Isaac Asimov was one of our most beloved authors, and when he died in 1992 at the age of seventy-two he left behind an unapralleled legacy of thought and imagination. In a career that lasted more than fifty years, he wrote more than 470 books and innumerable articles and short stories, winning the hearts of millions of readers around the world. Perhaps best known as one of science fiction’s founding fathers, he wrote the novels that defined the genre and went on to become its all-time bestselling voice. But more than that, Isaac Asimov was one of the most wide-ranging minds of the this century, and he earned the nickname the Great Explainer for his non-fiction works on subjects ranging from the nature of the universe to Byron’s Don Juan. In these memoirs, he looks back on a long and very full life, and discusses subjects he has never before addressed. Exuberant, topically arranged, and richly anecdotal, I. Asimov shines with the author’s incomparable personality.
The story of Isaac Asimov’s life is an illustrious twentieth-century odyssey. The beginnings of his writing career were the beginnings of science fiction, and he writes of that time—the golden age of pulp fiction—with warmth and candor. As Asimov’s fame grew, so did his contacts with other science-fiction writers, and his circle of friends became a veritable Who’s Who of science-fiction greats. He reminisces fondly about the people who played important roles in his life, among them Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison, Ben Bova, Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey, Robert Silverberg, and Martin Greenberg.
A man of great humor, bonhomie, and vision, Asimov made friends in all walks of life and traded ideas with some of the great minds of his time. His renown as a science-fiction writer and disseminator of modern scientific thought attracted speaking invitations of all kinds, and I. Asimov brims with delightful (and delightfully embarrassing) vignettes from a lifetime of public oration. These memoirs provide an unflinching look into the inner recesses of Isaac Asimov’s personal life, including his views on religion, love, divorce, children, death, and much more; they also offer a window into the formation of the famed “Asimov Style” that enabled him to become the most prolific writer of our time.
Moving, funny, and utterly irresistible, I. Asimov is a fitting retrospective of a singular life and career.
This is the third volume of formal autobiography from Asimov, as opposed to books with a heavy autobiographical component like Opus 100 or The Early Asimov. It is not, however, a sequel to the two earlier formal autobiographies, In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. Rather, as the title implies, it’s a memoir, a retrospective overview of Asimov’s life. And it isn’t written in chronological order. Rather, Asimov has come up with 166 topics and written a few pages about each.
The net effect is an interesting and involving overview of a remarkable life—not of the story of that life, but of the life itself, seen near its end. There is a melancholic air about the book, written as it was when Asimov knew death was not far away and unpublished until a year after he died. That melancholia, however, is tempered with a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction with a life well-lived.
As with the earlier autobiographies, Asimov is frank about his own faults. He’s also a little more frank than is usual with the faults of the people around him, such as his son David and his first wife Gertrude. He writes, however, without recrimination or rancor, accepting them for what they were. He is also free with his affection for his parents, his siblings, his daughter Robyn (whom pictures in the book reveal to be honestly and truly drop-dead gorgeous—all those years of comments about her beauty are not just a proud papa’s boasting), and particularly his enormously deep love for Janet.
The book has some weaknesses. There’s no index (but then, he wasn’t around to prepare one). Page 1 of the original hardback edition got Asimov’s birth-date wrong (but then, he wasn’t around to proof it). The list of books in the back is complete through May 1990 (when the original MS was completed) but very spotty for anything published after that. The last two years of Asimov’s life aren’t covered by Isaac himself, but by Janet for whom they were too painful to say much.
These, however, are minor nits. The book is marvelous and left me with a deepened respect for the man to whose writings I have devoted so much of my own life. Asimov was not just a wonderful writer, he was also (I believe) an admirable human being, and that is something far, far rarer and more precious.