Isaac Asimov

So, the “Grandmaster of Science Fiction”.  I’ve read his stuff.  His descriptions of technology are generally lacking (though the positronic brain idea is pretty cool) and his character development seems nonexistent.  I recently read The Foundation, which focuses on one character alone, and realized I knew nothing about Mr. Hari Seldon apart from the facts that he was uncertain about his ideas but very intent on exploring them fully.  He had a wife, an adopted son, his entire family, and yet nothing was more than touched on.  Honestly, if I wanted either I would have better luck with any of the Star Wars writers, and though good none of them have been given the same accolades Isaac Asimov.

Yet Asimov is the most impressive Sci Fi writer for a reason.  Actually, several.  The big reason for me is that he managed to create a realistic view of our future, one where the explorers went out, experimented, improved, and developed better technology to live on different worlds while those who stayed behind stagnated.  In his series dealing with the most immediate future there is always a conflict between the Earthlings and the “Spacers”.

Second were two intriguing and even at the time unusual notions.  One was the idea that robots might be nothing but a benefit to humans.  It is easy to ride the bandwagon and go the other way.  Since we first started developing machines with basic reasoning skills there has been science fiction about the machines taking over and killing us – the Terminator and Battlestar Galactica franchises have only been the most successful at the concept.  Asimov believed that robots were both inevitable and would help us, and in fact his robots are often more beneficial to mankind than the humans in his stories.  With his original three laws concept (Robots cannot hurt humans, robots must obey humans as long as it does not involve harming humans, and robots must protect themselves unless doing so might harm humans) he made the idea of robots rebelling and exterminating us seem a little ridiculous.

The second idea is bizarre, fascinating, and possibly even feasible.  It is the idea that the future on a large scale can be predicted.  Asimov called his theoretical science “psychohistory”, but it boils down to a very scientific approach.  Knowing where a group began, how it developed, and its current direction, psychohistory theorizes that it can guess the group’s future accurately.  More than that, it might be able to guide the direction.  So, for instance, the creator of psychohistory realizes that the human empire he is a part of can’t be saved but begins a plan that will greatly reduce the time of chaos between it and the next galactic government.

Asimov was not a great writer, he does not portray scenes, characters, or even technology in a way that gives the reader a picture.  What Asimov did have was a great deal of knowledge (Having written a critical edition of Shakespeare and the Bible as well as work in the hard sciences) and a fertile imagination.  He put it to great effect in building and showing us his personal literary universe.  May another Asimov emerge again one day.

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About Cian Beirdd

I live with my kitty, and encourage his tuna and catnip addictions. I have a website as well; https://cianbeirdd.wordpress.com/cian-beirdd/
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36 Responses to Isaac Asimov

  1. Asimov was never a great writer, but he was competent scientist (mathematician, actually) and his concept of “the laws of robotry” and the positronic brain are one of building blocks of the sci fi genre. He isn’t famous for his character. Just his ideas. But they were very good ideas and almost every other author who has since written about robots build on Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy. “I, Robot” is one of THE topmost influential books in science fiction and in some ways, he is to that part of science fiction as Tolkien is to the fantasy genre.

    Over all, there are not that many books which are “foundation” books in science fiction and only a handful of authors. Asimov. Heinlein. Clarke. Bradbury. Tolkien. Anne Rice (arguable, but I think she invented the urban fantasy sub-genre). Jules Verne, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. In the subsequent generation, there are more. Simak. Anne McCaffrey. And maybe a dozen or so more. Almost all science fiction builds all or nist of its “mythology” and pantheon from these few authors. I don’t think any other literary genre is so openly based on the work of others, or more willing to acknowledge and honor their roots.

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      I think it’s kind of neat, but also a challenge to come up with something that isn’t directly connected to them. Reading the new stuff and the new perspectives on the old stuff is great!

      • I love the way science fiction creates its own universe and uses itself to reference itself. No other genre does that.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        It is nice, building on the best of the past it is a lot like the science it’s emulating.

      • We have been watching all of Star Trek NG on Netflix. We both missed it when it was on originally (that was a very busy time for both of us). After a while, you think you understand the technobabble they are talking. I realized that I understand exactly as much about the science in the Enterprise as I do about the science I use every day. I don’t know how my TV works. Or for that matter, how my car works. It’s ALL technobabble to me, so actually it’s all the same.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Yeah, and Treknology is especially infamous. There is just enough proper science to make you think it’s legit but every episode got bashed for something or other. I enjoyed Voyager much more, and I thought Enterprise was the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, no one liked the idea of a female captain, and humans being on the low end of the technology scale made Enterprise so unpopular it only lasted four years.

      • I just didn’t like the characters on Enterprise as much. I liked Patrick Stewart and the gang. They were fun and the scripts are witty. And then there’s Q 🙂

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Tucker’s accent did such at times, and T’Pol may be lovely but she couldn’t act if her life depended on it. I liked the premise though, that’s what kept me involved.

      • Speaking of fiction … You know, if you don’t read it, you won’t write it well. You can’t just write. You must read. I’m serious about this. Every writer is warned that reading is as important to a writer as grammar.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        A steady diet of Star Wars for characters, plots, and putting the supernatural in a story. Asimov for the universe setting over thousands of years. Clarke for ideas and brilliant tech. Card is a great storyteller. I hate Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but they paint some great pictures. I have also been reading Rand, Hesse, Hawking, and Sykes. I do a lot of tongue in cheek.

      • C.S. Lewis is one of those authors you either love or hate. He was more of a theologian than an author. Very orthodox Christian. I’ve always found his ideas very interesting, but his writing can be pretty lethal.

        Tolkien, on the other hand — I’m rereading LOTR for the umpteenth time (again, listening, not text) — and he was the best and original fantasy author, mixing myth and fiction and linguistics. I actually used to know how to speak Elven. He was brilliant. Not everyone likes his writing style, but everyone else writing in the genre has liberally stolen from Tolkien. In fact, pretty much the whole fantasy genre is BUILT on Tolkien. You can’t hate him yet love the genre. He is the original.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        There are aspects of the genre that are useful, and I recognize that he is the foundation. I’ve found shreds of the Conan stories and Lovecraft materials useful as well. I couldn’t write the kind of fiction I am doing without having read Lewis as well. I am an historian after all, to not recognize where the materials came from would be to move forward without a solid base.

      • The problem with Tolkien is that he has been so often imitated, that it is difficult to remember that he was first. He’s not the imitation. He’s the original.

        Lovecraft is something else. I’ve never been able to read him, but my first husband was really into his stories. He is too weird for me. Too much like diving into a nightmare.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        There is a familiarity in his work that I recognize from my readings in Celtic and Norse mythology. He knew them inside and out and none of those who followed him have. I love the rich universe he portrays, I just think his storytelling is not what it could be.

      • He is very stylized. What’s interesting about the audio version is that all of the songs are actually sung and it makes more sense, somehow, when you here the music as music, the poetry recited AS poetry, Elvish spoken as a language. It’s a great recording … the absolutely best audiobook I’ve ever listened to. It’s only been recorded once, by Rob Inglis … and HE only recorded the works of Tolkien. Otherwise, he was a stage actor. I know you’ll never listen to it, but if I could do a Vulcan mind meld, I’d give you the book. Many books, actually.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        That sounds REALLY cool. It would be great to find a better way of appreciating him and that might be it.

      • Audiobooks. You can do other things while you read. I fell in love with them when I had a terribly long daily commute … and since my eyes have gone all wonky, they are a life saver for me. Also, because I was a very fast reader, I missed a lot. When I listen, I hear everything because the book happens at the speed of human speech. It’s literature alive.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I’m jealous. If I can scrape some money together I will get LOTOR.

      • If you email me your address, I will send you my DVD set since i have it in Audible.com. I’m assuming you have a CD/DVD player, of course. Anyway, you have my email address.

  2. Levi says:

    Nice take on Asimov. His ideas are rather grand, as any reader of his books will find out.

    Here are my Asimov reviews if you’re interested: https://leviathanbound.wordpress.com/tag/isaac-asimov/

    Take care!

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      Some interesting thoughts. What is your take on all the new materials from other authors?

      • Levi says:

        I haven’t read those actually. Are people still putting out books that take place in Asimov’s worlds?

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        They are, given proper authorization by the estate they have been writing stories between Asimov’s books. I have acquired them but haven’t gotten to them yet. I am really hoping they come up with something that goes further along Asimov’s timeline. From what I understand, he stopped because he couldn’t think of anything else to write.

      • Levi says:

        Ha, what a unique reason to stop writing. He put out as many books as he could!

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I had the same thought, the guy was ridiculously productive. I think, though, that in setting himself a number of years in which to reestablish a galactic empire he hadn’t thought ahead as to how all the stages would work, their chronology, etc. It may be the one time when his ego actually was greater than his abilities.

    • And yet so much later and current science fiction is based on those concepts you are now casually dismissing. I feel like my professor in college who whacked me firmly upside the head for dissing William James. Because whether I liked him or not, he was a master and I owed him respect.

      I think YOU need to show respect, too. Sorry. Asimov did what he did without your perspective, without modern technology, with NO internet. Without a PC or other computer. He made it up out of his own head, something you and I could NOT do … even WITH all the additional tools. It’s very easy to have this 20-20 hindsight, but science fiction without these guys would be a very different beast and might not even exist. At all. Because we did NOT invent it and could not invent it. A little respect, please.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        O.K. I have collected dozens of his fiction books and have been trying to read through them in fictional universe in order. I appreciate his unique take on AIs in the future, the same take Roddenberry took. More in line with my work, though, I have been making use of his entire universe, observing how he laid it out and interwove various stories into it. He has his flaws, just like Clarke writes poor characters, Timothy Zahn avoids technology, and Herbert writes with too much density to enjoy. I collect them all, though, because they are exceptional at what they do and I have learned from them.

      • Good. Because they are the originals. Everyone else has copied them, or extrapolated from their concepts. Sometimes, improved on them but even so, without the foundation, there wouldn’t be something on which to build or from which to extrapolate. To pretend otherwise is just arrogance. It’s easy when others build the foundation to criticize what they built. After all, you don’t have to build it because they already did.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I haven’t bothered with those who added to or worked with the materials the best generation wrote on, apart from learning how to tell stories and or build characters. I respect them, but I think learning from them means being able to look at them critically

      • Yes, critically. But not without understanding that they were creating from nothing. Making real magic.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        Like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of whom I also collect to learn from. Others have explained relativity better than Einstein, but Einstein realized it. To go to another source would be to reduce my writing’s potential.

      • But you can’t just collect them. You also have to read them.

      • Cian Beirdd says:

        I have been, it just takes longer and the lesson is ongoing

      • Levi says:

        Hi Marilyn, I wonder if maybe your comment showed up under mine in error. Or perhaps you misunderstood my use of the word “grand.” I didn’t mean it as a pejorative.

        In any case, were you to read my reviews I’m sure you’d see that we agree more than disagree.

        Take care!

      • I’ll take a look 🙂

  3. Cian Beirdd says:

    Of course mine are up on Goodreads.com

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