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.