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I, Asimov: A Memoir Paperback – January 1, 1995
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Here is the story of the paradoxical genius who wrote of travel to the stars yet refused to fly in airplanes; who imagined alien universes and vast galactic
civilizations while staying home to write; who compulsively authored more than 470 books yet still found the time to share his ideas with some of the great
minds of our century. Here are his wide-ranging thoughts and sharp-eyed observations on everything from religion to politics, love and divorce, friendship and Hollywood, fame and mortality. Here, too, is a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the varied personalities--Campbell, Ellison, Heinlein, Clarke, del Rey, Silverberg, and others--who along with Asimov helped shape science fiction.
As unique and irrepressible as the man himself, "I. Asimov is the candid memoir of an incomparable talent who entertained readers for nearly half a
century and whose work will surely endure into the future he so vividly envisioned.
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Still written in the Good Doctor's inimitably folksy prose, it differs from the first two volumes, which Dr. Asimov wrote strictly chronologically. This volume takes the reader on a journey of episodes in Dr. Asimov's life arranged not by when they happened, but rather with whom they happened. In that respect, it is more intimate, as if the reader is sitting with Isaac as he shares vignettes of his experience, each focused on his interactions (and the depth of meaning of those interactions) with him.
The last chapter written by Dr. Asimov was completed months before his death. Nonetheless, he ended it on a note of hopefulness; if we didn't know what Isaac must have been suffering that last year, we would never know it from reading this volume. The final chapter is a reflection by Janet Asimov, his wife, but again, it does not detail the end.
Nor, necessarily, would I (for one) want it to. The Good Doctor remains vicariously alive each time I reread again one of his collections of essays, novels, short stories, anthologies, annotations, etc., etc., etc.
If you are not an Asimov fan, you might wonder what all the fuss is about regarding this volume. If that's the case, then perhaps this book may not be for you. However, I would suggest to any such person reading a few selections from Isaac's prodigious list of publications, especially those in which he shared some of his personal perspective and experiences--like his collections of essays from Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. Then, after reading a few of those, pick up this final volume of his autobiography, and it is likely that you will have found an author who will become like a dear friend.
That's really what I, Asimov is like--a conversation with an old friend whom you know you will never see again. For Asimov fans, it is an emotional conversation, indeed. It is well worth the investment.
The author talks of his early life experiences up until the 18th chapter and he refers to them every now and then until the end. After that, he names many other authors and publishers, giving each one a short chapter. Among those are Frederik Pohl, John Wood Campbell, Cyril M. Kornbluth. Donald Allen Wollheim, Robert Anson Heinlein, Lyon Sprague de Camp, Clifford Donald Simak, Jack Williamson, Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clark, and just about every science-fiction writer.
He says, as a writer, he is not a revisionist and dislikes revising; however, he puts away and saves half-finished work only to go back to it years later. He says money wasn’t important to him but being published was. About his work, he writes, “chief of these (things other than money) is the gift of being able to write what I want to write in the way I want to write it, and do it with comfortable certainty that it would be published. This, Doubleday made possible for me quite early on.” For this reason, although he ends up working with many other publishing houses, he stays loyal to Doubleday until the end.
Although the author was pushed into becoming a medical doctor, he ended up becoming a biochemistry professor and received close to twenty honorary degrees. When he moved from New York to Boston, he found to his surprise Boston to be full of science fiction fans. Boston was the city he met Hal Clements and Ben Nova, who became a lifelong friend.
When the space race with the Soviets took hold, he switched from fiction to non-fiction to help people understand the facts of sciences as his patriotic duty. He insists in several places in the book that he loves to write non-fiction better than writing fiction because he does it so easily with the aid of his “working library,” which means the information in it he uses all the time. He also tried his hand in annotating historical and literary books, guides to science, and mysteries. Still, when things changed and the publishers came to him with the requests of science fiction novels, he began writing science-fiction again. In one or two places, it surprised me to read that he liked writing science-fiction, the least, as he said, “Every other kind of writing is easier than science fiction.”
About science fiction, he writes, “In writing a science fiction novel, you must invent a futuristic social structure which is complex enough to be interesting in itself apart from the story and which is self-consistent. You must invent a plot that only works within that social structure. The plot must develop without unduly obscuring the description of the social structure, and the social structure must be described without unduly slowing the plot.”
He never paid much attention to critics. In fact, about them and the way he writes he says, “Some critics object to this, but there are idiots in every walk of life.”
Although his science-fiction and mystery writing preferences are conservative like that of the earlier writers before him, such as Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie, politically he was a liberal who was also a member and later the head of Humanists’ Society. Among the many clubs he belonged, he loved The Trap Door Spiders, The Dutch Treat Club, and The Gilbert and Sullivan society. The latter is because he had a good ear and voice and he could sing.
Asimov was a good speaker, too. After an unprepared talk on robots became a success, he never prepared for a talk again.
Toward the end of the book when his health was giving up, he talked more on death itself and the death of his friends. Still, at the end when his time was approaching, he declared he had a great life and he lived and worked such as he wished.
The author throughout refers a lot and in detail to his personal life and his relationships with his first wife, his children, and especially his second wife Janet, a psychiatrist, whom he truly liked and who worked with him on several occasions. What touched me the most is the epilogue in the book written by Janet Asimov after the author’s passing. She says in its last paragraph, “Once when Isaac and I talked about old age, illness, and death, he said it wasn’t so terrible to get sick and old and to die if you’ve been part of life completing itself as a pattern. Even if you don’t make it to old age, it’s still worthwhile, there’s still pleasure in that vision of being part of the pattern of life—especially a pattern expressed in creativity and shared in love.”
The book, despite its breadth as a large volume close to 600 pages, has been easy to read for the sincere, conversational tone of it, though a bit on the repetitive side, which is understandable, knowing that the author tended to focus on certain eras and ideas more than others. As to my impression of it, while reading the book, I felt a certain intimacy as if I sat down and listened to the author himself. In the end, I am so glad I bought and read this book. I think it is priceless.
If you've never read any Asimov books, I think you'd enjoy this autobiography a lot more if you did read some first. (Also, I feel sorry for your loss... so many hours of enjoyment you've missed by not reading his remarkable books).
To sum it up, as I read this book, I felt I was talking to a friend. It doesn't get better than that.
As the library in my High School in rural Nevada has gotten purged, many Asimov books were being discarded. (Not to worry, I snatched them all up!) I just want whomever reads this to know that I have 3 children, and I’m making them read a lot of these books, so I’ll do my part to preserve the legacy of Dr. Asimov. ... I have a daughter named Aurora, and a son Daniel (Daneel...but hey, I couldn’t condemn him to a life of everyone spelling is name wrong!). This is gonna post under my husband’s name (cause I’m a 20th Century Teacher living in a 21st Century world) but I know he’ll agree with me, cause I made him read a lot of Asimov as well.
Thank you for your contributions to humanity. (As we watch robotics take hold on real life, the world will often think of Asimov!)
Top international reviews
Famed for his speeches and his writing (453 books), his good-natured relationships with his numerous publishers are full of human interest. Lucky the young editor, just starting a career with a publisher, who found Asimov in her stable. Ditto the family publishing business which secured a contract with him. He had many publishers, depending on his subject.
Asimov doted on his daughter and his second wife, Janet, but is seemingly dismissive of his happy-to-be-unemployed son, whom he supported, apparently without demur. He could afford it. Rights from 453 books increasingly poured in every year until the day he died. And after...
A page-turner from the author of the "Foundation" series and "I, Robot", not to mention the story rated as the best science-fiction short story of all time, "Nighfall". Not to mention "Let there be light!", "The Billiard Ball", and also not to mention...well, hundreds of others.
This is one of the last books he wrote and it is wonderful roller-coaster of a read. Asimov tells the story of his life as it was. He makes no bones about not liking to travel and how his hard working childhood gave him a work ethic which never failed until he died.
This book, however, is different from anything else of his that I have read because it deals not just with what he did but it also tells how he felt about people, events and his achievements.
As the stories came closer to modern times and the little content slider showed fewer and fewer pages left to read I found myself rationing how much a read a session in order to make it last. I knew in my mind that it must end with his death but wanted to listen to him musing about life the universe and everything for as long as I could. I finished with a sense of sadness that such a wonderful story teller had writing his closing sentence but inspired by just how much he wrote over
his prolific writing lifetime.
I throughly recommend it to anyone who as ever enjoyed an Asimov book. Thank you Isaac for a magnificent last testament.
It's unconventional, intriguing, sad from time to time. With some insights of other science fiction writers.
Warning, if you start reading, it's quite difficult to stop till the end (spoiler: some "sigh" and "sob" will be needed, from time to time, but, don't worry, there is also time for laughter).
In italiano avevo letto l'autobiografia Io, Asimov che però si fermava al 1950; dell'opera che copriva gli anni dal 1950 al 1974 non è stata fatta, che io sappia, la traduzione.
A questo punto, la presente rappresenta un'opera completa che consiglio a tutti i fan del Buon Dottore
Una excelente biografía que nos descubre al escritor más prolífico e imaginativo de la ciencia ficción.