Asimov, Isaac 1920–
A Russian-born American, Asimov is a professor of biochemistry and a remarkably versatile and prolific writer. The author of numerous science texts, Asimov is especially adept at popularizing scientific writing. He has also written children's books and humorous and mythological pieces, but 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, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)
"Asimovian." I have used the adjective myself, and I have seen it used by others. What others mean by it I cannot say. But I would like to suggest in some detail what I have found the term to mean….
On matters of style: The typical Asimov sentence is short and clear. His sentences tend to gain length not by the accumulation of dependent clauses, but by the addition of simple sentences: not "The boy who hit the ball ran around the bases," but "The boy hit the ball, and then he ran around the bases." His verbs tend to be colorless, non-meaning-bearing linking verbs, and the meanings of the sentences tend to be carried by their nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. He does not like to use figurative language, so he almost never uses images, metaphors, similes…. Typically, one does not notice Asimov's language, unless one is aware how difficult it is to write this clearly. Lovers of language will say that he is no stylist; lovers of communication will admire and envy him. I think Asimov's language represents in a quintessential way the language science fiction writers aspired to during the Golden Age, the Campbell years of the forties. (p. 255)
The narrative point of view [in Asimov's fiction] is almost always third-person limited, with that person being the central character of the story. Even when he is working with a large cast of characters in a novel, say, and must move about among them, each scene tends to be narrated solely from the point of view of one of its participants, rather than from the point of view of an omniscient outside observer. Asimov lets us see fictional events the way we see life: through the experience and observations of only one person.
Generally, the central character of a story is named and put into action in the first sentence. That is, the subject in the first sentence we read will be the central character's proper name, and its verb will let us see that person doing something…. His central characters are usually white middle-class males on the sunny side of forty, because the market he writes for is composed largely of such people.
The problems these people have to solve generally involve the making of decisions rather than the performing of actions. At least, even in a basically action-adventure story, decision-making is shown to take precedence over doing things. Very often this decision-making is done by two or more people in conference. This tends to change the story from the personal to the political. It also has the advantage of externalizing the decision-making process and thereby giving the reader something to watch and listen to. Interior monologues are not as available to us in everyday life as conversations. This emphasis on conversation and decision-making, instead of on activity for its own sake, gives Asimov's fiction a certain cerebral quality, which is one of its most distinctive traits.
The stories usually begin very soon after a problem has arisen. The initial situation and the problem are passed along to the central character—and, in the process, to the reader—by someone who thoroughly understands both. Asimov is excellent at the dramatic form of exposition. It is another form of conversation, and he knows how to move stories through conversation. He sometimes uses the flashback...
(The entire section contains 5677 words.)
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- Critical Essays