There is no joy in reporting the passing of any legend, and the death of Janet Asimov, who left us on February 25th at the age of 92, is no exception. However, there is some measure of comfort in not only celebrating her life, but her career as well — too often, those who stand with great names and legends in any sphere of work can be overshadowed, but in the case of the children’s science fiction author behind the widely loved Norby series, Janet Asimov forged a path of her own that has left behind a unique legacy as an author, an advocate, and a valuable part of the psychiatric community.
Janet was born in Ashland, Pennsylvania on August 6, 1926. An alumnus of Stanford and New York University Medical School, she completed her residency in psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital. While her literary career really took off after her marriage to Isaac Asimov in 1973, she did have prior experience in writing fiction with her first mystery short published in The Saint Mystery Magazine in 1966. She was also published within the medical community with her first paper in 1970, preceding the release of her first novel, The Second Experiment, in 1974. Even after she began both solo and partner works in science fiction with her husband (who often said that those works they co-authored were ninety percent Janet’s labor and influence), Janet continued both writing and working in a medical capacity, practicing as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst under the name Janet O. Jeppson, which she would also utilize as a pseudonym.
Best known for The Norby Chronicles, a science fiction series for children co-written with Isaac Asimov and later finished on her own, the madcap tales of a mixed up robot provided an introduction to science fiction for many young people in their formative years. Her adult novels also earned her acclaim for exploring concepts such as the technological singularity (The Mind Transfer) and utilizing her experience as a psychoanalyst in delightfully comical fashion (The Mysterious Cure, and Other Stories of Pshrinks Anonymous). Janet also continued penning Isaac’s popular science column after his death in 1992.
In addition to her accomplishments and contributions to both literature and medicine, during Isaac’s illness and after his passing, she became his advocate medically as well as publicly. After he developed cardiac issues and his health began to deteriorate, Janet researched his condition, and only at her insistence was he tested for and diagnosed with HIV, contracted during a blood transfusion. While his doctors insisted that the truth of his death was kept secret, Janet broke her silence once those doctors had passed on, bringing the truth to light in the publication of It’s Been A Good Life.
Accomplished professionally, well loved personally, and admired globally, the life and work of Janet Asimov is a shining compliment to the legacy of her husband—and on its own, will undoubtedly stand the test of time, introducing young minds to the joys of science fiction and leaving an impression that will guarantee her well deserved place in history.
Liz Carlie, the Mad Woman with a Box, a regular book reviewer for SCIFI.radio and a regular guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. She has been in and around science fiction fandom for years, and works with the American Red Cross on blood drives at science fiction conventions all over Southern California.