Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Isaac AsimovIsaac Asimov via

In his book ‘Report on Planet three’, Arthur C. Clark comments that
‘In accordance with the terms of the Clark Asimov treaty, the second best science writer dedicates this book to the second best science fiction writer.’
This may not be true, for Asimov is reckoned by many as the best science fiction writer, if not of all times then, at least of this century.

One should also, not compare him with Jules Verne, the father of modern science fiction. He was of a different era; of the last century. The progress of Science makes the comparison unfair. But what Jules Verne was to his generation, Asimov is to this one and may like him inflame the imagination of many and inspire others to be aware, and interested in Science.

Asimov was born in Russia in 1920, ninety-two years after Jules Verne. His parents moved to USA within three years of his birth. He, unlike Jules Verne who was a lawyer, chose Chemistry, taught Biochemistry for a few years in the School of Medicine, Boston University before retiring to devote full time to his writing in 1958. He was a prolific writer. At the time of his death in April 1992, he had written about 500 books and thousands of articles ranging from Science to Shakespeare, but one will do well to ignore his writings apart from popular Science and Science fiction.

His writing career began at the age of 19 with the appearance of his short story ‘Marooned off Vesta’ in ‘Amazing Stories’. ‘Night Fall’, regarded by many as his finest story, was written two years thereafter. He then never looked back. An incident happened after he became famous. His parents retired from the Candy shop that they were running. His mother chose to spend her time in learning a language. She was learning very fast. One day the instructor asked her if she was related to Isaac Asimov and on being informed that she was his mother he said ‘No wonder you are so good at it’. Mrs. Asimov not to be outdone, looked at him and replied ‘No wonder he is so good at it.’

Asimov's best-known work is the ‘Foundation Series’. ‘Foundation’, the first one from the point of view of publication, was initially published in the form of four stories between 1942 and 1944. Later on (1951) they appeared as one novel. Two more were added ‘Foundation and the Empire' (1952) and ‘The Second Foundation' (1953). For twenty-five years the Foundation Trilogy remained the best science fiction ever written. It is only later, that two more were added to the series ‘Foundation’s Edge' (1982) and ‘Foundation and Earth' (1983). One thought it was the end of the matter but then he came up with ‘Prelude to Foundation' (1988). It is in fact the first in the Foundation Series though written the last. It is not apt to call these six books as Foundation Series for he was writing other series too. The Robot series- ‘The Complete Robot’ (short stories about robots published from 1940 to 76), ‘The Caves of Steel' (1954) (The first Robot novel), ‘The Naked Sun' (1959), ‘The Robot of Dawn' (1983) and ‘Robots and Empire' (1985). The Empire Series ‘The Currents of Space' (1952) (The first Empire novel though again written in the last), ‘The Star Like Dust' (1951) and ‘Pebble in the Sky' (1950). The stories are independent of each other and have been written at different times without any intention of connecting them. But he did connect them all. Forming what one may call the ‘Foundation Universe’. They have references to one another. There is some inconsistency but that was not planned to begin with. They offer a kind of picture of the future, painted through stories that are gripping, and make enjoyable reading. It is difficult to put them down. This holds for any Science fiction written by him. And if any certificate is needed, it is sufficient to say, Asimov won the Hugo Award four times and the Nebula award once.

Asimov chose simple themes for his stories. His stories, unlike Clark's who once said about his film ‘2001 Space Odyssey’, ‘If you understand 2001 (space odyssey) on the first viewing (then) we will have failed’, are easy to understand and are fast moving- be it a short story or a novel. His ‘Nine Tomorrows’ is the finest collection of short Science fiction stories ever written. ‘The Fantastic Voyage’ a movie and thereafter a novel of the same name is a pointer in this direction. Asimov was never satisfied with it. He wrote another ‘The Fantastic Voyage II’. The story of four men and a woman in a submarine, injected in the blood artery to travel inside the brain and to accomplish the task within the specified time.

It is not that Asimov has been busy in writing Science fiction only. He was also writing books on popular science meant for laymen and school going students. He has written almost on all subjects relating to Science. ‘Asimov's Guide to Science’, ‘The well springs of life’, ‘The left hand of Electron’, ‘The collapsing universe’ are some of his best. But the future might not remember him for his Foundation series or for that matter his books on popular science, but for his three laws of Robotics that he framed as early as 1941. Like the three laws of motion, the three laws of Robotics will endure time and will be his true contribution to the field of Science and future Robotics. The three laws, framed at the beginning of Robot series not only guided him through his robot series, but through all of his stories.

(1) A Robot may not ignore a human being or through inaction allow human being to come to harm
(2) A Robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law
(3) A Robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law
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