed my interest in science, in history, and in learning of any kind. Back in 1996 or so, when I was seeing many of my friends go on to get advanced degrees, it seemed to me that I didn’t have the time or energy to do that same thing myself. Besides, my science background, though adequate, would not have allowed me to pursue advanced degrees. And there was my job, too. At that time, having read I. Asimov a few times, I knew about his long-running series of science columns in F&SF. Slowly, I acquired all of the books in which these essays are reproduced (there’s something like 40 books, with 17 essays in each!) and slowly, I made my way through them, fascinated. When I finished, several years later, I felt that I had learned science in a way that I would have never learned it in school. Not only did I understand a broad range of scientific concepts and ideas, but I had a strong sense of the history of it all–of its interconnectedness. I have been reading science and history and just about any kind of non-fiction I can ever since.

My parents taught me to love books and for that I am forever grateful. Isaac Asimov, though I never met him, taught me to write, and he taught me to love to learn new things. I feel a Grandfatherly fondness for him, and it’s why he is and always will be my favorite writer.