The Big Three
Along with Robert A Heinlein and Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Dr. Isaac Asimov is universally recognized as one of the Big Three of 20th century science fiction writers. Today we celebrate his 103nd Birthday.
“Immigrants, We Get the Job Done”
Dr. Asimov was born in Russia January 2, 1922. He immigrated to the United States at the age of three, and his first language was Yiddish, not English. Like many immigrants for whom English is a second language, he was more skillful at wielding the English language as a precision tool than many native speakers. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1928.
Dr. Asimov read everything and wrote almost everything. He was the author of Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, and Lecherous Limericks, as well as many textbooks, Nebula and Hugo winning science fiction novels and short stories, mysteries, etc. Dr. Asimov and Sir Arthur C. Clarke had a friendly rivalry for years as to which of the two was the better science writer and which the better science fiction writer.
Dr. Asimov had a Ph. D. in chemistry, as well as four honorary doctorates. He was a professor of biochemistry, and wrote children’s books on basic astronomy and the solar system, which many elementary school teachers were pleased to have in their classroom libraries.
His 1941 short story “Nightfall,” was voted The All-Time Best Science Fiction Short Story by the Science Ficton Writers of America in 1964. It has been included in many anthologies.
Dr. Asimov was an essayist, a novelist, a short story writer, an editor, and an educator.
The Three Laws of Robotics
Dr. Asimov, having written literally hundreds of books, is still perhaps best known for two things: the Foundation series, and The Three Laws of Robotics.
The Three Laws are so frequently cited and incorporated or alluded to in modern science fiction that they are a permanent part of the genre wherever robotics are concerned. They are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The Foundation “Trilogy”
The Foundation trilogy of novels were published between 1953 and 1953: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953). They were edited out of short stories Dr. Asimov published in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1950.
The trilogy has expanded since the Fifties. In the ’80s, he wrote two prequels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. The the sequels Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986). were published in his later years. The streaming service Apple+ made a TV show of Foundation, starring Jared Harris as Hari Seldon. The Foundation trilogy won a special ONE-TIME hugo Award in 1966 for the Best All-Time Series.
Dr. Asimov wrote several series of books. Many of us read the YA series of Lucky Starr in our youth, a series that is somewhat dated now, but at the time reflected what Science knew about the Solar System. Dr. Asimov published them under the pen name Paul French.
Dr. Asimov and his second wife, J. O. Jeppson co-wrote the Norby series of children’s books. He also wrote an occasional series of stories about time travelling scouts who met and had adventures in the 20th century in the magazine Boys’ Life
The Galactic Empire series Pebble in the Sky, The Stars, Like Dust, The Currents of Space
The Robot books In addition to his popular I, Robot short story collection, Dr.Asimov wrote novels about the robot detectiveR. Lije Bailey, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and Robots and Empire.
In his later books, he tied the Galactic Empire series, the Robot books, and the increasingly misnamed Foundation trilogy together into one universe.
His independent novels included The End of Eternity, Child of Time, co-written with Robert Silverberg, based on Asimov’s short story, “The Ugly Little Boy.”
Dr. Asimov published over twenty collections of short stories. He annotated Byron’s “Don Juan,” Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Gilbert and Sullivan. He also wrote hundreds of essays, mostly on science, but also writing and science fiction. Many of these essays have been collected and published. He wrote three autobiographies.
His mysteries included the short stories about the Black Widowers Society and Murder at the ABA.
- Isaac Asimov was born January 2, 1920, CE in Russia. He died April 6, 1992 in New York City, NY, USA. His death was due to having contracted AIDS from tainted blood used during heart surgery. If it had happened today, he likely would not have died from it. Timing is everything.
- Dr. Asimov was married twice and had two children. His first wife was Gertrude Blugerman. They married in 1942 and divorced in 1973. They had two children, a son David, and a daughter Robyn Joan. His second wife was psychiatrist Dr. Janet Opal Jepppson (1926-2019). Dr. Asimov and Dr, Jeppson married in 1973 and were together until his death in 1992.
Dr. Susan Calvin, the heroine of I, Robot, is in some ways the literary grandmother of Star Wars‘ Senator Leia Organa. She and Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, were among the first female protagonists in science fiction to be competent females rather than damsels in distress.
An asteroid and a crater on Mars have both been named in his honor, as has an elementary school in Brooklyn. His Three Laws of Robotics changed the old perception of robots as dangerous mechanical beasts that would inevitably turn on their masters like an ill-trained Doberman Pinscher. In the TV show Buck Rogers in the 26th Century, the character Admiral Asimov was named for him. Honda named an experimental robot, the Asimo, was named in his honor.
Dr. Asimov inspired countless 20th and 21st century authors, and potentially hundreds of thousands of college students.
By the way, Dr. Asimov claimed that his personal favorite of his novels was Murder at the ABA. Do you have a favorite among his many novels and short stories? Almost everyone has one. We invite your comments.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.