Asimov, Isaac 1920–
A Russian-born American, Asimov is a remarkably diverse and prolific author. Having written texts on numerous aspects of scientific study, Asimov is especially adept at making scientific writing clear to the layman. He has also written humorous and mythological pieces, but Asimov is most widely known for his first-rate science fiction which includes such classics as I, Robot and the Foundation trilogy. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Asimov's prose, which is perfectly transparent, serves to convince the reader that everything has a meaning, that all mysteries can and will be explained in a rational manner. This is the promise of the scientist, not the artist; and like the scientist, Asimov often reneges on his promise. But even then, the reader is left with a feeling for the high drama that can be generated when a rational mind confronts the ultimate mysteries of time and space. Asimov's most famous series of stories deals with the thousand-year period between the breakup of the First Galactic Empire and the establishment of the Second Empire, a period during which the fate of man is in the hands of two Foundations created by the psychohistorian Hari Seldon. It is no secret that Asimov based his Galactic Empire on the Roman Empire. But … Asimov's Foundation stories are alive with a sense of things-to-come. Writing like this is not as easy as it looks…. [A] generation of s.f. writers tried to mine the vein that Asimov (and Robert Heinlein) opened, and few succeeded. (pp. 32-3)
Gerald Jonas, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 12, 1975.
Isaac Asimov is best known for his science fiction, but he is protean and has written on everything from the Bible to Shakespeare to detective stories. The man is a writing machine, and "Murder at the ABA" … is his 168th book. As can be deduced from the title, it is a mystery novel. As cannot be deduced, the author himself plays a prominent part in it. Nobody has ever accused Isaac Asimov of being a shrinking violet….
But the writing varies from fast-moving to cutesy as all hell (and never cutesier than when Asimov and his "friend" are exchanging arch footnotes).
One doesn't expect Joyce or Thackeray or Tolstoy in detective diction, but the kind of self-indulgent prose that Asimov uses can sometimes approach smug fatuity. Which is all the more to be regretted, for Asimov is so bright, so encyclopedic, so talented a writer; he should slow down a bit and think instead of spewing words out reflexively. (p. 13)
Newgate Callendar, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 30, 1976.
[Beneath] the glib surface of Asimov's considerable output (and despite his own demurrers regarding hidden meanings) lies an elaborate metaphorical structure that combines New England Calvinism with the Old Testament Hebraic tradition of the "Peculiar People" to set forth a highly developed philosophy of mechanistic determinism with a positive ethic to justify it. (p. 88)
It is helpful … to consider nine of Asimov's works and to divide them into three groups. When placed in a certain order—not by the dates of their publication—these works provide a coherent background for the development of Asimov's Galactic Empire. The first group consists of a mock technical paper, "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline,"… and the 1955 novel, The End of Eternity . Both pieces posit the simultaneous existence of past, present, and future, and explore the reversal of cause and effect. The novel shows man's foray into time travel, accounting for his ultimate choice for space instead of time, and, as a social side issue, probes humanity's mass security complex and its relationship to the conservatism of a controlling establishment....
(The entire section contains 3399 words.)
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- Critical Essays