Hello lovely humans! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the books of one particular author – this week I’ll be focusing on Isaac Asimov. So I’ll give a bit of an outline of his life and then tell you about my favourite books by him.
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Isaac Asimov, for anyone who hasn’t heard of him, is probably one of science fiction’s best known authors. He was incredibly prolific, writing, editing or contributing to over 500 books in his 72 years. Seriously, just check out his wikipedia bibliography pages! It’s kind of scary!
But there’s no need to be scared! Lots of Asimov’s works are very accessible and readable even to those who aren’t familiar with science fiction. He was one of the first science fiction authors I read as a kid and I was hooked immediately.
He was born in 1920 in Russia to a Jewish family though he himself was a renowned humanist throughout most his life. His family immigrated to America in 1923 and as a kid he read and loved the pulp fiction magazines that were super popular at the time and began writing his own stories at a really young age. He published his first short story at 19 and basically never stopped after that point! He also studied biochemistry at Columbia and went on to become a professor at Boston University. So he was a real deal scientist. He wrote a lot of popular science books as well as fiction.
So now onto my favourite works of his Like I said before Asimov was one of the first science fiction writers I read as it was the Foundation series that I picked up.
The first book, Foundation, begins in the centre of a vast galactic empire where a genius mathematician called Hari Seldon uses incredibly complex statistics and things to predict the future of humanity. He says that the empire is going to crumble and when it does it will bring a sort intellectual dark ages as planets are cut off from learning and knowledge. He persuades the empire to establish two colonies of humans at the far flung edges of the galaxy who will work to preserve the knowledge of civilisation and reduce the period of the dark age to a little as possible.
Of course it turns out to be far more complicated and devious than that and we get to watch the Foundation planet fight to survive the turbulent political upheavals of the following decades. It’s fascinating and fun and there’s spaceships and cunning plots and clever people winning the day.
I, Robot, the most famous of these, is a collection of some of the many Robot short stories that together tell the tale of a fictional history of robotics and how robots and humans have interacted. It deals with ideas of morality and intelligence and how we interact with non-human entities. A fair few focus on how we as humans can understand what robots think or how they think and he invented the term robotics (not robot, that came earlier) and set out the Three Laws of Robotics that are still familiar to us today.
Another of his books that I think is totally great is The End of Eternity. In this Asimov deals with the concept of time travel. The protagonist Harlan is time-engineer who works in a place called The Eternity. It’s separated from the rest of time and the people who work there move up and down the timeline to adjust what happens at different points to try and minimise human suffering over all history. The problem is that Harlan falls in love with a woman from a particular time period and takes her out of it. It turns out that she’s not really what she pretends to be and that the entire process of adjusting time to reduce suffering is not a beneficial or benevolent as the Eternity engineers have been led to believe.
Now I can’t be totally positive about Asimov – he had his flaws just like all of us. The main issue is his treatment of women in his books. In some they are lacking completely and in other they are portrayed as crappy dated stereotypes. He did get better as he got older and this treatment of female characters was fairly par for the course for a lot of sci-fi written at the time but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point it out. It also doesn’t make his books totally bad. It is perfectly possible to love something and find it problematic at the same time.
And I do love his writing. There’s a common theme in most of Asimov’s books which is the importance of knowledge and wisdom but also of the potential perils of cleverness and information without emotion and morality. He’s held up for his hard science fiction based in his real knowledge of science but actually what I always find makes me love his work is his exploration of how science interacts with these more human qualities. Family, love, compassion, understanding, thinking beyond our own achievements toward the betterment of society and future generations. Asimov balances these two areas and brings them together to make really readable fiction.
Thanks for reading!