In Memory Yet Green Critical Essays

Isaac Asimov


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In Memory Yet Green is an important work for several reasons. Perhaps most important is Asimov’s self-portrait. He is a complex man, driven by dreams of success and fulfilling the American dream in his own way. Fiercely proud of his intelligence and his ability as a writer, he appears at times egotistic, but most readers will recognize the justice of his opinion of himself. He is an intelligent man, perhaps even a genius. Several anecdotes illustrate his conversational wit. Sometimes, he admits, he later regretted his repartee. For example, when a woman at the navy yard asked him if he were trying to grow a mustache, he replied, “Why not, you’ve managed.” Although deploring his response, he admits, “it’s just that when the opponent’s thrust comes, the parry and riposte come automatically.”

Asimov’s desire for success is well documented throughout the book. Because medicine was considered a prestigious occupation among the Jews of Brooklyn, Asimov’s parents wanted him to become a doctor, and his high school and college were selected with regard to whether they were prestigious enough to help him get into medical school. Asimov attended Boys High School of Brooklyn because its graduates were often accepted at Columbia College. He then applied to Columbia College because its graduates were often accepted into medical schools. Unfortunately, Columbia College did not accept him but suggested he attend Seth Low Junior College, another branch of Columbia University, one that accepted more Jews than Columbia College did. When Asimov was not accepted into a medical school, he was happy but knew that we would have to find another route to success.

Asimov’s concern led him to balance his accounts every year on his birthday, January 2. For each year Asimov recorded the number of stories that he had written, the number that were accepted, how much his writing had earned, and how much he had earned from his other endeavors. Since the route to medicine was closed, Asimov became a chemist and taught biochemistry as a member of the faculty at Boston University.

In Memory Yet Green is also important for its portrait of the world of science fiction during and after the golden age. Asimov shows that writers, editors, and agents constituted a small, closely knit, and mutually supportive community. Although John Campbell deserves much of the credit for the establishment of the genre’s golden age, the book also reveals that the writers and fans of science fiction were all excited about this relatively new genre; Asimov, for example, seems to have been determined to succeed as a science-fiction writer, and...

(The entire section is 1087 words.)