Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was an American writer of science fiction and science fact from the late 1900s. Although he wrote hundreds of books about science for ordinary people, he is famous for his science fiction. He is best known for his books and stories about robots, like “I, Robot” (1950), his Foundation series and the short story “Nightfall” (1941).
His robots were like men made of metal, not born of flesh. They had Three Laws of Robotics built into their brains:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey 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 Law.
His robot stories show how these would play out in real life – or what happens when they are broken.
The Foundation series is about an empire among the stars that fell and how Hari Seldon shortened the dark age that followed through the science of psychohistory (made up by Asimov). Seldon designed the history of a new, future empire. Of course Seldon could not predict everything…
Asimov tied his books into a future history, which goes something like this in years AD:
- 2007: I, Robot (1950)
- 3500: Caves of Steel (1954)
- 3501: The Naked Sun (1957)
- 3503: The Robots of Dawn (1983)
- c. 3700: Robots and Empire (1985)
- c. 11,000: The Currents of Space (1952)
- before 12,000: The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
- 13,327?: Pebble in the Sky (1950)
- 137,022: Prelude to Foundation (1988)
- 137,030: Forward the Foundation (1993)
- 137,067: Foundation (1951)
- 137,378: Foundation and Empire (1952)
- 137,444: Second Foundation (1953)
- 137,566: Foundation’s Edge (1982)
- 137,567: Foundation and Earth (1986)
Before becoming a full-time writer in 1954, Asimov was a scientist (and part-time writer). He did work on nucleic acid, one of the substances that life is built on.
While his writing is very clear and easy to read, it rarely rises to the level of art. His characters are a bit flat. You do not feel any real difference between them whether they are male or female, flesh or metal. But his stories are good and full of interesting ideas.
When writing about science, he writes just as if he were talking to you, not as if he were writing some long-winded, dry-as-dust schoolbook. Rather than listing facts and explaining theories, he prefers to tell stories. Science in a way is nothing but a great big mystery story.
He wrote about 468 books. He worked on two or three books at a time and finished about one or two a month. He could write 1,880 words a day. For him it was a labour of love.
Although it was not known at the time, he died of Aids from blood he received during a heart operation nine years before (when, unknown to doctors, Aids was spreading among New York’s heroin users).
His best books:
- I, Robot (1950)
- Foundation (1951)
- Nightfall and Other Stories (1969)
- Asimov’s New Guide to Science (1984)