This week we return with another of our “Big Three” writers. A prominent figure of the Golden Age, Isaac Asimov rose to fame with over 500 works written and edited by his hand. Probably most known for his science fiction series, like his Robot series or his Foundation series, Asimov wrote in all manner of genres, including fantasy, mystery, and nonfiction. In the course of his career, he gave several key ideas to the science fiction community, introducing “robotics,” “positronic” and “psychohistory” into the English language.
Asimov began life as Russian-born Isaak Yudovich Asimov in 1920. By the age of three, Isaak and his family emigrated from their rural hometown in Petrovichi to the United States. Despite his Russian descent, Asimov grew up speaking both English and Yiddish. At the age of five, he taught himself how to read, and eventually, he assisted his younger sister as well. By the time he turned eight, Asimov became a natural citizen of the US. Asimov and his siblings grew up working in their parents’ series of candy shops. It was here where Asimov developed his love of science fiction when he began reading the pulp sci-fi magazines that his parents sold.
I write for the same reason I breath – because if I didn’t, I would die.– Isaac Asimov
Asimov started writing at a young age, but it wasn’t until age eighteen that he made any progress as a writer. He produced his first science fiction story, titled “Cosmic Corkscrew,” and immediately submitted it to the then Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell. The two were able to meet, and despite John’s rejection of the piece, continued meeting weekly until Asimov moved away from New York. It wasn’t until age nineteen, with his third science fiction short story, “Marooned Off Vesta,” that he found success in the pages of Amazing Stories. Though his critical success wouldn’t come for another two years when he finally published in Astounding with his short, “Nightfall.” Many critics at the time lauded this story as the best science fiction tale of all time.
- The Robot series
- The Foundation series
- The Galactic Empire series
- The Gods Themselves
Despite initial successes, including the groundwork of his Foundation series, young Asimov did not consider writing as a viable long term career. In his studies, he received an MA and Ph.D. in Chemistry, during which he briefly worked as a junior chemist during WWII (working alongside fellow writers, Robert A. Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp). Following the war, he worked as a researcher in the Chemistry department, where he continued until his wages from his writing exceeded his academic pay. Though he stopped researching to focus on his writing career, he remained associated with the Boston School of Medicine as a lecturer.
It remains difficult to sum up all the accomplishments and recognitions Asimov received over the years. In addition to numerous awards for his writing (including multiple Hugo Awards), he holds fourteen honorary doctorates from various universities. Asimov deserves all the praise for his writing contributions over the years, though his most notable contribution has to be his Three Laws of Robotics. He created these laws in response to a growing trend at the time in science fiction where a robot creation eventually turn on their creators. He vowed to create a story where the robot would not turn on their creator for no purpose. These laws continue to be referenced throughout science fiction and popular culture to this day.
Three Laws of Robotics
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by humans 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
Given the sheer immensity of Asimov’s profile, there is no way to cover everything. I hope today’s post inspires you to do further research into this illustrious writer. His work and influence will continue to pop up throughout this project. If you learned anything new or have something you wish to contribute, I encourage you to share those in the comments below. Next time, we’ll dive into his short story, “Robbie,” the winner of the Best Short Story at the 1941 Retro-Hugo Awards.
See you then!