CliffsNotes on Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Other Works

By L. David Allen | Go to book overview

LIFE AND BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR

The occasion: Discon II, the 1974 World Science Fiction Convention held in Washington, D.C. The scene: a huge, pillared hallway of the convention area of a large hotel. A huge crowd gathers around one of the pillars. In the middle, his back to the pillar, stands Isaac Asimov, enjoying himself thoroughly. One hand busily signs books, programs, scraps of paper--whatever people hand to him. The other arm holds a succession of girls who get kissed soundly; most of them return the kiss enthusiastically. In the meantime, between kisses, Asimov carries on conversations with several people and declaims bawdy limericks, some original and some not so original, as people toss him words to rhyme. (Asimov characteristically turned this penchant for bawdy limericks into two published volumes.)

Later, a bashful fan, who has never attended a WorldCon before and who is awed by all the people (almost five thousand people attended) and by all these well-known writers, attends the Meet-the-Authors party. Many of the authors are rather brusque, signing autographs quickly and turning away. Others talk with a favored few and ignore all the rest. Asimov is the most famous writer attending. With trembling, the fan approaches and asks for his autograph. Asimov turns his attention to the fan, and, for the moment, that fan receives all of Asimov’s attention. This man with one of the most renown reputations in science fiction seems genuinely interested in the neophyte; in fact, were the fan less bashful, a more extended conversation might have taken place.

Isaac Asimov is a writer who made a good living from his writing. As of November 1976, he had published one hundred and seventy-nine books. Keeping that date in mind is important, for he has averaged a book a month since the autumn of 1969. Of the books he has written and published, one hundred and fifty-four of them were in print in November 1976. This is truly amazing--Asimov calls it a single-author world’s record--for the works of most other prolific writers do not last long.

Several things produce writing that is remarkable in its quantity and also clear and always interesting. Asimov was a compulsive writer who spent up to eighteen hours a day in his study, reading, answering his correspondence, and checking over his facts, but mostly typing. At ninety words a minute, or a page in less than five minutes, Asimov usually produced over fifty pages a day. In this process, Asimov was aided by an immense intelligence (reportedly, his IQ was so high that it could not be measured) and by a memory that seldom forgot. Add to this the fact that whenever a “dry spell” halted the piece he was working on, Asimov turned to another--at the time his 179th was being published, he had six other books in various stages of completion, as well as a number of articles and columns (he wrote monthly columns for several magazines)--and by the time he returned, his unconscious processes had solved the problem. The result is a flood of words that increased, rather than decreased, as he grew older.

Asimov’s road to fame and fortune began in Russia, near Smolensk, in 1920. Three years later, his family moved to Brooklyn. While Asimov grew up, his father operated several small candy stores; after he was nine, he was expected to help. It was in the candy stores that he came across science-fiction literature since a wide range of papers and magazines were also sold. Although his father strongly discouraged him, Asimov nevertheless managed to look through the pulp magazines. The science-fiction pulps, with their often lurid covers, seemed to have a particular attraction for him. At the same time, he methodically read his way through the shelves of the public library.

He wrote his first science-fiction story at the age of fifteen. The same year, he was admitted to Columbia University. At eighteen, in 1938, he sold his first story, earning $64.00 for a 6,400 word effort. About the same time, he became associated with the Futurian Science Literary Society of New York, founded by Frederick Pohl, Donald A. Wolheim, Cyril Kornbluth, Walter Kubilius, and Robert W. Lowndes.

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