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.