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  William F. Touponce 1991
1 spaceship-and-sun
Asimov fan
A mule
Target reader

This book is part of Twayne’s “American Authors” series. Having not read any of the other books in the series, it’s impossible for me to tell how much of an impact that makes on this one and makes it more difficult to evaluate the book on its own merits.

This is a slim volume of only about one hundred pages, and it covers only Asimov’s major fiction with a brief summary of his life in the first chapter. The author met and interviewed Asimov before his death, which provides some insights that might otherwise be unavailable. The purpose of the book is to analyze Asimov’s fiction, primarily in terms of narration techniques, how Asimov uses the order in which he narrates events to alter our understanding of the events he narrates.

Strangely, for a book ostensibly discussing Asimov’s writing as writing and not as story, Touponce goes through Asimov’s major fiction in order of the stories’ action, not in the order in which they were written. He begins with The End of Eternity and works his way through to Foundation and Earth. (The final chapter deals with The Gods Themselves, the Lucky Starr novels, Fantastic Voyage and Fantastic Voyage II, and Nemesis.)

The book isn’t bad but it suffers from a number of weaknesses. The first is hardly Touponce’s fault. He wrote even while Asimov was slowly dying and misses out on Forward the Foundation.

The second weakness is more serious. The book is very much a missed opportunity. Touponce does a moderately thorough analysis of The End of Eternity, but as time goes on he gets sketchier and pretty much does little more than give a synopsis. Moreover, since Touponce works only with Asimov’s “major fiction” (that is, novels and the Foundation and robot stories), he doesn’t handle much of Asimov’s better-written work, his short fiction of the 1950’s.

Asimov frequently likes to play games with narrative structure. Indeed, this is one of Asimov’s weaknesses as a writer: he can get carried away with this sort of thing to his story’s detriment as in the first section of The Gods Themselves. Touponce doesn’t deal with this. Only the one book gets a thorough analysis and then without much by the way of comparison to the first draft (available in The Alternate Asimovs). Nor does Pebble in the Sky get a comparison with its first draft, which is very different from the final novel in terms of narrative structure.

The idea of analyzing Asimovs techniques of ordering the events of his story is an intriguing one, and I think that Touponce would have been able to do it; but a more thorough analysis would have been more interesting than the one we have here. What there is of the book is fine. There just isn’t enough of it.

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