Isaac Asimov You don t have to like me, although I would prefer it. However, you do have to respect me for all that I have done and for all that I have accomplished in my lifetime. I have written countless books and consider myself well studied in most major fields. I am a well written, prolific, and excellent writer who has done a great deal to improve the quality of science fiction writing. Nobody can live during the Great Depression and not be affected by it. Although my writings have never directly talked about issues of economic struggle, mainly because I hate economics, the depression still affected my life. The main influence of the great depression on me was that my parents were forced into the candy business for lack of better work. We survived fairly well considering that we were immigrants, and that my dad could neither read nor speak English. The major downside was that the candy store was open seven days a week, and eight hours a day. This meant I rarely got to see my parents for very long, and it also meant that I also had to work in the candy store. All and all, we were very lucky and we succeeded very well. (Asimov s Galaxy) I began writing in a time that was the dawn of science fiction. There was some science fiction before my time, but not much of it, and it had little credibility. I began when pulp sci-fi was just becoming popular. Pulp sci-fi were cheap magazines that came out normally once or twice a month and published sci-fi articles and stories. These magazines were probably my favorite reading material, although there was not enough of them to keep up with my appetite for them. My first writings were for these magazines, and it took me a long time before I grew out of my pulp sci-fi writing style. It was very lucky for me to be born in the time period that I was, or I may not have become the man I am today. (Asimov: Memoir) Because science fiction had not become popular yet, many sci-fi writers struggled to make a living. I could never have earned enough writing full-time to keep myself alive. I had always planned on having another career, medical if my dad had anything to say about it, to support myself. Science fiction was a hobby for me, a hobby that brought in a nice little sum of cash. It never really became a job possibility until I lost my job in 1958, then I began writing full-time. Science fiction was growing, but not fast enough to support me at the time. (Patrouch) Science fiction finally began to gain respect after World War II. After the A-bomb was dropped and people saw what vast devastation it could do, many more people started taking science fiction more seriously. They realized that these guys were not necessarily a bunch of weirdoes who were writing about make-believe; some of these things might actually be true. This really helped the science fiction industry in general, and probably could account for at least some of my later sales, although the war never really affected me too deeply. I did write a few pieces involving the A-bomb or other things like it; however, it never really became a major theme in my works, and never took up much of my thoughts. I did serve in the army for six years, but the only thing this changed was my time to write books. I never really considered the period I lived in to have changed me personally, though I think it did influence my writing topics and the times certainly influenced the audiences demand for science fiction. (Bailey) I am still not positive of the day I was born because my parents never kept track of it. I was probably born on January 1, 1920, give or take two weeks. My family moved to Brooklyn, New York when I was three years old. I taught myself to read before I entered 1st grade. I was considered a child prodigy from very early on, and I skipped a total of 2 years of school. I was always the youngest and the smallest in my classes, and almost always the brightest, so I was picked on a great deal. I entered an all boy high school at 12 +, 2 + years younger than everybody else. That is where I learned something I had never been taught before. I was not the smartest. This shock hurt more than anything else the kids who picked on me could do. It was the first time in my life that I was not the smartest kid in the class. Learning I was not the smartest was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me, and I am glad I learned it when I did. (Asimov: Memoir) One of the biggest factors in my childhood was the candy store my parents owned. If it was not for that candy store we would never have survived the Great Depression. However, it also took most of the time my parents had to run the store. I, too, had to help run the store when I became old enough. I picked up many habits that I keep to this day from that candy store. My habit of reading magazines without bending the pages came from reading the magazines we sold and having to put them back on the shelf like new. I learned how to work long hard days at the candy shop, although my dad was constantly calling me lazy whenever he found me reading a magazine or doing anything that was not work-related. Maybe that is why I have written as much as I have-to convince my dad that all of that reading had a purpose. It is amazing that all of this influence could have come from one decision made by my parents to buy a candy store. (Gunn) My main goal in life was to become a doctor. This was mainly due to the influence of my father, and when I tried to get into pre-med, I was rejected. I changed my major to chemistry, which I enjoyed much more. But before that there was the whole issue of finding a college. I was brought up Jewish, and it was because of this that I think I was not accepted to Columbia University. Even though I have never fully been a part of any organized religion, I was discriminated against getting into the college of my first choice. I was turned down totally, I believe, because Columbia had met its requirements for Jewish acceptances, and was not allowing any more. I instead went to Seth Low College for a year, and then transferred to another community college when Seth Low closed. I went on from there to Columbia, where, after much struggle, I received my Doctorate of Chemistry in 1948. Many of my professors throughout college hated me, and with good reason. I was very conceited and precocious throughout college. College was much more difficult than I could have imagined, mainly because I was horrible at the applications of chemistry. Even though my goal of becoming a doctor was never actualized, chemistry was a good major for me, and most of the non-fiction books I wrote were based on chemistry. (Asimov: Memoir)Many people have influenced me throughout my life; the most notable influences in my social life were my wives. I married my first wife, Gertrude Blugerman, during my college years. She taught me, however hard a lesson it was for me to learn, that understanding and acceptance are not love, and cannot replace love. We did not have the best of marriages, because I do not think she really loved me. Our major problem was the fact that she smoked, and she could not, or would not, stop. It was our constant source of arguments and contained all the other frustrations that we had towards each other. We were married much longer than we would have been if we had not had children. It was difficult enough for me to divorce Gertrude, but it was just too difficult to leave innocent children stranded and abandoned. My second, and last (since I died in 1992), wife was Janet Jeppson, who was almost the opposite of Gertrude. She loved me very deeply from very early on in our relationship, and has not stopped yet, as far as I know. She is the gentlest, kindest person I have ever met and I do everything that I can for her.The person who most influenced my writing development, though, was John Cambell. Even though he rejected most of my early stories, his rejections were so encouraging that I just wanted to write more. He was the one who came up with the idea for Nightfall, one of my biggest successes. He nurtured my early career, and I have mainly him to thank for my work turning out the way it did. The impact upon my life and my career that these people have had is immense, and I don not know what I would be without them. (Encarta 96)
In one word, my career has been prolific. I have written over 400 books, in many different areas. “I have written science fiction, non-fiction, and everything else.” (Asimov: Memoir 200) One librarian once said she found one of my books in every different section of the Dewey Decimal System. I am most well known for my science fiction works, and I have won many awards for the books I have written. Nightfall is considered by many to be my best work, and some even consider the best science fiction ever written. Nightfall was about a world where the sun only set every couple thousand years, and when it did, everybody started going crazy with fear. Personally, I do not think it is the best thing I have ever written, but maybe I am not the best judge of that. My other major works of science fiction have been the Robot series and the Foundation series. The Robot series was about the complications of having robots in our society, even when there is no chance of robots taking over because of the law of robots that states a robot can never harm a human. The Foundation series was about predicting history through group psychology and the paradox of predicting history and individual free will. Many have said that I wrote too much, or tried too hard, to make only money, but I wrote as much as I wrote because of one simple fact, I love to write. (Asimov s Galaxy 340)I started writing science fiction at the age of 11. I modeled my writing after what I knew at the time, and that was pulp sci-fi. I wrote many stories, but I completed very few of them. I sent all of my works to Cambell first, and I was actually very encouraged by his rejection letters. It was not until my tenth story that Cambell published one of my stories. Even after I had a steady flow of published work, it was not enough to support me or to make a living. After I earned my doctorate, I began teaching at Boston University School of Medicine. It was not until I published my first novel that I began making the big money. My first novel published was Pebble in the Sky, and it was about a universe where the origins of human kind were unknown, and earth was thought to be a dump where life could not possibly have started. Soon after I wrote this story, I stopped revising my work. I learned that I could produce much more, and earn more, if I did not revise my works. Some have called me money-grubbing for that, or think my work has suffered, others think that I have been better off for it. Whatever the case, I have definitely written more because of it. This was a turning point in my career, and from then on, money started to come in more and more regularly. When I was teaching, I discovered the non-fiction story. I learned I could write non-fiction much more easily than sci-fi. Writing non-fiction soon became my major occupation. I even sold some of the non-fiction to sci-fi magazines because they had an appeal to sci-fi readers. I was making so much money from writing than I had been from teaching, that when I lost my job, I took up writing full-time. I wrote my entire life, from childhood until the day I died, and I loved doing it all. (Patrouch)The story I chose to analyze for you is “Death Sentence.” It was about an outcast of advanced society who discovers a planet that is one big psychology project started by a great civilization that nobody had known about before. Everybody wants to study these apparent robots (but they do not know they are robots), who have been placed in this extremely controlled and complicated psychology experiment. The researchers agree to abolish the planet if the robots discover space travel; the robots do (so they must be destroyed), but the planet turns out to be Earth. The message here is that the universe is so huge that we could be a simple experiment in someone else s world. We know very little about the universe around us and what could be happening to us right at this very moment. (Early Asimov 405-420)This story is very ironic, because as you are reading the story you feel as if the advanced society is humanity in the future. At the very end there is a twist, and the human race becomes nothing more than a simple experiment that can be disposed of with barely a second thought. “He was heading toward that world, toward that doomed world. He was headed toward the same city in which he had been studied the first time. He remembered it well. Its name was the first words of their language he had learned. New York.” (Early Asimov 420) This quote is the last lines of the story and it adds the irony of the story right at the end. It shows that the civilization that had been created was actually the human race, and it is not at all what one would expect.Characterization becomes important in this story because the person who finds this experimental society is an outcast of his own society. He does not get along well with others in his own society, but he felt a strange connection to the people of this new world. He is characterized as extremely persistent because he spends twenty years studying these robots before he tells anyone. The psychologists of the advanced society make a connection between this outcast s feeling strangely at home on the robot world and his unsociable behavior; the connection is that these beings on the robot world must be very like this outcast of our society. “Theor Realo liked those robots. He like robots better than he likes real people. He felt that he fitted there, and we all know he s been a bad misfit in his own world Theor Realo likes those robots because he is like those robots.” (Early Asimov 416) This advanced civilization does not want an entire culture of misfits, like Theor Realo, running around. Considering this, the psychologists believe that the robots must either be contained or destroyed. Since containment is no longer possible, they must be destroyed. (Orlando)Though I have been accused many times of putting deeper meaning into my stories intentionally, it is simply not true. I have never put anything more than surface appeal into any of my stories. However, I am an extremely intelligent man with an extremely accurate memory. I never put deeper meaning in on purpose; however there may be a deeper meaning nonetheless. My subconscious is always working in ways I do not understand. Anything that I read once can become a permanent part of my memory. My memories and feelings may appear in my work as patterns, and in this way, a deeper meaning can be put to my work. Although deeper meaning was not intended, it may still be there. (Asimov: Memoir)The story I chose to analyze was a typical example of my writing with no intent at depth. I am a prolific writer and I write for the mere joy of writing. To me, the pleasure is the creativity of a story that I enjoy writing and people enjoy reading-nothing more, nothing less. I consider myself one of the most prolific in American history, and one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. I have written on a countless number of topics from text books to dirty limericks. I rose from humble beginnings as a Jewish immigrant child to become a world-renowned author. But what I hope will live on well past my death is my science fiction. Science fiction is what I started with and what I finished my career with, and I hope future generations will have the chance to read me.
Asimov, Isaac. Asimov s Galaxy Reflections on Science Fiction. New York: Doubleday, 1989. p. 379-401.Asimov, Isaac. The Early Asimov. New York. Doubleday, 1972. 405-421.Asimov, Isaac. Isaac Asimov: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday, 1994. p. 1-254.”Asimov, Isaac.” Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation.Bailey, Thomas A., and Kennedy, David M. The American Pageant. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1994. p. 783-820.Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press: 1982. p. 3-26.Orlando, Joseph. Ed. Writers of the 21st Century: Isaac Asimov. Japlinger Publishing, 1977. p. 13-30.Patrouch, Joseph F., The Science Fictions of Isaac Asimov. New York: Doubleday, 1974. p. 1-28.