Today, with Isaac Asimov, we will surprise you with a truly science fiction biography, perhaps on par with that of his characters!
In addition, we take the opportunity to return to various issues that we have dealt with so far. Travelling through space , sci-fi and fantasy, and writers with unusual biographies, we will also not forget to touch the vein of “immigrants from Eastern Europe to the United States” … do you remember Ayn Rand and Tamara de Lempicka?
Here, today’s protagonist talks about all these stories. We will tell you about him on the anniversary of his death, which took place on April 6, 1992. We promise not to do it in a robotic way (we will understand this later …)
From candy to science fiction
Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, Russia.
Asimov’s parents were Anna Rachel (nee Berman) and Judah Asimov, a family of Russian Jewish millers. Isaac received this name from his paternal grandfather, Isaac Berman.
On February 3, 1823, when Isaac was only 3 years old, the family landed in the United States, traveling via Liverpool on the RMS Baltic ship. Since his parents always spoke Yiddish and English with him, the child never learned Russian, but remained fluent in Yiddish as well as English throughout his life.
Specifically, the Asimov family moved to Brooklyn, where Isaac’s parents ran a candy shop. At the time, candy shops were selling newspapers and magazines, a fact that had a great influence on young Isaac’s love for the written word.
Asimov even learned to read on his own at the age of five and his mother enrolled him in first grade a year early stating that he was born on September 7, 1919. Shortly thereafter, at the age of eight (real eight, not school age), he was naturalized as a US citizen.
From before his teens, Isaac had started writing short stories: his first attempt was at the age of eleven, with The Greenville Chums at College. The first story to be published instead (in the school newspaper, in high school) was Little Brothers, in 1934, when Asimov was 14 years old.
Despite his poor health, Asimov still managed to attend Columbia University, where he initially followed zoology. He soon abandoned this academic path, refusing to dissect a stray cat. In 1939, at the age of 19, he graduated with a degree in chemistry.
Main works by Isaac Asimov
After graduation, during World War II, Asimov worked at the Naval Aviation Experimental Station in Philadelphia alongside science fiction authors Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp.
After the war, he obtained a PhD in chemistry also from Columbia in 1948. He later joined the faculty of Boston University, with which he later remained an associate.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the war, in 1939. Asimov started writing articles in science fiction magazines in that year. He sold his first short story, “Marooned off Vesta” to Amazing Stories, but was closely associated with Astounding Science-Fiction and its publisher, John W. Campbell, Jr., who over time became something of Asimov’s mentor.
“Nightfall“, on a planet in a multiple-star system that experiences darkness for only one night every 2,049 years, brought Asimov to the fore as a leading science fiction writer and is still regarded today as one of the greatest tales of the genre.
The 3 laws of robotics by Isaac Asimov
In 1940 Asimov began writing his robot stories (later collected in I, Robot. From these works the contemporary 2004 movie starring Will Smith. From these stories the very famous 3 laws of robotics are postulated, which we list here.
First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Asimov had the opinion that if a machine (a robot therefore) was designed well, it could not present any risk. Consequently, he implemented these laws respecting the need for safety (the First Law), service (the Second Law) and self-preservation (the Third Law) of these sophisticated machines.
These theories were developed with his mentor Campbell and greatly influenced the treatment of the subject by several subsequent writers.
The years as a novelist …
In the 1940s, loosely modeled on the fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov wrote the “Foundations series“, where the stories of the Galactic Empire are told.
The stories, written between 1942 and 1949, have been collected as the Trilogy of the Foundations: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953). The trilogy won a special Hugo Award in 1966 for the best science fiction series of all time.
Asimov’s early novels (Pebble in the Sky , The Stars, Like Dust  and The Currents of Space ) were set during and before the Galactic Empire but had no connection with the Foundations series .
In addition, under the pseudonym of Paul French, Asimov wrote the children’s series Lucky Starr (1952-58). The books had an educational purpose as each of them took place in a different world outside the solar system.
During the 1950s, Asimov also wrote some of his finest stories: “The Martian Way” (1952), an allegory on McCarthyism; “The Dead Past” (1956), on a device that can predict history; and “The Ugly Little Boy” (1958) about a nurse’s attachment to a Neanderthal child accidentally carried into the future.
…and those as an essayist
In the late 1950s, Asimov switched from science fiction to focus more on writing non-fiction. From 1958 to 1991, he ran a monthly science column for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which received a special Hugo Award in 1963.
Much of Asimov’s non-fiction writings covered various scientific topics, written with clarity and humor, ranging from chemistry to physics and biology. He also dealt with literature in his essays (Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, 2 vol. ) and religion.
This man could really speak and write about every single subject!
The return to science fiction
Asimov returned to science fiction with 1972’s The Gods Themselves, which dealt with contact with advanced aliens from a parallel universe. A few years later, in 1976, he wrote the award-winning Bicentennial Man about a robot’s quest to become human. Whoever saw the film starring Robin Williams based on the novel and did not cry … is a monster!
In the 1980s Asimov merged the robot, Empire and Foundation series into the same fictional universe. In addition, two prequels to the Foundation trilogy are written, Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993). This is Asimov’s latest novel, published posthumously.
The last years of Isaac Asimov
In 1977 Asimov had a first heart attack. A few years later, in December 1983, he underwent triple bypass surgery at NYU Medical Center.
During the surgery Asimov required a blood transfusion, during which he contracted HIV. At that time not much was known about this disease. When his true HIV status was understood, doctors warned him that if he made it known, the anti-AIDS bias would likely spread to his family members.
For this reason, his brother Stanley reported that Isaac Asimov, who died on April 6, 1992, had instead passed away from heart and kidney failure. Even the doctors continued to insist on secrecy.
Ten years after Asimov’s death, and after the death of most of his doctors, Janet and Robyn Asimov (the writer’s wife and daughter, respectively), agreed that the HIV story should be made public to help others.
Isaac Asimov is generally regarded as one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and some 90,000 letters and postcards.
A curiosity about the vastness of his works. Asimov has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey decimal system.
The writer is widely regarded as a master of the science fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, is considered one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers of all time.
But why is Isaac Asimov so important? Because he has an enormous merit, that of being among the first to transform science fiction from consumer fiction to high-level literature, with informative and educational content. In fact, most of the science books written by Asimov explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going back as far as possible to a time when the science in question was at the simplest stage.
And simplicity is a concept that is well suited to Asimov’s life. Although, for example, he was a longtime member and vice president of Mensa International (the association of “brains”), he reluctantly filled his role. The writer derived more joy from being president of the American Humanist Association.
Isaac Asimov certainly left his mark with his words. In his honor, the asteroid 5020 Asimov, Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, an elementary school in Brooklyn, NY and two Isaac Asimov Awards were named. And here are some of his most beautiful words that describe him well, with which we conclude this excursus on his “science fiction” life.
Real heppiness lies in discovering rather than knowing
Violence is the last refuge of incompetent
I write for the same reason I breathe, because if I didn’t, I would die.