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A day to be thankful for resublimated thiotimoline.
January 2, 2007 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Think you get a lot done? Isaac Asimov (pronounced like "has, him, of" without the h's) , who would have turned 87 today, wrote or edited over 500 books, including science-fiction novels, introductions to organic chemistry (a field in which he held a professorship at B.U.) , indispensable anthologies of early science fiction, jokebooks, guides to Shakespeare, and collections of lively essays on science that have introduced thousands of people to the pleasures of thinking hard about the universe. He also found the time to write a few essays and write postcards to his fans. His story "Runaround" , from his 1950 collection I, Robot, is the only piece of fiction I know centered on the properties of a differential equation. His Foundation Trilogy was given a special Hugo award in 1966 as the best science fiction series of all time; a movie version, to be written by Jeff Vintar and directed by Shekhar Kapur, is currently in development. Previous AsimovFilter: here, here, here. Feel like a slacker yet? Stop reading MetaFilter and get to work!
posted by escabeche (95 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
he had ghostwriters, you know
posted by matteo at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2007


you think we don't know how to pronounce Asimov?
posted by delmoi at 10:03 AM on January 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


OK.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:03 AM on January 2, 2007


he had ghostwriters, you know

He paid people to reproduce that dull, dry, lifeless writing style? Evidence, please.
posted by Autumn Dandy at 10:04 AM on January 2, 2007


Also, how is "I, Robot" based on a "Differential equation"?
posted by delmoi at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2007


Pff. Surely robots can do all the work?
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on January 2, 2007


"Why mazel tov! It's Asimov! A blessing on your head,
For many a year, I've lived in fear, that you were long since dead.
Or if alive, 155, cold years had passed you by,
And left you weak, with poor physique, thin hair, and rheumy eye."

I know it's cool to bash Asimov, but I loved the man. The above is from his autobiography (from the first volume--"In Memory Yet Green," I believe -- there were three volumes in all. One of the best autobios ever -- funny, witty, self-deprecating, rich in detail -- all the things sci-fi fans of today claim not to find in his fiction.

According to Wikipedia, he died of AIDS from a blood transfusion, but that fact was not revealed until a decade after his death. I had never heard that.
posted by GaelFC at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2007


I hope they cite sources...
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2007


Also, how is "I, Robot" based on a "Differential equation"?

That's not what he said, delmoi.

His story "Runaround" , from his 1950 collection I, Robot, is the only piece of fiction I know centered on the properties of a differential equation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:20 AM on January 2, 2007


Think you get a lot done?

Absolutely not. In fact, I got a little sleepy just reading Mr. Asimov's list of accomplishments. Time for a nap!
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2007


I am an Asimov lover since childhood and always pronounced his name to rime with the first syllable of "grovel," not the first syllable of "shovel," so the pronunciation was news to me!

When I was seven and big with pride I wrote him a fan letter in which I said "I'll bet I am your only seven-year-old fan." He sent me a postcard saying "I'll bet you are not my only seven-year-old fan." I treasure it.
posted by escabeche at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2007 [2 favorites]



I'm always struck by how incredibly prolific and capable old intellectuals were at a great variety of things - it really puts us to shame. Look at the writer Nabokov, for instance. Wrote superbly in Russian, wrote better than any American in English, and was a leading lepidopterist who discovered several species and traced the evolution of butterfly markets with unheard of exactitude. And it could be said that the scientific qualities of his mind gave his writing that heightened specificity and resolution that authors undisciplined by such studies lack. And it's no coincidence that both Nabokov and Asimov were Russian.
posted by bukharin at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2007



Haha, markings, not "markets."
posted by bukharin at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2007


His fiction isn't my favorite, but he was just the loveliest man. I highly encourage reading any of his autobiographies.
posted by kalimac at 10:27 AM on January 2, 2007


escabeche, this thread was worth it just to get the image of "When I was seven and big with pride" in my head...I remember that way of being.

As for Asimov, I too discovered him at a very early age, he was probably the first scifi author to be housed at my local library. My love of reading started with iRobot.

I miss him....
posted by HuronBob at 10:28 AM on January 2, 2007


I always liked the discussions of his 3 laws of robotics, a good read about it on wikipedia.
posted by IronWolve at 10:28 AM on January 2, 2007


Presumably a movie version of the foundation books would end up being an action/adventure with an emphasis on chase scenes, since that seems to be about all Hollywood can come up with when adapting SF classics.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on January 2, 2007


The little-known 4th law of robotics is that you will never look cool doing the robot.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:42 AM on January 2, 2007


obligatory... "I hate 90% of movie adaptations" which I really do. Some are good to very good, but the overwhelming majority are pure shit. (yes I include LOTR in the 90% category)
posted by edgeways at 10:43 AM on January 2, 2007


For any value of "you."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:43 AM on January 2, 2007


I've always been a fan of Azimauve.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:44 AM on January 2, 2007


Artw:

What about the George Clooney Solaris? No chase scenes! Ha!
posted by Mister_A at 10:44 AM on January 2, 2007


"I've always been a fan of Azimauve."

Didn't he write the Liquid Foundation Cosmetics trilogy?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:48 AM on January 2, 2007


Thats an indie isn't it?
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on January 2, 2007


His Foundation Trilogy ... a movie version, to be written by Jeff Vintar and directed by Shekhar Kapur, is currently in development.

When Hari Met Salvor
posted by hal9k at 10:54 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]



He paid people to reproduce that dull, dry, lifeless writing style? Evidence, please.


Remember Dr. A's Super Quiz installments? Ken Fisher was responsible for the majority of pieces.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:55 AM on January 2, 2007


(My quibble is inadequate as I never mentioned Hollywood)
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on January 2, 2007


To my taste his science fiction is only mildly entertaining, but I love his nonfiction. I discuss it briefly here.
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 10:57 AM on January 2, 2007


I read in an introduction by Asimov that he "wrote" his novel primarily by dictation. Speaking from experience, dictation is the easiest way to quadruple the quantity of your output and halve the quality of it.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2007


I enjoyed reading Asimov's fiction as a youngster (I mean when I was a youngster, not when Asimov was), but now the characters seem too wooden and phony. Asimov had some wonderful ideas, though, and it is still a pleasure to read his essays.
posted by Mister_A at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2007


bukharin- As the recent Pultizer winning biography of Vera Nabokov made clear, at least part of N.'s ability to do all the stuff he did comes from the HUGE amount of material physical support that Vera gave him. He was really able to concentrate on what he wanted to do because she did everything from drive him around to cook his meals to type and help edit his work. Nabokov's genius was his own, but his time was partly Vera's.
posted by OmieWise at 11:06 AM on January 2, 2007 [2 favorites]



Good point, OmieWise. She was extremely dedicated to him. (I highly recommend Brian Boyd's biography of Nabokov.) My point though was that he had such a marvelous range of capabilities and interests whereas in our own time most people seem to get cramped into a narrow specialty (and part of that is due to the fact that advanced science requires specialization).
posted by bukharin at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2007


I enjoy his nonfiction but I can't stand his fiction - so boring.
posted by effwerd at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007


Asimov, Bester, Clarke ...

What about Bradbury?

(Dismissively) I'm familiar with his work.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007


Mister_A,

Solaris was written by Stanislaw Lem.
posted by serazin at 11:45 AM on January 2, 2007


Yes, and Lem's original Russian version had several weird and extraneous car chases that were excluded from the Steven Soderbergh film featuring George Clooney.
posted by Mister_A at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2007


Lem's original version of Solaris was written in Polish, Mister_A.
posted by cgc373 at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2007


I never see him credited as a historian. He wrote fantastic books that condense a lot of information into pleasant reads. His book on Constantinople should be an obligatory read in school to understand what happened to the Roman Empire. I highly recommend it.
posted by micayetoca at 12:09 PM on January 2, 2007


Actually, Mister_A the original Tatarsky FILM of Solaris contained one weird and extraneous car ride which was included, people are pretty sure, just so he could get a free Japanese vacation off of the glorious CCCP.

The Lem original could not include a car chase because it has no scenes directly set on Earth.
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:12 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Asimov, Bester, Clarke ...

What about Bradbury?

(Dismissively) I'm familiar with his work."

I get the Simpsons ref. but not being a SF fan, I have never understood why hardcore nerds dismiss Bradbury. I read Illustrated Man and Martian Chronicles when I was a teen and remember them fondly. Was he just not tech oriented enough?
posted by vronsky at 12:12 PM on January 2, 2007


Tarkovsky. Misspelled it. That shows me for relying on memory of foreign names.
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:13 PM on January 2, 2007


Tom Godwin's classic story The Cold Equations deals with, well, you know.
posted by localroger at 12:26 PM on January 2, 2007


I've always been a bigger fan of Asimov's short stories than his novels (though I've only read a few). Nobody quite ends stories with as much punch as he does. And I've always loved his views of the robots being an extension of humanity for good or for bad and that there is no intrinsic danger in technology itself.

Reading some of the comments here makes me slightly worried that my love of Asimov's writing is because I enjoyed it at a young age. A revisit might be in order...
posted by slimepuppy at 12:29 PM on January 2, 2007


Actually, I'd say your remembrance is dead-on, slimepuppy. His short stories are almost universally stronger than his novels, and he does indeed end most of them with a punch... line.
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:31 PM on January 2, 2007


Vronksy: Presumably Bradbury was considered a fantasist rather than an SF author, despite SFnal trappings (It's Mars, only with Telephones!)

Though Bester wasn't exactly a pure science person either....
posted by Sparx at 12:35 PM on January 2, 2007


Since we've mentioned Lem and Bester I should add that the StarShipSofa podcasts on them are excellent, in a rambling geordie kind of way. No Asimov episode yet though.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on January 2, 2007


Lem's original version of Solaris was written in Polish, Mister_A.

Whoops! Sorry Lem, sorry Poland. You guys do realize that the whole Solaris thing was a joke, right? Interesting about the Tarkovsky car chase though.
posted by Mister_A at 1:03 PM on January 2, 2007


I saw Issac Asimov at a SciFi convention a gazzilion years ago in San Francisco, and I was just blown away at his humor, his charm, his erudite responses, and his honest appreciation for the fans of his work. I've been a geek since God was a lad and I've seen my fair share of literati and celebrities over the years, but no-one has ever stirred my heart more than Asimov speaking so eloquently about science, scifi, and the potential of the human intellect and spirit.

Ok well Carl Sagan rates a close second but still..
posted by elendil71 at 1:11 PM on January 2, 2007


Easy to write 500 books when each one is the same as the others.
posted by spitbull at 1:26 PM on January 2, 2007


I've long admired Asimov and am glad to see this post. One bit of Asimov trivia I heard was that he was the only person to have written at least one book in each category of the Dewey Decimal system.

I was disappointed, though, that he (like Arthur Ashe) chose not to go public with the fact that he had AIDS.
posted by TedW at 1:46 PM on January 2, 2007


Almost every category, as he didn't write about Philosophy.
posted by Memo at 1:54 PM on January 2, 2007


Sorry about the Cory-pimpin', but: I, Row-boat has a great take on Asimov.
posted by rodii at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2007


you think we don't know how to pronounce Asimov?

My mother pronounces it "Asminov" because that fits with her preconceptions of Russian names. Asimov has written that this is very common.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2007


Wow, people really seem to hate on Asimov. I don't get that at all -- "boring" is the furthest thing from my mind when reading his books ("analytical", maybe, but to my mind there's nothing wrong with that, especially in sci-fi and science writing!)

As for his "wooden" characters, I've not cried at many books, but just thinking about Forward the Foundation makes me cry a little. And actually reading it makes me cry a lot. It's his last book, written while he was dying, and I have never read another book which works so well on so many levels. It brings the Foundation books full circle, it's partly autobiographical, it's a great character story, it's packed with honest emotion, and it's a scathing indictment of a society that once had great hopes, but no longer aspires to anything in particular. There are parts of that novel that are terrible and beautiful at the same time. And don't me started on how freakin' great the Robot novels are!

Anyway, I suppose the best tribute to Asimov is this: he always thought things through in a logical and methodical manner, and he had the sheer guts to show the logical (but not reasonable!) ends to which even his most famous character would go. He never flinched from the truth as he saw it, no matter who disagreed, and no matter how easy it would have been to take the low road. Those who slag him may not understand how novel (and sometimes even subversive) many of his ideas were at the time he wrote them, even right up to his death.

Thank you so very much, Dr. A. You are missed.
posted by vorfeed at 2:11 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Asimov was my favorite author as a boy, and I'm fairly sure I read all of his science fiction, and most of his more readable science fact. Since then I've found some SF authors similar in hard-science inspiration, if not necessarily in style, to Isaac Asimov, and if you enjoyed Asimov, I recommend them to you: Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age), Greg Egan (everything), Greg Bear (Queen of Angels), Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives and sequels), and David Brin (specifically Kiln People, which is very reminiscent to me of an Asimovian robot story, although based on a very different technological macguffin).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:14 PM on January 2, 2007


Mr_A and InnocentBystander - that original Solaris movie was fucking bizzare eh? I can't remember if I fell asleep or left, but I know I didn't make it to the end.
posted by serazin at 2:28 PM on January 2, 2007


Asimov's short story The Last Question blew my young mind when I read it back in the '70s. (If you read it at that link, please go out and buy one of the myriad anthologies in which it appears.)

Although Heinlein deserves credit (blame?) for starting me on the road to nerd-dom (for after I read Have Spacesuit Will Travel, I had to have a slide rule), Asimov kept me on it with his non-fiction, particularly his collections of science columns from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I owe him a lot.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2007


I can't tell you how many times I've seen snobs chuckle at the notion that Asimov wrote a "Guide to Shakespeare". But, guess what? It's fantastic and highly regarded by those who know better. He doesn't pretend that it contains vast amounts of original thought (though it provides more than he lets on), but, rather, it brings together ideas from a very wide varity of diverse sources to provide readers with very strong context to appreciate the subject matter. (ie: the same thing he does for his science books).
posted by RavinDave at 2:35 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed reading Asimov's fiction as a youngster (I mean when I was a youngster, not when Asimov was), but now the characters seem too wooden and phony.

Same here, and the language is even worse. I refer doubters to the piece of prose I quoted in this comment (a good thread, by the way, if you're interested in the literary qualities of sf—and blahblahblah, what did your wife think of Cloud Atlas?). I could never read him now, but I'm sure glad I read him when I was twelve.

I'm not sure what Solaris has to do with this, but I happen to love the Tarkovsky movie (though I can understand why people have problems with him, since he can demand more patience and attentiveness than people are used to giving to movies) and I hate Lem's writing.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on January 2, 2007


“Feel like a slacker yet?”

Aww, he’s pretty busy...I guess.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2007


Recalls the Tom Lehrer quote: "It's people like that who make you realize how little you've accomplished. It's a sobering thought, that when Mozart was my age, he'd been dead ten years."
posted by RavinDave at 3:02 PM on January 2, 2007


languagehat - "I hate Lem's writing."

That could be on the basis of a few turgid translations (Solaris particularly suffers here) - I'd recommend trying more Lem, particularly the Futurological Congress.

If you've read lots of Lem ad still don't like him then fair enough, tastes differ etc...
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on January 2, 2007


...It brings the Foundation books full circle, it's partly autobiographical, it's a great character story, it's packed with honest emotion, and it's a scathing indictment of a society that once had great hopes, but no longer aspires to anything in particular.

Am I the only one who was incredibly disappointed with the entire Foundation series? The latter half is one long-winded cop out.
posted by fatllama at 3:56 PM on January 2, 2007


God, you lost me, languagehat. How could you hate Lem? Return From The Stars and Solaris are two of my favorites of all time.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:59 PM on January 2, 2007


Lem is not a great writer. He's a great storyteller. I say this as someone who owns copies of all his books (They're torn and weathered from so many re-readings) and would not hesitate to name him as one of my top 5 favorite authors.

Asimov is a great short-story writer, as others have said. Tightly woven, always with a strong narrative punch. His best books, such as the Foundation series, succeed essentially because they are a collection of short stories.

As for the last tangent, Tarkovsky is brilliant. The freeway scene is pure Tarkovsky. For comparison, I refer you to the Inextinguishable Candle, a scene I first saw in college and kept talking about for days afterwards to friends.
posted by vacapinta at 4:19 PM on January 2, 2007


Try a real book.
posted by Flunkie at 4:32 PM on January 2, 2007


A pregnant friend of mine met Isaac at an authors' luncheon several years ago. He came up to her, then gently put his hands on her belly, something she normally hated but hey, it's Isaac Asimov. He said, "you know, there's a way to tell if it's going to be a boy or a girl. ...
This isn't the way, but there IS a way." He charmed the hell out of everyone, including Pregnant Lady.

I worked with his brother for years, who was the VP of a rather large media company, ordinarily a major accomplishment. Unless you're Isaac Asimov's brother.
posted by etaoin at 4:34 PM on January 2, 2007


When I was 13 or so, I set a goal of reading everything he'd ever written. Now he's dead and he's still ahead of me.

Two of my favorite memories of New York are seeing him stride past me on the sidewalk, chest out, hair flowing and full of life with an enormous smile on his face, and seeing him and his lifelong friend Harlan Ellison act out their famous hating-each-other schtick at a con held at the New York Penta.

I am an Asimov lover since childhood and always pronounced his name to rime with the first syllable of "grovel," not the first syllable of "shovel," so the pronunciation was news to me!

I've commented on the Wikipedia talk page that I think his perception that "of" was a better rhyme than "off" has to do with his Brooklyn accent.
posted by dhartung at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2007


That could be on the basis of a few turgid translations (Solaris particularly suffers here)

That may well be ("turgid" certainly sums up how I think of Lem). If I get a chance, I'll try the Futurological Congress. Thanks for the recommendation.

By the way, the original Russian pronunciation of Asimov (properly Azimov = Азимов) is ah-ZEE-muff.
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on January 2, 2007


Isaac Asimov squoze out a lot of books with his name on them. He certainly was productive - but not as creative as, say, Robert Heinlein or John Brunner. And that's just two I can think of at the moment. Maybe it's the mutton chops and silly-string tie, I don't know.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:04 PM on January 2, 2007


I've always loved Asimov, and though I do find his writing a bit dry at times, I like that most of his short stories are either jokes or protracted intellectual exercises.

And if we are getting shout outs for Sci-fi writers, can I get a holla for my man Harry Harrison? Guy's great. He can do serious speculative science fiction (Hammer and the Cross) right down to the wonderful stupidity that is Bill the Galactic Hero.
posted by quin at 5:08 PM on January 2, 2007


I enjoyed Asimov when I was a teenager, but haven't read anything of his for a long while. I do recall being very, very disappointed by the "finale" of the foundation series, where it seemed he was desperately trying to pull together every story he's ever written (also, see book 7 of the "Dark Tower" series).

I suspect Asimov would stand up better to my aged eye than my other favorite, Larry Niven, whose known universe series enthralled me when I first encountered it.
posted by maxwelton at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2007


Oh, if I have to start hating Asimov in order to prove my literary chops, I guess I'm going to give up my literary chops. (Not that I have any.) It's true I last read Asimov when I was in high school (lo these many years ago), so I suppose I can chalk it up to youthful exuberance, but I remember everything I ever read of his very fondly.

Also, I'm one of those people who has two settings for reading; super-fast, for writers like Agatha Christie and Isaac Asimov (and so, so many others), where I just want to find out what happens next, and super-slow, for language artists like Proulx and Patchett and Garcia Marquez and Kundera. Anyone else out there like that?

Uh-oh. I just realized I last read Garcia Marquez and Kundera in my youth, too. I hope y'all aren't going to tell me they couldn't write, either.
posted by jenii at 6:13 PM on January 2, 2007


OK, all of you Asimov hatas up-thread, your SF license is revoked. Please turn it in at the door.
posted by eparchos at 6:35 PM on January 2, 2007


maxwelton, I've recently read the first 6 (!) man-kzin war books, and they're surprisingly readable. I was actually sad when I ran out; eventually I'll have to track down the rest.

It probably helps to go in with expectations of the worst.
posted by flaterik at 8:08 PM on January 2, 2007


Asimov is like cold glasses of milk, you need more as a kid. He was one of those strange mold breaking people that make the world dynamic. Thanks for the post.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:59 PM on January 2, 2007


I wish I'd been able to meet Asimov. I didn't even get into his writing until a few years after he died, unfortunately. I was 11 or 12 at the time.

I've actually heard the AIDS thing before, but I always thought it was just one of those weird rumors that goes around. I checked wikipedia and it says it's mentioned in "It's Been a Good Life". Makes sense; I've never read that because a cursory look at it made it appear to be just a paring down of his last memoir, with some snippets from his 70s autobiography.

I'll probably get it eventually; I've been collecting Asimov books for awhile now. Not counting stuff that he just wrote forewords or such to, I have... 86, I think.

I think I have about 200 to go (again, not counting stuff that he just wrote forewords or something to), although many of those are children's nonfiction books.
posted by Target Practice at 1:15 AM on January 3, 2007


Also, maybe Runaround is based around a differential equation, but I'm not sure that's much to trumpet about. It was still one of the worst stories Asimov ever wrote, and this is coming from a big fan. There are entire bits of dialogue that are straight out of a college chemistry lecture.
posted by Target Practice at 1:20 AM on January 3, 2007


I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I learned that Asimov had died.
posted by breath at 3:47 AM on January 3, 2007


Oh, if I have to start hating Asimov in order to prove my literary chops, I guess I'm going to give up my literary chops.

I don't think anybody here hates Asimov; I certainly don't. Some of us find him a lot harder to read than when we were in high school, which doesn't in any way stop us from thinking fondly of him.

It's true I last read Asimov when I was in high school

Um, so why don't you get back to us when you've had another go at him? It's as if someone had said "I used to like [insert name of gooey oversweet concoction here] when I was a kid, but I couldn't touch the stuff now." "How can you say that? That stuff is great!" "Have you had some recently?" "Well, not since I was a kid..."
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on January 3, 2007


I guess I get tossed in the pile of people who loved his nonfiction, but just never could get into his fiction. I read the Foundation trilogy (the first one that is) and found it mildly interesting but not especially amazing or noteworthy. I lothed the fact that his idea of a "solution" to the problems of empire were to develop a special elite who would rule in secret.

His nonfiction I find informative, well written.

I will also observe that I have discovered a growing dislike for Heinlein's work. When I was a kid I thought he was like unto a god. I have found that I see a lot of his writing as a cop out. He recognized that overpopulation was a root cause of the problems of our species, he not only used that as the basis for most of his fiction but explicitly spelled it out in Starship Troopers during one of the H&MP classes. Then having so clearly and prescently seen a core human problem, the best "solution" he offered for that problem was that with space travel smart people would leave overcrowded planets and leave the stupid to die in the inevitable resource wars.

Er, sorry, got off topic there...

Yeah, Asimov, great nonfiction writer, pretty blah fiction writer.
posted by sotonohito at 6:00 AM on January 3, 2007


Story goes that his mother in later life took a writing course at her local community center or college or some such.

The instructor asked if she was by chance related to Isaac, to which she said yes.

"Oh," he said. "No wonder you're such a good writer."

"I beg your pardon," said she, "no wonder he is such a good writer."

(Anecdote based on vague recollection, I have no foot note, alas. Confirmation or proof of falsehood welcome.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:11 AM on January 3, 2007


I will also observe that I have discovered a growing dislike for Heinlein's work. When I was a kid I thought he was like unto a god.

I just went back and re-read Heinlein for "old-times' sake". This was an author I had been recommending to people for well nigh unto 20 years based on reading him in my teens, now I think he's utter crap. And I do mean completely and totally worthless. Prose: Decent. Ideas: Shocking at best and simply tepid at his most common worst. Sci-fi street cred: He came up with the waterbed.... which Lester Del Rey came up with years before....
As an anthologist, promulgator of sci-fi fandom, and a discoveror of "new talent", I'd say Heinlein was invaluable to the sci-fi community. This, and his undeniable "crossover appeal", places him firmly in the upper ranks of the Golden Age heirarchy. As an author, not so good unless you're a teenage boy with anger issues.

Yeah, Asimov, great nonfiction writer, pretty blah fiction writer.

Yeah, tell that to the Hugo Awards folks and millions and millions of fans :P. But seriously, you should read all of Asimov again, it's worth it to do so. The latter-day Foundation series is one of the most revelatory and brilliant works in all of science fiction. It does take a lot of back-reading (all of the Robot stories and novels and the first Foundation trilogy) but it is most certainly worth it, IMO.
posted by eparchos at 6:14 AM on January 3, 2007


eparchos As far as Heinlein goes, I'm not quite to your position yet. I find most of his juvies enjoyable, and a few of his short stories. Say what you will, but "All you zombies" remains one of the definitave time travel stories, and I really can't think of much wrong with "Them" either. Of course, neither of those stories was exactly typical of Heinlein's writing.

I read the original Foundation Trilogy a year and a half ago, it was my first time reading it and while it was nice to see the origins of so many SF tropes, I found the story, writing, and characters all quite dull. Another "oh look, the genetic elite will save us from ourselves" story, with rather flat and uninteresting characters.

Obviously its a matter of taste, if you like his fiction good on ya. I just happen not to like his fiction, though I still maintain that he may well be one of the best science writers our species has produced to date.
posted by sotonohito at 7:03 AM on January 3, 2007


sotonohito writes "I lothed the fact that his idea of a 'solution' to the problems of empire were to develop a special elite who would rule in secret."

Err... for a time, until everyone else could get there shit together again. Or has it been way too long since I've read the Foundation books?

sotonohito writes "I will also observe that I have discovered a growing dislike for Heinlein's work."

Oh goodness yes. Heinlein was a misogynist, a passable writer at best, and had some seriously warped views on sex. I liked Starship Troopers for what it was: a blood and guts war novel with big bugs.


(That said, I just read Spider Robinson's Variable Star, which was written by Spider from Heinlein's outline. Not bad. Has the worst of Spider and the worst of Heinlein in many ways, but it's intended as a juvie, not a serious adult novel, and I think I probably would have forgiven those issues when I was 14.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:19 PM on January 3, 2007


I know we're off the Lem kick here, but you have to read "The Investigation" if you read any Lem. It's up there with Dick's best, IMHO.

Also, Solaris (Stupid Clooney Edition) did not have added car chases, but it suffered from the other common American sin. The tacked on senseless happy ending.

As far as Asimov goes, the guy was a god. Sure, his prose could be a bit stale, but you ask any contemporary of his and they'll tell you he was like the Roman Empire. You were either trying to be him, or were trying to be the opposite of him out of pure spite. He got you coming and going.

I think the Foundation series is a great read when you're a young adult because it's about the time you're starting to think about a lot of that stuff. Maybe when you're an adult it seems old hat.

And big agreement with all the fans of his non-fiction. That guy could write really, really readable science.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2007


dirtynumbangelboy I only read the first Foundation trilogy, perhaps he changed things up later, but the end of the first trilogy revealed that Seldon's plan created a race of projective empaths who could manipulate the mental state of normal humans and that they were acting as the puppet masters pulling the strings of the Foundation. There didn't seem to be an implication that this was intended to be temporary, but rather that with their innate superiority they were going to act as a means of preventing the new Empire from falling. I haven't read any further books in the series so maybe that came out later.

As for Heinlein, I'd say he wasn't so much mysogynist as a product of his generation and doing a fairly good job of tossing out some of the BS regarding sex that he grew up with. But "doing a fairly good job" isn't the same as "treating women as full adults". His strongest female characters still went all submissive around the men in their lives. Also, the whole "reproductive incest is cool" thing is more than somewhat creepy I'll admit.

OTOH, the man had non-European characters in leading roles long before most other writers did ("Johnnie" from Starship Troopers, you may recall is Juan Rico and Phillipino, the head of the Howard Foundation when they stole the starship was black, etc). He also had homosexual and bi-sexual major characters even before the Stonewall police riots.

He did fall into the "ugh, men are cavemen who have to protect women, and women must obey protectors, ugh" trap, no denying it.

Mostly its his later novels that annoy me.
posted by sotonohito at 9:48 PM on January 3, 2007


sotonohito
You *REALLY* have to read the 2nd series, it really ties everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) together.

dirtynumbangelboy
Oh goodness yes. Heinlein was a misogynist, a passable writer at best, and had some seriously warped views on sex.

Don't forget fascist and batshitinsane.
posted by eparchos at 10:16 PM on January 3, 2007


"One way to remember this pronunciation is the pun from The Flying Sorcerers by Larry Niven and David Gerrold: "As a color, shade of purple-grey", or "As a mauve".... Asimov's own suggestion, however, as to how to remember his name was to say "Has Him Off" and leave out the H's."

Smawl whan yoo say "of" podnah.
posted by Twang at 2:07 AM on January 4, 2007


@vronsky

"I have never understood why hardcore nerds dismiss Bradbury."

Having at one time been one, V.: some of them haven't fully connected with their inner human being yet. It's a sort of a mind-style thing; HN brains prefer ideation to sensation or, worse still, emotion. For many, time spreads these blinders.

Bradbury focussed primarily on the human experiences evoked by objects rather than objects themselves. HN's want to know how the rocket works, not how the protagonist feels about the rocket.
posted by Twang at 2:21 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


sotonohito writes "I only read the first Foundation trilogy, perhaps he changed things up later, but the end of the first trilogy revealed that Seldon's plan created a race of projective empaths who could manipulate the mental state of normal humans and that they were acting as the puppet masters pulling the strings of the Foundation."

Yes, they were acting as puppet masters, until--if memory serves--the First Foundation grew up enough to spread out and re-establish the Empire. Parents, essentially, until the kids grow up and leave the nest.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:58 AM on January 4, 2007


I always loved Asimov's writing. One thing I noticed as of Opus 100 (his retrospection on writing 100 books, followed by Opus 200, Opus 300, et al.) was that Asimov wrote many non-fiction books titled The Intelligent Man's Guide to X. These were usually shelved in the SF section in bookstores; I remember thinking at the time, this is smart, because where else would an intelligent person be?

But they didn't sell very well. Some decades later, though, someone wrote DOS for Dummies. Now there's a concept with selling power. Asimov would have approved.

There are many facets of Isaac Asimov that aren't generally appreciated without a wide-ranging foray through his works. Sure, there were the juvie SF romps through the Solar System with Lucky Starr, and the future history of the Foundation. But there was also a chemistry-based mystery (A Whiff of Death), two books of wonderfully scurrilous limericks co-written with John Ciardi, books on astronomy and history and literature and dinosaurs and much much more.

"The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline" was also based, loosely, on a differential equation; at the time of the writing, Asimov's work focused on a mathematical model describing the dissolution over time of catecholamines, and the spoof story grew naturally out of that - thiotimoline dissolved *before* it hit the water!

Finally, what most people don't know was that he frequented the notorious Manhattan sex club Plato's Retreat in the 70's. I often wonder if the AIDS explanation universally cited - that he caught it from a blood transfusion during heart surgery - is actually true; Asimov certainly exposed himself to unsafe sex in many other ways during years when it would have put him at risk of contracting that virus.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2007


I haven't heard anything about that sex club before, ikkyu2. Asimov was a fastidious fellow, by everything I've heard or read about him, and devoted to Janet, his wife. Where did you find out about the Plato's Retreat thing, if you don't mind saying?
posted by cgc373 at 2:59 PM on January 4, 2007


Plato's Retreat

It was cryptically alluded to in Ciardi's intro to A Grossery of Limericks. Also in the book is this poem by Asimov:
There was a young fellow named Pete
Who hastened to Plato's Retreat
But the girl he would ride
Had each hole occupied
So he rubbed his poor prick on her feet.
Some years later I was reading something about the Ansonia - maybe something by Jack Finney? Memory fails - and it mentioned Plato's Retreat and noted that Asimov used to "frequent" it. Suddenly it all made sense.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2007


Wow, whoa, and wow-wow, ikkyu2. I'm gonna check with my sf-insider sources for some gossip now, 'cuz that's frickin' amazing stuff there about the Good Doctor, and I gots to know. Thanks for the sources. I'll try to update if I find out anything more.
posted by cgc373 at 1:25 AM on January 5, 2007


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