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The common image of science fiction is rocket ships and atom bombs. How does Isaac Asimov’s fiction fit that image?

How do Asimov’s robots differ from the robots usually encountered in works of science fiction?

How could one improve upon Asimov’s three laws of robotics? Would they work? What if...

(The entire section contains 1766 words.)

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The common image of science fiction is rocket ships and atom bombs. How does Isaac Asimov’s fiction fit that image?

How do Asimov’s robots differ from the robots usually encountered in works of science fiction?

How could one improve upon Asimov’s three laws of robotics? Would they work? What if they applied to humans?

The Foundation stories have been compared to the fall of the Roman empire. What kind of resemblances are obvious? How does Asimov use them?

Is psychohistory possible? Is it desirable? What does it predict? How does Asimov prevent it from limiting human initiative?

In “Nightfall,” the Lagashians and even the scientists go mad. Is Asimov’s outcome believable? Would humans behave the same way? What comparable human reversal of experience would drive humans mad?

Asimov makes human space exploration and colonization desirable, even imperative, in The Robots of Dawn. Why is it important to Asimov? Should it be important to humanity?

Other Literary Forms

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Isaac Asimov was well known as a polymath and workaholic. His principal works are in the fields of science popularization and science fiction, where both his short stories and novels have been influential, but he also wrote extensively in history and literature, composed books for children and adolescents as well as mystery and detective books for adults, and published books in such areas as mythology, humor, and biblical studies.

Achievements

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Capitalizing on what he called his “lucky break in the genetic sweepstakes,” Isaac Asimov used his exceptionally lucid mind and vivid imagination to explain the past and possible future developments of science and technology through his fiction and nonfiction to a large audience of nonscientists. He was a successful communicator of ideas not only in science but also in a wide variety of literary, historical, even theological topics, but it is as a science-fiction writer that he will be best remembered. His ability to generate and extrapolate ideas on the development of science and technology and his creative visions of the human consequences of these developments helped found “social science fiction,” which made this formerly pulp genre acceptable to many literary critics.

Asimov was honored for his work in both science fiction and science popularization. The Science-Fiction Writers of America voted his “Nightfall” the best science-fiction story of all time, and his Foundation Trilogy won a Hugo Award in 1966 as “The Best All-Time Series.” His novel The Gods Themselves, published in 1972, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and his Foundation’s Edge won a Hugo Award as the best novel in 1982. As a science popularizer, he received the James T. Grady Award of the American Chemical Society in 1965 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science-Westinghouse Science Writing Award in 1967.

Other literary forms

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Isaac Asimov (AZ-eh-mof) was an unusually prolific author with more than five hundred published books in his bibliography, including fiction, autobiographies, edited anthologies of fiction, and nonfiction works ranging in subject from the Bible to science, history, and humor; only his most famous major novels are listed above. His series of juvenile science-fiction novels about the character Lucky Starr first appeared under the pseudonym Paul French. Asimov also regularly wrote articles on science and literature, and he lent his name to a science-fiction magazine for which he wrote a monthly article. The magazine has continued in publication since Asimov’s death.

Asimov wrote three autobiographies: Before the Golden Age (1974); In Memory Yet Green (1979), which covers his life from 1920 to 1954; and In Joy Still Felt (1980), which continues from 1954 to 1978. In I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), he addresses the events of his life in more anecdotal form. Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime of Letters (1995) is a posthumous collection of excerpts from letters written by Asimov, edited by his brother Stanley Asimov. In 2002, Asimov’s wife, Janet Jeppson Asimov, published an edited condensation of Asimov’s three autobiographies titled It’s Been a Good Life. This consolidation includes the short story “The Last Question,” personal letters to the editor, and an epilogue by Jeppson giving details on Asimov’s illness and death.

Achievements

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Isaac Asimov was widely known as one of the “big three” science-fiction writers, the other two being Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. In addition to obtaining a doctorate in biochemistry from Columbia University, Asimov was awarded fourteen honorary doctoral degrees from various universities. He won seven Hugo Awards (for achievements in science fiction) in various categories. He was awarded the Nebula Award (awarded by the Science Fiction Writers of America) in 1972 for The Gods Themselves and again in 1977 for the novelette The Bicentennial Man (later expanded by Robert Silverberg to The Positronic Man). In 1987, Asimov received the Nebula Grand Master Award, the eighth to be given; all seven of the previous awards had been given to science-fiction authors who were still living and had begun publication before Asimov. Earlier, the American Chemical Society had given Asimov the James T. Grady Award in 1965, and he received the Westinghouse Science Writing Award in 1967. Asimov wrote on a huge number of subjects, and he has at least one book numbered in each of the ten Dewey Decimal Library System’s major classifications.

Bibliography

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Asimov, Isaac. I, Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Spans his entire life in more introspective and anecdotal form.

Asimov, Isaac. Asimov’s Galaxy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1989. Compilation of sixty-six essays presents readers with Asimov’s unique perspective on a genre to which he made many important contributions. Topics addressed include religion and science fiction, women and science fiction, time travel, science-fiction editors, and magazine covers. Particularly interesting are the items in the final section, “Science Fiction and I,” in which Asimov writes frankly about his life and work.

Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. New York: Doubleday, 1979. Asimov’s autobiographies are the three best sources about the life and times of this author. Covers Asimov’s life through 1954.

Asimov, Isaac. In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980. Continues from 1954 to 1974 and provides vignettes of the publishing world and other science-fiction authors.

“A Celebration of Isaac Asimov: A Man for the Universe.” Skeptical Inquirer 17 (Fall, 1992): 30-47. Praises Asimov as a master science educator, perhaps the best of all time, given that he was responsible for teaching science to millions of people. Includes tributes from Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, L. Sprague de Camp, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Martin Gardner, Paul Kurtz, Donald Goldsmith, James Randi, and E. C. Krupp.

Chambers, Bette. “Isaac Asimov: A One-Man Renaissance.” Humanist 53 (March/April, 1993): 6-8. Discusses Asimov’s stature as a humanist and his presidency of the American Humanist Association. Also addresses Asimov’s support for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and his thoughts on censorship and creationism, pseudoscience, and scientific orthodoxy.

Fiedler, Jean, and Jim Mele. Isaac Asimov. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Brief volume serves as a primer on Asimov’s work as a science-fiction writer. Provides descriptions of most of his writings in the genre, including the Foundation trilogy, the Robot series, and the juvenile books. Provides a clear and nonacademic treatment of Asimov’s major works in addition to giving some of his less well-known works long-overdue recognition. Includes notes, bibliography, and index.

Freedman, Carl, ed. Conversations with Isaac Asimov. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. Collection of interviews with the author spans the period from 1968 to 1990. Asimov discusses such topics as the state of science-fiction writing and his own opinions about his classic novels. Includes chronology, list of Asimov’s books, and index.

Goble, Neil. Asimov Analyzed. Baltimore: Mirage, 1972. This unusual study of Asimov’s work concentrates on his style in his science fiction and nonfiction. The critical analyses are detailed, with the author going so far as to perform word-frequency counts to make some of his points.

Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. Rev. ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996. Gunn, a professor of English, science-fiction writer, historian and critic of the genre, and longtime friend of Asimov, shows how science fiction shaped Asimov’s life and how he in turn shaped the field. Presents painstaking analyses of Asimov’s entire science-fiction corpus. Includes a chronology, a checklist of works by Asimov, a select list of works about him, and an index.

Hassler, Donald M. Isaac Asimov. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1991. Difficult to find since Starmont House was bought by Borgo Press, but Hassler brings some unusual perspectives to the study of Asimov’s work.

Hutcheon, Pat Duffy. “The Legacy of Isaac Asimov.” Humanist 53 (March/April, 1993): 3-5. Biographical account discusses Asimov’s efforts to encourage an understanding of science and his desire to make people realize that to study humanity is to study the universe, and vice versa. Asserts that Asimov saw the possibility of an eventual organization of a world government and predicted the end of sexism, racism, and war.

Olander, Joseph D., and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Isaac Asimov. New York: Taplinger, 1977. This collection of essays is part of a series, Writers of the Twenty-first Century. The essays, which reviewers found useful and illuminating, include analyses of Asimov’s social science fiction, his science-fiction mysteries, and his Foundation trilogy. In an afterword, Asimov himself comments, amusingly and enlighteningly, on the essays, asserting that “no purposeful patterns or smooth subtleties can possibly be below the clear surface” of what he has written in his science-fiction stories. The book includes a select bibliography of Asimov’s major science-fiction writings through 1976.

Palumbo, Donald. Chaos Theory, Asimov’s Foundations and Robots, and Herbert’s “Dune”: The Fractal Aesthetic of Epic Science Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Looks at the history of epic science fiction through its two most outstanding examples. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Patrouch, Joseph F., Jr. The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1974. Patrouch, a teacher of English literature at the University of Dayton, published science-fiction stories, and many reviewers found his critical survey of Asimov’s writings in science fiction the best book-length study yet to appear. Patrouch discusses Asimov’s style, his narrative skills, and his themes; he also provides detailed analyses of the principal short stories and novels.

Touponce, William F. Isaac Asimov. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Offers a good introduction to the life and works of the author. Includes bibliographical references and index.

White, Michael. Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994. First full-length biography of the author provides a detailed look at his life and work. Includes a general bibliography, a bibliography of Asimov’s fiction, a chronological list of his books, and an index.

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