According to Wikipedia, Isaac Asimov was “one of the most prolific writers of all time”, having written or edited more than five-hundred books. Although known primarily for his “hard science fiction”, Asimov wrote many fantasy, popular science, literary criticism and mystery books. Our Winter 2013 Asimov display at the Hans W. Klohn Commons attempts to reflect the breadth and depth of Asimov’s prodigious output.
Asimov, for many, is the greatest science fiction writer. His short story “Nightfall” is considered the best short science fiction story of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and his Foundation, Galactic Empire, and Robot series are considered by many to be the finest and most definitive science fiction novels ever written.
A highly trained scientist and distinguished Biochemistry professor at Boston University, Asimov approached fiction writing from the perspective of a scientific thinker. Inspired by eighteenth-century Enlightenment ideals, Asimov chose the open-ended, indeterminate conclusions of science rather than what he saw as the absolute values of Art. His fictions reflect a rational drive for coherence and unified generalities, interlocking new and old ideas and celebrating the creation of large systems. Longtime President of the American Humanist Association, Asimov believed in the human being’s ability and need to be the creator of a thriving, unified future history.
“I, Robot” and the Robot series of books guide the reader through a deep and extensive exploration of a robotic universe, providing the unifying devices of The Three Laws of Robots and the character of Dr. Susan Calvin. Hard-working Calvin (a reference to the “Protestant work ethic”?) believes there is an essential universal coherence that moves beyond mere mechanistic determination, to something more in line with humanist values.
“I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay” is featured in both this display and in our SF&F Harlan Ellison display. Asimov thought that Ellison’s screenplay would be “The first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction movie ever made.” In the book the reader finds out why the movie never happened.
Asimov’s most famous work, the Foundation Series, includes seven volumes in all. Featured in our display is “Trilogy: Three Classics of Science Fiction”, which consists of the original eight stories published in Astounding magazine and gathered in the book Foundation in 1951, and the remainder of the stories published in Empire and Second Foundation.
Asimov’s Empire series is set in the same fictional universe as the Foundation series, but happens at a different time. Inspired by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov creates a protagonist called Hari Seldon, who develops a branch of mathematical sociology called psychohistory. Designed to predict the future on a large scale, the laws of mass action allow Seldon to forsee the fall of the Galactic Empire, unless he can create an alternative Second Empire based on his plans.
Our collection includes the two-volume Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, which provides criticism and historical and geographical background of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Although Asimov’s literary criticism is not much admired by scholars, it remains a useful and popular source for undergraduate students and general readers.
Naturally, the vastly prolific Asimov wrote and published books about himself. In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978 recounts Asimov’s eventful career and personal life in the lively, witty, generous style for which he was known. An equally entertaining autobiography is provided by Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime in Letters, edited by his brother Stanley Asimov, a journalist.