Asimov, Isaac (Vol. 26)
Isaac Asimov 1920–
(Also wrote under the pseudonym of Paul French) Russianborn American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, essayist, editor, and autobiographer.
Asimov is a prolific writer and is regraded by many critics as the most important and influential author in the science fiction genre. His novels have done much to make science fiction a critically accepted field, and his laws of robotics and the factual information in many of his stories have earned him the respect of laypersons and scientists alike. In his fiction there is an underlying concern for humanity and its survival in the face of advancing technology. His stories often deal with such contemporary social problems as overpopulation, the threat of atomic warfare, or racial prejudice.
Asimov's stories first appeared in the science fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, and most have now been published in such collections as I, Robot, Asimov's Mysteries, and The Bicentennial Man. He is credited as the first writer to integrate successfully the properties of science fiction with those of the detective novel. The Caves of Steel and its sequel, The Naked Sun, are successful works of this type. Asimov's long-awaited sequel to the Foundation trilogy, Foundation's Edge, has recently been published. Like most of his fiction, it is readable, entertaining, and intellectually stimulating. His Foundation trilogy won the Hugo award for best all-time series in 1966 and his novel The Gods Themselves won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1972.
Asimov also writes nonfiction science books to introduce the general public to complex scientific procedures and discoveries and to alert readers to the effects of these scientific advancements.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 9, 19; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 5; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2; Something about the Author, Vols. 1, 26; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8.)
["I, Robot"] is an exciting science thriller, chiefly about what occurs when delicately conditioned robots are driven off balance by mathematical violations, and about man's eternal limitations. It could be fun for those whose nerves are not already made raw by the potentialities of the atomic age.
Nancie Matthews, "When Machines Go Mad," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1951 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 4, 1951, p. 6.
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Ellen Lewis Buell
[In "David Starr: Space Ranger," a] tale of the seventieth century, Paul French ingeniously combines mystery with science fiction. His inventiveness and his use of picturesque details remind one of Robert Heinlein's books and, though his characters are not so fully developed as are Heinlein's, they are for the most part more individualized than in the usual story of this kind. There are moments, to be sure, when David Starr suggests the comic-strip hero, but he is convincing enough for the purposes of the story.
Ellen Lewis Buell, "Martian Mystery." in The New York Times Book Review (© 1952 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 17, 1952, p. 34.
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["Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus"] is Paul French's best juvenile science fiction book to date. Crackling with suspense, lit by humor, sparkling with complexities of plot, and alive with interest, it is a tasty deep-sea dish for every reader who is young at heart.
The great underwater cities which harbor Earth's settlers on Venus are threatened with destruction by a hidden enemy who can control men's minds. Lucky Starr, youngest member of Earth's Council of Science, hurries to Venus with his friend, "Bigman" Jones, to discover why the Council's agent on Venus has turned traitor. Following a trail which grows increasingly complex, Starr and Bigman find themselves in fantastic danger, developed by the author both cunningly and scientifically. The identity of the book's villains is as surprising as it is inevitable. Here is a s-f juvenile guaranteed to keep young people away from the TV set—and, incidentally, to teach them facts about their solar system.
Villiers Gerson, "Hidden Enemy," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1954 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1954, p. 10.
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H. H. Holmes
It seems to be an open secret that "Paul French" is Isaac Asimov; and the latest adventure of Lucky Starr ["Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus"] is the first in this series to deserve comparison with Asimov's often admirable adult science fiction. Here he has dropped the foolish trappings which made earlier books seem like a blend of Space Patrol, Superman and the Lone Ranger, and devoted himself to a straightforward, near-Heinlein adventure on Venus—a tight, fast story, including a well-plotted detective puzzle and some excellent xenobiology—which, for the uninitiated, means the study of possible non-Earthly life forms.
H. H. Holmes, in a review of "Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation), November 28, 1954, p. 16.
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H. H. Holmes
["Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury"] is much the best of the Space Patrol genre this spring. It's an interplanetary detective story of sabotage on a mysterious project on Mercury, with well constructed deduction, exciting action and accurate astronomical information.
H. H. Holmes, in his review of "Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), May 13, 1956, p. 36.
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The swashbuckling science-fiction hero, Buck Rogers style, can be a pretty depressing fellow. In "Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn" … Paul French tells us how Lucky spoils the Sirians' plans to colonize one of our sun's planets. Studded with what one supposes are spaceman epithets, such as "Great Galaxy!" and "Sands of Mars!", this is a good guy vs. bad guy situation in which neat plotting is the saving grace of an otherwise ordinary effort.
Robert Berkvist, "Teen-Age Space Cadets," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1958 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 14, 1958, p. 18.∗
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H. H. Holmes
[In "Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn"], French-Asimov has fun with fresh variations on the Three Laws of Robotics … and lets David Starr contribute to future history by establishing, against the opposition of the sinister Sirians, the principal of the indivisibility of stellar systems. The novel's a mite short on plot, and much of its banter seems more childish than youthful; but like all Asimov it is ingenious and carefully credible.
H. H. Holmes, "Three, Two, One, Zero and a Space Suit," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), May 10, 1959, p. 27.∗
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Theodore M. Bernstein
["Words of Science and the History Behind Them" is] entertaining and informative…. Isaac Asimov, who has written science fiction and science truth, here discusses almost 1,500 scientific terms under 250 alphabetized headings, one to a page. The result is that Enzyme and Equator glare at each other incongruously from opposite pages, as they might in a dictionary. But this is no dictionary, nor even a comprehensive reference work. Yet it is packed with information about the meanings and derivations of words and the stories behind them, and it would appeal to any youthful reader with even slight scientific curiosity.
The discovery that an aneroid barometer is a "not wet" barometer, that a centrifugal force is one that flees from the center and a centripetal force is one that moves toward the center, that centigrade is the scale of "a hundred steps" from melting to boiling and that a telescope is a "distance watcher" is bound to be provocative to a young mind. And if the young mind wants a simple introduction to relativity, that is here, too—in 400 words….
[In its field, this book functions] valuably in directing the attention of a new generation to words, those beautiful and useful tools of communication. (p. 63)
Theodore M. Bernstein, "More Than Meets the Eye and Ear," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1959 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by...
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["Words of Science and the History Behind Them"] is an alphabetically arranged collection of one-page essays on such unfamiliar words as catalysis, isomer, occultation, tantalum, and yttrium, and such quite ordinary words as artery, continent, cortisone, lever, nucleus, and planet….
In addition to being a useful reference book, this is a delightful book for children of any age to read at random, because of the charm and freshness of the author's information and speculation, and his sense of the essential reasonableness and simplicity of all science.
Emily Maxwell, in her review of "Words of Science and the History Behind Them," in The New Yorker (© 1959 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXXV, No. 40, November 21, 1959, pp. 236-37.
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Virginia Kirkus' Service
In the lucid and information packed style that has rendered the author outstanding in the juvenile science field, Isaac Asimov describes twenty-six men and the moments at which they reversed the course of scientific thought [in Breakthroughs in Science]…. Embracing every area of science, this is a readable text which should interest even the most reluctant student, and is therefore recommended to school libraries.
A review of "Breakthroughs in Science," in Virginia Kirkus' Service, Vol. XXVIII, No. 19, October 1, 1960, p. 869.
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Theodore C. Hines
[Breakthroughs in Science is a collection] of brief (1,500 words) essays on the life and work of nearly 30 important scientists and technologists…. Style is odd: paragraphs and sentences seem often to have been artificially shortened and most unlike Asimov's usual excellent, smooth-flowing exposition. The essays themselves seem far too short for the amount of ground covered. The whole project bears a most un-Asimov-like air, and the result is an inferior work from an author whose true excellence can usually be taken for granted. The general juvenile encyclopedias give far better coverage of the subject treated here.
Theodore C. Hines, in his review of "Breakthroughs in Science," in Junior Libraries, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1960 issue of Junior Libraries, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1960), Vol. 6, No. 4, December, 1960, p. 58.
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[The Rest of the Robots] is a true delight—reprints of eight short stories and two novels all by Asimov and all written with his characteristic verve, intelligence and humor. In his introduction he gives a capsule history of the art of science fiction and its changing philosophy. He has arranged his selections by date of writing and has prefaced each with critical comments which trace his increasingly serious approach to the world of "robotics." These stories cover a span of 15 years and clearly show a growing skill in technique as well as greater depth and complexity of subject.
Betty Flowers, in her review of "The Rest of the Robots," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1965 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1965), Vol. 11, No. 5, January, 1965, p. 72.
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In essence I, Robot is a collection of indifferent short stories given a spurious novelty by mechanical transformation. But SF requires re-thinking, not mere re-clothing. In the very first story, Robbie, a nursemaid robot, is described as a primitive type, made before the secret of conferring speech on them had been discovered. Yet, inferentially, his programming must have been incredibly complex, and the inclusion of speech-mechanism would have been the merest subsidiary detail. The potentially devastating point of this particular tale, that if a child thinks of its robot guardian as human then too it thinks of its human guardian as a robot, is badly fumbled.
Hilary Corke, in his review of "I, Robot" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1967; reprinted by permission of Hilary Corke), in The Listener, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1989, May 11, 1967, p. 629.
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Richard W. Ryan
In [Asimov's Mysteries], Isaac Asimov has brought together 14 short stories illustrative of the "science fiction mystery"—a form which, he explains, he began writing in response to comments that the two could not be combined. Obviously, they can be: the puzzle as hero can be as entertaining in its way as galactic empires, alien life-forms, or social extrapolation. This book provides further evidence if it was needed. In most of the stories Mr. Asimov draws the puzzle elements from science, and the knowledgeable reader may be able to figure out whodunit or how it was done before the climax. Four of the stories feature an eccentric professor as armchair sleuth, and a couple are vehicles for Mr. Asimov's punning propensities…. This is a competent volume….
Richard W. Ryan, in his review of "Asimov's Mysteries," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, December 15, 1967; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1967 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 92, No. 22, December 15, 1967, p. 4521.
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As the companion volume to Asimov's earlier Breakthroughs in science …, [Great ideas of science] is composed of short essays on famous scientists and their accomplishments. In Great ideas of science the major contributions of sixteen scientists … are discussed. Ten years ago a reviewer suggested of Breakthroughs that the "general juvenile encyclopedias give far better coverage to the subjects treated." We feel that the same criticism is valid for Great ideas of science. Asimov's theme is that "the universe behaves in accordance with certain laws of nature that cannot be altered or changed," but that "it is possible for human reason to work out the nature of the laws governing the universe." He presents this theme in his initial chapter and subsequently discusses how each scientist's contribution has extended human reason. A formal conclusion restating the theme would have been fitting. Asimov's writing is so terse that the knowledgeable student will want more information (there is no bibliography), while other readers need more information for adequate comprehension. (p. 12)
A review of "Great Ideas of Science: The Men and the Thinking Behind Them," in Science Books (copyright ©1970 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science), Vol. 6, No. 1, May, 1970, pp. 11-12.
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The continuing popularity of Asimov's earlier novels should guarantee an audience for [The Gods Themselves]…. The story of earth's demands on its dwindling energy reserves is told in three tenuously linked segments…. The plot, which can almost be read as three short stories, reflects the contemporary search for an energy source free from dangerous side effects and demonstrates that self-serving convenience can be an overwhelming argument against probable consequences. Although this runs counter to the "new wave" in science fiction, it will no doubt be welcomed by YA's who want accurate science, an intriguing hypothesis drawn from a modern dilemma, well-detailed imaginary worlds to explore and even a dash of romance.
George Merrill, in his review of "The Gods Themselves," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1972 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1972), Vol. 18, No. 9, May, 1972, p. 97.
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Robert J. Anthony
In "More Words of Science," Isaac Asimov exhibits, as he did in his 1959 "Words of Science" (to which this book is a sequel), the same deep attention to the science of words as he does to science. Dr. Asimov's knowledge of his subjects embraces their etymology, lending, in most cases, a simple clarity to even the more complex definitions….
From ablation to zpg, a full page is devoted to each definition. This page-length treatment permits a scope and style most dictionaries, including children's encyclopedias, do not attempt. Asimov's mode explores both the development of the term he explains and of the idea, process, theory, hardware, organ, cell, behavior or astral body he has selected, defining these subjects' importance to us. Latin and Greek roots for words (often more informative than their modern derivatives) as well as words simply examined as they are, from modern foreign languages, form part of each definition. A full amount of knowledge is packed into each of these small essays.
The need for a sequel to the 1959 edition is made evident in the new words that have followed in the traces of myriad developments since that date, or come into more common use, or acquired new meanings….
In all, there is excellent balance struck among the disciplines of biology, anthropology, astronomy, chemistry and physics. Not much, if anything, has suffered neglect. This is an excellent work...
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The Times Literary Supplement
Every author has his favourite hero, usually based on a flattering version of his own personality. In his first work of fiction for fifteen years, The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov continues with his fictional alter ego in the form of the questing man of science. A man, it need hardly be added, of intellect, vision, courage, and so on. In this tripartite novel there are, basically, three distinct personalities who might be said to fit these rather exacting criteria, including an exotic though blobby alien. Despite Asimov's obvious identification with his dramatis personae, it is Science itself that directs the proceedings, manipulating both humans and aliens as the godlike puppetmaster; the layman is soon left floundering in a swamp of scientific complexities….
Between experiments there is plenty of extra-curricular activity, such as nude PT sessions, a guided tour of a moon colony by a long-legged moongirl, and a tri-sexual mating ritual. It may seem rather trite, but then the end of the world has always been a ready-made subject for ribaldry.
"Any More for the Apocalpyse?" in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3684, October 13, 1972, p. 1235.∗
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The language of science continues to grow at an astounding rate. When Isaac Asimov's book, Words of Science, was published in 1959, term such as "quasar," "laser," and "transfer RNA" were not included; since they were not yet a part of the common scientific vocabulary. More Words of Science takes up where the earlier volume left off and provides the reader with 250 more clearly and interestingly written explanations. Very often, books of this sort are useful only as references; by contrast, More Words of Science is so well written that many people will want to read it cover to cover. The book is not a dictionary of science terms. Each word is given a page-long narrative which goes considerably beyond the minimum. Drawn from all fields of science, the terms and their explanatory essays are thoroughly indexed. Cross-references have been avoided, however, in order to do away with the annoyance of flipping from one page to another. More Words of Science can be highly recommended to general readers who seek a pleasant and non-threatening introduction to a broad spectrum of words from the language of science.
A review of "More Words of Science," in Science Books (copyright © 1972 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science), Vol. VIII, No. 3, December, 1972, p. 211.
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[The Early Asimov or, Eleven Years of Trying is a candid], delightful insight into Asimov's increasing maturity as a science fiction writer. His discussion of his feelings on first breaking into print could be an inspiration to any young writer…. The early stories are valuable to any collection of science fiction since they show Asimov's concern with the exactness and certitude of the known in our science and his uncanny ability to predict those elements in and concerning science which have since come to pass. Stories like these also show his progression from an awkward, inspired teenager to the intellectual genius and internationally known writer he has become. (The book could be used as a text for "creative writing," provided the teacher understood science fiction.) Above all, the delicious comments about the short stories, the editors he has known, the fans and bibliographers (who grow angry when he confesses to having lost some of his earliest writings), combined with the gentle sense of humor and satire of Asimov, make this book indispensable to the SF fan or collection. There is only one Asimov in science fiction and only a handful of others who can approach his stature.
A review of "The Early Asimov or, Eleven Years of Trying," in Choice (copyright © 1973 by American Library Association), Vol. 10, No. 1, March, 1973, p. 87.
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Brian W. Aldiss
Asimov employed the wide-angle lens for his view of life and it is a pity that his largest milestone, the Foundation trilogy, was written before sf authors were able to think of their books as books, rather than as short stories or serials in ephemeral magazines (or magazines that would have been ephemeral but for the dedication of fans). Conceived as one organic whole, the Foundation series would have undoubtedly risen to greater majesty….
Asimov has developed into one of the polymaths of our day, producing a stream of popularisations of various scientific disciplines. The popularity of his novels continues. Like many another writer, Asimov began in subversive vein, prophesying change and barbarism; but, a generation later, such ideas lose their sting and become safe for a general public. Increasingly, one sees the solid conservative faith in technology in Asimov's novels. His short stories often err on the side of facetiousness. (p. 269)
Brian W. Aldiss, "'After the Impossible Happened': The Fifties and Onwards, and Upwards," in his Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction (copyright © 1973 by Brian W. Aldiss; reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Company, Inc.; in Canada by Wallace & Sheil Agency, Inc.), Doubleday, 1973, pp. 244-84.∗
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On page 4 of The Bicentennial Man, Isaac Asimov claims to have published 175 books. By the time you read this, the score will probably have passed 200. The Bicentennial Man does not seem to form any particular landmark in this apparently endless plain of prose, but is still a good read, particularly if you like conjuring-trick stories about robots and are not totally switched off by the purple cotton wool introductions in which Asimov now packs his stories. Certainly, anyone who feels that the three laws of robotics had all the pith sucked from them years ago should read this collection—although none of the stories takes the pith quite as well as John Sladek's pastiche of Asimov in The Steam-Driven Boy. (pp. 218-19)
Martin Sherwood, in his review of "The Bicentennial Man," in New Scientist (© IPC Magazines, 1977), Vol. 74, No. 1049, April, 1977, pp. 218-19.
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Marjorie Mithoff Miller
The beginning of Isaac Asimov's career as a writer of science fiction coincided closely with the beginning of the development of "social science fiction." (p. 13)
[Asimov defines "social science fiction"] as "that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings." He recognizes the existence of the other types of science fiction—adventure and gadget—which do not fit this definition, but he feels that "social science fiction is the only branch of science fiction that is sociologically significant, and that those stories, which are generally accepted as science fiction … but do not fall within the definition I have given above, are not significant, however amusing they may be and however excellent as pieces of fiction." (p. 14)
Science fiction has often been accused of being escape literature. There is no doubt that many science fiction stories are primarily escapist in intent; however, Asimov sees a difference between science fiction and other forms of escape literature such as westerns, true romances, and mystery stories; much of science fiction encourages its readers to think about the future—an occupation that can hardly be described as "escaping"—and the possibilities that the future seems to hold…. For the first time in the world's history, mankind can no longer take the future for granted. Each individual's future may always have been uncertain, but...
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Asimov has balanced the demands of [two genres, mystery and science fiction] by building on their common ground.
Both types impose the need for logical, analytical method and for subtle, acute reasoning—applied in the one instance to untangling a puzzle in immediate time and place, the other in speculative time and place. Both exercise the special knowledge of the author. Detective fiction demands a knowledge of police procedures and an understanding of the deductive process; science fiction, of the scientific premises on which the speculative world is based.
A second answer lies with Asimov's own track record. He has been able to draw on his ingenuity without undue strain or awkward repetition. In at least three cases he has expanded an initial appearance of his detective characters into a series without sacrificing either his powers of deduction or his scientific reasonableness. The last four of the Lucky Starr juveniles, the Robot novels, and the Wendell Urth short stories testify to this point. (p. 37)
One might quibble at the inclusion of the Lucky Starr juveniles in a discussion of Asimov's detective science fiction, but this series is worth our notice if only to follow the shift of the title character from the conventional hero of space opera and action-adventure to the hero as cool, rational space detective. The title of the first book of the series is revelatory: David Starr: Space...
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Asimov is a science fiction novelist with no pretensions toward innovative techniques, hidden allusions, or occult symbolism. He is, as he professes to be, a popular writer whose work is immediately accessible to a wide audience.
It is worth asking, then, what it is about Asimov's writing that accounts for his popularity…. My argument is that Asimov's characters are at the center of appeal in his major fiction because they enrich and enliven the science fiction worlds he creates. (p. 135)
In Asimov's view, the stuff of science fiction is the human response to what science and the future have wrought, and this is indeed what his own novels are about.
The Foundation trilogy poses two special problems for a study of Asimov's characterizations—fatalism and fragmentation. First of all, the omnipresent specter of Seldon's Plan gives rise to the objection that Asimov's is a determined universe, and that genuine characters cannot come to life within such a fixed environment. Since the inhabitants of the trilogy cannot act outside the statistical probabilities of psychohistory, so the argument goes, the individuals Asimov dramatizes in the Plan must of necessity be flat, acted upon, unidimensional. Even if this argument were accurate, the success of Asimov's characterizations need not everywhere depend upon whether or not his galactic population is fated. Sophocles' Oedipus and Chaucer's Troilus...
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Isaac Asimov's previous collection, Buy Jupiter!, was largely a selection of Asimovian trivia, outrageous puns and shaggy dog stories. The Bicentennial Man, however, shows him to be once more the master of science fiction that has written the Foundation trilogy and "Nightfall"….
Four of the stories are of his famed positronic robot series. One of these, "Feminine Intuition", even has Asimov's favorite character, Susan Calvin. The others are: "That Thou Art Mindful of Him", which … is about the final solution to the robot problem; "The Tercentenary Incident" is similar to his other positronic robot story "Evidence" in that both deal with suspicions that an important public figure is in fact a robot; and finally, "The Bicentennial Man"…. It is among the best things Asimov has ever written, being a tale of freedom and humanity as told through the eyes of a robot who wanted to be free and to become human. It is a touching story…. (p. 43)
Another excellent story is "The Winnowing", which is about a biochemist who is forced to turn over virus-like material to government officials who plan to use it to kill off 70% of the human race so the remainder won't face famine. There are excellent reasonings on both sides of the question, and the ending is a shocker….
Rounding out the collection are two small items. "Birth of a Notion" was written for Amazing Stories' 50th...
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Asimov, who has written a virtual galaxy of excellent popular science books,… achieves something valuable [in Extraterrestrial Civilizations] by making a fresh, rigorously statistical analysis of the universe as we "know" it. In a sequence of short chapters he discusses possible habitable planetary systems that may be found in the cosmos; by well-argued processes of elimination he narrows his analysis down to a startling statement: "The number of planets in our galaxy on which a technological civilization is now in being" is roughly 530,000. For all the mathematical nature of his approach, Asimov's speculations are intriguing, although his closing guesswork on far-future cosmic exploration seems a papering over of our current state of ignorance.
A review of "Extraterrestrial Civilizations," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the April 16, 1979 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company; copyright © 1979 by R. R. Bowker Company), Vol. 215, No. 16, April 16, 1979, p. 65.
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Margaret L. Chatham
[Saturn and Beyond is another] in Asimov's series of astronomy books for junior high, misleadingly titled as always. The first three quarters of the book deal only with the planets known to the ancients, one supposes in order to use a historical approach, but then Asimov talks of the 1977 discovery of Chiron (an asteroid between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus) before admitting that Uranus was discovered in 1781. He spends a great deal of time on the various moons, discussing what one could see from them as well as the usual statistics about size and orbits, which makes the lack of mention of Pluto's newly discovered moon more noticeable. Asimov's Jupiter: the Largest Planet … is better organized to tell about the outer planets, but is becoming seriously dated as new information piles up, and should be replaced with Saturn and Beyond.
Margaret L. Chatham, in her review of "Saturn and Beyond," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1979 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1979), Vol. 25, No. 9, May, 1979, p. 69.
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Isaac Asimov's In memory yet green, [volume] 1 of a two-volume autobiography, suffers from the faults that mar Asimov's fiction; it is long on plot (708 pages of revised diary entries) and short on characterization (few of his acquaintances emerge as anything but foils for Asimov). While Asimov is candid, as in revealing his own foibles and in exploring the effects of his immigrant background and previous early life on his attitudes and actions, he too often resorts to a parody of his legendary egomania. Finally, Asimov becomes his caricature of himself. This failing is particularly disappointing since Asimov, as the indexes of names and titles clearly indicate, is at the center of the "golden age" of science fiction. His accounts of his dealings with J. W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, are ample evidence that Asimov might have explored the way he and the science fiction community of the late 1930s produced that golden age. (pp. 652-53)
A review of "In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920–1954," in Choice (copyright © 1979 by American Library Association), Vol. 16, Nos. 5 & 6, July-August, 1979, pp. 652-53.
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Harry C. Stubbs
[Saturn and Beyond] consists of a historical description of what we know about the outer parts of the solar system and how we found the information. The author is very careful to indicate what sort of data are still uncertain, such as the sizes, and hence the densities, of the smaller satellites of the outer planets. He also points out fallacies in various theories of the origin of the system, which are apparent if the supposedly measured values are right; and he doesn't try to push us toward a favored choice of his own…. The book is sufficiently up to date to have the information on Pluto's moon, though the author either missed or didn't trust the radar evidence that the particles in Saturn's rings are about snowball size (I'm not sure how far I trust it myself). I caught only one slip; it is true that eclipses of the sun as seen from Titan occur in roughly one quarter of that satellite's revolutions, but Asimov does not indicate that they are not randomly distributed in time. When Saturn is close to its equinox, they occur in every revolution; when it isn't, they don't occur at all. There are numerous useful tables for science-fiction writers, which tell how big and bright the sun looks from various planets and how big and bright the planets look from their various moons. I'm keeping the book; I can figure out all these things for myself, but why should I work harder than I have to?
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Like a black hole, Extraterrestrial Civilizations contracts, moving from a billion trillion possibilities to imaginable probabilities as Asimov shows how the origins of life and the conditions that permit it to evolve limit civilization to 540 planets in our galaxy. The information, ranging from early speculation about space to pulsars and red giants, is impressive and is lucidly presented; but the chain of logic leading to the title's assertion is as unstable as a mile-long game of crack-the-whip. While I respect Asimov's resistance to UFOs, a drunk's sighting of a purple saucer is, finally, as credible as Asimov's argument.
Asimov does wonder "where is everybody" from these civilizations. In the last chapters he discusses the presently insurmountable difficulties of interstellar travel and communication. We are not alone, but we might just as well be. Even so, Asimov ends with a Battlestar Galactica vision of the future. A hundred years ago people believed there were holes at the poles. Using Asimov's probabilistic methods, one can believe those holes just haven't been found yet. (pp. 58-9)
Thomas Leclair, in his review of "Extraterrestrial Civilizations," in Saturday Review (© 1979 Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. 6, No. 16, August, 1979, pp. 58-9.
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Mary Jo Campbell
[In Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations] Asimov turns his talents for clear explanations of complex scientific subjects to the question of the existence of extraterrestrial life…. The chemical and physical bases for life are discussed in detail but never beyond the comprehension of high school students. If alien life exists, as Asimov believes it does, why have we not found any evidence of it? Asimov theorizes that cosmic distances between even the nearest stars, not to mention galaxies, are so great that visitations are highly unlikely…. This clearly written discussion of a topic of interest to many young people joins other good books on this subject such as Who Goes There? by Edward Edelson … and Ian Ridpath's Messages from the Stars….
Mary Jo Campbell, in her review of "Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the September, 1979 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1979), Vol. 26, No. 1, September, 1979, p. 168.
(The entire section is 154 words.)
With more than 200 books including science fact as well as science fiction and mysteries to his credit, it is not surprising that [in Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts] Asimov has finally turned to assembling systematically some of the facts he has accumulated. He offers 3,000 odd bits of information here to entertain as well as inform, setting them down in categories ranging from kings and eccentricities to fashions and the Civil War. Presented with a bit of Asimov's characteristic sparkle, this is a find for browser and trivia addict. Asimov invites contributions for his second fact hodgepodge—a certainty for the future.
A review of "Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1980 by the American Library Association), Vol. 76, No. 12, February 15, 1980, p. 798.
(The entire section is 129 words.)
Heavy enough to produce bursitis and double the price of standard sci-fi, the second installment of Asimov's autobiography appears formidable. It turns out to be even more entertaining than Volume I, In Memory Yet Green. Covering the years between 1954 and 1978, [In Joy Still Felt] is a detailed account of the writer's literary recognition, his marital failure, his thyroid cancer, his heart attack and the trauma of turning 40…. The book may tell more than anyone wanted to ask about the life of America's most accomplished explainer. But it does it so disarmingly that readers should be almost as fascinated with its subject as he is with himself.
A review of "In Joy Still Felt," in Time (copyright 1980 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 115, No. 19, May 12, 1980, p. 81.
(The entire section is 130 words.)
[Isaac Asimov] is fluent, possessed of meticulous records and journals going back to the days of childhood, impressively organized in his thinking, and apparently tireless. This and more is all apparent at the surface of his massive two-volume autobiography [In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt], which we hope will someday be at least three. Nor is he a stranger to any F&SF reader. Nor, in fact, is it possible to believe that anyone with the slightest interest in SF, in science, or for that matter any portion of the universe of intellection, doesn't already have some depth of friendship with him.
That, I think, is the outstanding one of all of Asimov's qualities as a writer. He is the reader's friend. His concern for your clear understanding of his message, his fondness for you and his trust in your ability to make good use of his message—that gestalt of qualities rises warmly from every paragraph he writes, whatever the mode or the subject.
He is at times bumptious. At times, he does something in his autobiography that he has rarely done elsewhere—he goes on too long after a particular point has been fully made. He displays one or two other less than impeccable aspects of behavior. But he is your friend, and he is paying you the highest compliment of all.
No fool at all, he knows—he knew from the beginning of the project—that no man can be the perfect hero of his...
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Patricia S. Warrick
Isaac Asimov is deservedly regarded as the father of robot stories in SF. He has produced more robot and computer stories than any other writer, and the quality of his fiction is consistently high. (p. 54)
Asimov has been both comprehensive, thoughtful, and imaginative in creating his substantial body of fiction.
Asimov is optimistic about the relationship of man and intelligent machines. Asimov has labeled the fear of mechanical intelligence the "Frankenstein complex." He does not have this fear, nor does he approve of those who do. He believes that machines take over dehumanizing labor and thus allow humans to become more human. (p. 55)
In his robot stories most of the population resents robot research and resists the use of robots, so most of the development and testing goes on in outer space. In "Profession" … he summarizes this phenomenon of resistance to change by creating a future world where the phenomenon has become part of the system. In this imaginary world most people have their brains wired to tapes and are programmed like machines to function in a routine, nondeviating fashion. Rare, creative individuals are set apart in a special house where they follow the creative thrust of their imagination. Asimov's view is clear: Most members of society are rigid, like machines, and resist change; the rare individual with a creative mind is the exception. (p. 56)
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[In Asimov on Science Fiction] Asimov's forthright views are presented in a crisp and witty style. His lifetime of experience in the field provides mature judgments. Readers of all ages who have any degree of interest in science fiction will enjoy listening to Asimov discourse on the topics he knows so well.
Katherine Thorp, in her review of "Asimov on Science Fiction," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, April 1, 1981; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 106, No. 7, April 1, 1981, p. 797.
(The entire section is 87 words.)
[In Venus: Near Neighbor of the Sun] Asimov uses the description of a single astronomical object to relate much basic astronomy in a direct, easily understood manner. The text presents a significant amount of the content of an introductory astronomy and planetary physics course clearly, and without mathematics. The wealth of figures and tables complements and clarifies the descriptions of the relative sizes of the planets when viewed from different distances, the orbital characteristics of planets and satellites, and the appearance of objects as viewed by an observer located on another planet. Most of the astronomical history and observations that constitute the story of Venus have been described before. However, Asimov uses new data, particularly from Pioneer Venus (launched in 1978), to show that astronomy is an alive scientific field, with many theories to be tested and observations to be explained. The ploy of seeing the night sky as a Sumerian astronomer did, and following the development from astronomical observation to theory, works well in leading beginners from their own casual observations of the skies to an understanding of the elementary theories. The book's subtitle is initially confusing; however, the confusion ends when Asimov takes up the description of Mercury, asteroids, and comets—other near neighbors of the sun—in the last four chapters. As a bonus, readers lulled by the regularity of terrestrial phenomena might modify...
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It is tempting to say that [Asimov on science fiction] has been assembled by a robot, but accuracy—and the state-of-the-art—blames the more prosaic computer printout. Asimov has scrutinized his prodigious output of over 200 volumes on diverse subjects, and culled from them these 55 pieces on science fiction. His incentive is a sense of the historical occasion. Rather surprisingly, Asimov has never exclusively devoted a volume to the subject. Sadly, this effort is, for the most part, mechanical and superficial. More than half of these pieces originated from Asimov's own magazine and were editorials. They convey an artificial jocularity that makes for oppressive reading after a while. This is a pity, since Asimov remains a major force in the genre, and his contribution deserves more than this bland tinkering over familiar ground. Half a dozen pieces stand out in the collection, among them a wonderfully perceptive essay on [George] Orwell's 1984 and an epistemological piece on the myth of the machine, which has the freshness and vigor expected from the author of I, robot. (pp. 1538-39)
A review of "Asimov on Science Fiction," in Choice (copyright © 1981 by American Library Association), Vol. 18, Nos. 11 & 12, July-August, 1981, pp. 1538-39.
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That peerless science writer Asimov here presents [Change!], a collection of short essays (most about three pages), all but one of which first appeared in American Way magazine, the inflight publication of American Airlines. The selections offer insights into what the world of tomorrow may be like, based on the knowledge and trends of today, all presented with that remarkable lucidity which is the author's trademark. And there are many messages about contemporary issues, such as that coal is a dangerous, and solar an impractical, substitute for nuclear energy, and that attempts to inhibit population growth are pernicious in the extreme. There are all manner of glimpses into space exploration and colonization and conjectures about what we may learn from meteorites, quarks and black holes. An exciting and thought-provoking book. (pp. 48, 50)
A review of "Change!: Seventy-one Glimpses of the Future," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the September 4, 1981 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 220, No. 10, September 4, 1981, pp. 48, 50.
(The entire section is 168 words.)
David E. Newton
Asimov's new book on Venus [Venus, Near Neighbor of the Sun] is in much the same vein as his earlier works on Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They are all compendia of the latest information on the planets. Unannounced in the title is the fact that almost 40% of this book deals with topics other than Venus, namely Mercury, asteroids and comets. It would have been more honest to have included this information in the title or on the cover. If nothing else, Asimov is thorough, providing us with just about every conceivable bit of information on our planetary neighbors. In fact, one wonders if children are really curious about the apparent diameter of the sun as viewed from Venus …, the oblateness of the planets …, and the separation of the planet's orbital foci…. These are probably of more interest to older students and those with strong interest in planetary astronomy.
But Asimov does write beautifully. Even when he is discussing the most esoteric aspects of his subject, the reader is carried along by his prose. The book is of doubtful interest to the great majority of elementary children, but probably useful at the junior high and older levels.
David E. Newton, in his review of "Venus, Near Neighbor of the Sun," in Appraisal: Science Books for Young People (copyright © 1982 by the Children's Science Book Review Committee), Vol. 15, No. 1, Winter, 1982, p. 17....
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[The Complete Robot] collects everything from "Robbie" (1940), which was the first robot story of this the most famous series of robot stories in the world, down to "The Bicentennial Man" (1976), which is the last of any significance, and just about the best story Asimov has ever written. (This may not be saying a great deal. It has become clearer and clearer over the years that Asimov is a much better novelist than storyteller, and that his best treatments of the robot theme are in two novels, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, which are not included here.)
The trouble with most of the short stories lies in Asimov's fidgety preoccupation with the famous three laws of robotics, which he concocted round about 1940, which have been an imaginative inspiration to roboticists over the years. (p. 6)
As take-off points for speculations about how to construct an artificial intelligence with feet, the laws are fine stuff; but as any close analysis of the wording would show (and has often shown), they are full of some very deep semantic pitfalls indeed. Unfortunately, Asimov has been unable to leave these pitfalls alone, and most of his robot stories are dramatized seminars about one loophole or another. So many are the loopholes, and so devastating the consequences of any robot taking advantage of them, that many readers (myself included) would do almost anything to avoid living next door to one, three...
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David W. Moore
Isaac Asimov displays a portion of his impressive store of science information in Venus, Near Neighbor of the Sun…. Five of the nine chapters are devoted to Venus, two to the planet Mercury, one is on asteroids, and another on comets. The information is solid on physical attributes such as circumference, surface temperature, density, axial inclination, and orbital eccentricity of the various bodies. Fifty-four tables of facts and 39 figures help organize and clarify the information, including historical accounts of how the facts were obtained. Compressing all this into 210 pages and presenting it as clearly as Asimov does is a remarkable feat.
David W. Moore, in his review of "Venus: Near Neighbor of the Sun" (copyright 1982 by the International Reading Association, Inc.; reprinted with permission of the International Reading Association and David W. Moore), in Journal of Reading, Vol. 25, No. 8, May, 1982, p. 812.
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The title [of Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos], though accurate, does not catch the flavor of this latest Asimov—which reveals his fascination with limits and man's "restless desire" to push beyond. As preamble, Asimov reviews human physical limitations: horizons defined by human eyes, legs, and so on. Then, in true Baconian scientific spirit, he celebrates the experiments, methods, and measurements that have extended human horizons in space, time, matter, and energy. The result is a bird's-eye view of history and invention, science and industry…. He's said many of these things before, of course; but they are condensed and tied together here in highly satisfactory fashion, with the earthy wit (black holes as "cosmic subways") and the usual scattering of Guinness record-type tidbits. Vintage Asimov that will please fans—and also a lively introduction to science for teens or pre-teens. (pp. 563-64)
A review of "Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 9, May 1, 1982, pp. 563-64.
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Eugene La Faille
[The Complete Robot] brings together 31 of Asimov's robotics stories from "Robbie" of 1940 to several which were published in 1977, including some which have never been collected. Susan Calvin, Powell and Donovan, the Three Laws of Robotics—all of these and more old friends appear in this book.
As Asimov's theories of robotics have had a profound influence upon recent industrial development, this volume can be read as more than a mere work of fiction; however, the work is flawed in terms of its arrangement. Instead of arranging the stories chronologically, so that Asimov's development of robotics could be more easily perceived, they are ordered by arbitrary and conflicting classifications: non-human robots, immobile robots, metallic robots, humanoid robots, etc. Many of the stories reveal a lesser importance upon style, especially characterization, than social commentary.
Eugene La Faille, in his review of "Complete Robot," in Voice of Youth Advocates (copyright 1982 by Voice of Youth Advocates), Vol. 5, No. 3, August, 1982, p. 39.
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[Foundation's Edge] takes place several hundred years after the close of Second Foundation…. The First Foundation on Terminus and the Second Foundation on Trantor suspect each other of manipulating the Seldon Plan for the restoration of Galactic to its own advantage. Each sends out agents, and the adventures of these agents (including their search for Earth) make up the bulk of the novel. This is Asimov's longest novel and is distinctly uneven; the opening is positively sluggish and many settings and characters fail to come to life. On the other hand, a large part of the book is essentially a cross between sf and the detective story, where Asimov's skill is as great as ever. Asimov also appears to be planning future Foundation novels as part of a grand scheme to tie together into one future history his robot novels, the Foundation saga, and the Galactic Empire novels. A book in which the author's reach appears to have exceeded his grasp, but certainly destined for extreme popularity.
Roland Green, in his review of "Foundation's Edge," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association: copyright © 1982 by the American Library Association), Vol. 79, No. 2, September 15, 1982, p. 73.
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E. F. Bleiler
In some respects Foundation's Edge is not simply a continuation of the earlier stories, but is a redirection. A certain amount of past history has had to be rewritten, notably the career of Asimov's famous Napoleonic character, the Mule. But more important is the shift of Asimov's own position toward the ideas in the stories. The previous stories, it is now clear in retrospect, emerged from the milieu of Hitler's Germany and World War II. The Foundations were a parable on Judaism: the sacred text and its rabbinical exegetes; xenophobia; persecution; existence under cover; chiliasm and the double ghetto of the Foundations. These elements have now been minimized. The Seldon Plan is now revealed to be a fraud. The Second Foundationers, despite their paranormal abilities, are no longer pious saints but humans weighted somewhat on the down side. And the female Mayor of Terminus (chief magistrate of the Foundation Federation) is an arrogant horror. The walls, it is clear, are coming down….
Foundation's Edge reveals many improvements over the earlier work. The ideas are better worked out; the plotting is better; the writing is superior; and Asimov has outgrown his tendency to trick endings that didn't always work. Instead of good guys and bad guys, we now find credible motivations like arrogance, ambition, suspicion, and feelings of insecurity—all of which take form in manipulation. I could register a minor complaint,...
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An overview of man's search for knowledge of his world, the prolific Asimov's new book [Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos] deals with exploration of space (e.g. continents, oceans, atmosphere, solar system), time (e.g. calendars, life spans, time travel), matter (e.g. electrons, vacuums, size of the earth), and energy (e.g. high temperatures, absolute zero). This is a book which sparks the imagination and gives the reader a sense of the human need to discover. It is NOT an in-depth study but rather a reprise of explorers' journeys and scientific investigation throughout history. It's loaded with bits of information (e.g. a "lustrum" is a period of five years) that will delight trivia buffs.
High school students will find this useful in many ways. Its chapters are brief and well-organized, offering concise information about subjects frequently studied in secondary school. Its detailed index includes such varied topics as grandfather clock, lunar probes and bathysphere, making it a useful ready reference source. Most important, Asimov has assembled a history of ideas and exploration which will give YAs ideas for term papers and science projects.
Janice Toomajian, in her review of "Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos," in Voice of Youth Advocates (copyrighted 1982 by Voice of Youth Advocates), Vol. 5, No. 4, October, 1982, p. 52.
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L. J. Murphy
Asimov's most recent book, "Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos," might well have been titled, "Everyman's Condensed Encyclopedia of Scientific Knowledge." It is the essence of science technica in novel-like form. It reads like the script of a feature-length NOVA.
Although Asimov lacks Carl Sagan's eloquent gift for appealing to our imaginations and for inviting personal speculation about time and space, he has compiled an awesome collection of science facts woven together with the thread of understanding the human animal, his origins and his destiny. This book will not make one dream, but it may change one's perspective, and will certainly give one more than enough ammo for the next cocktail party. This is essentially a book geared to adults, but the inquisitive, top-level high school science student may have the tenacity to stick with it in order to perceive the larger meaning.
L. J. Murphy, in his review of "Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos," in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, Vol. 19, No. 1, October, 1982, p. 1.
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I am relieved to report that ["Foundation's Edge"] is a worthy sequel in every way. As before, the First Foundation wields the power of the physical sciences and technology, and the Second Foundation has the power to cloud men's minds and predict mass behavior through the statistical insights of psychohistory. Also as before, the fate of all humanity is at stake as these mighty adversaries clash—and the focus is on the actions of a handful of people who are earnest and articulate and likable even when they do bad things (for what seem to them good reasons). Mr. Asimov gives us adversaries but no villains; this is future history portrayed as a great game. The danger of such a concept is that the reader will cease to care who wins or loses. Mr. Asimov sustains interest by keeping us guessing just which side each player represents. He writes much better than he did 33 years ago [when the first novel in the series was published]—yet he has lost none of the verve that he brought to this series when he and the galaxy were much younger. What more could one ask?
Gerald Jonas, "Other Worlds than Earth," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 19, 1982, pp. 13, 18.∗
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The Foundation Trilogy is a basic work upon which a vast structure of stories has been built. Its assumptions provided a solid footing for a whole city of fictional constructions. The way in which it was created, then, and the way in which it came to prominence may be useful examples of the process by which science fiction was shaped in the magazines. (pp. 27-8)
How to explain the continuing popularity of the Trilogy? Why has the Foundation become a foundation? The student of science fiction who can understand the appeal and influence of the series may understand much that differentiates science fiction from other kinds of literature, and something about the basic appeal of Campbellian science fiction. The failure to provide adequate answers to these questions is the central problem of scholarship about science fiction. The circumstances of creation, for instance, may provide some measure of understanding, but much contemporary scholarship chooses to ignore such ephemera, preferring to apply to science fiction the same criteria applied to Henry James or William Faulkner or John Updike.
Another view might argue not for lesser standards but for different standards, for more useful standards. How can traditional criticism understand the Trilogy, for instance, if it does not take into consideration that it was a series written for one to two cents a word by a part-time writer for the readers of...
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In 1982 Isaac Asimov returned to the science-fiction world of the 1940s to produce the long-awaited fourth volume of the Foundation series [Foundation's Edge]. Reasons (of many kinds) for a sequel have been clear for many years; most important of them, the Trilogy itself stopped after 400 years of the thousand-year saga envisioned in Hari Seldon's psychohistorical predictions, and concluded with some uncertainty about the situation in which it left the Foundation universe. (p. 15)
[A brief summary of Foundation's Edge would give] little suggestion of the flavor of the novel. In style it belongs to the 1940s—not simply to science fiction's 1940s but to Asimov's 1940s. It is no novel of character—not even a Caves of Steel or a Gods Themselves—but a discursive novel of ideas, much like the rest of the Foundation stories As the first extended treatment …—in fact the longest novel Asimov has written—it hangs together well.
Like the stories that make up the Foundation Trilogy, Foundation's Edge is largely dialogue, like them it contains little action, and like them it is readable, involving, and intellectually complicated. In "The Merchant Princes," the final story in the first volume of the Trilogy, Jorane Sutt tells Hober Mallow, "There is nothing straight about you: no motive that hasn't another behind it; no statement that hasn't three meanings."
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