Remembering Mr. Asimov
By Eric 'Renderking' Fisk - January 14th, 2007
As they say in those Car Commercials, "It's that Time of year again..." We're at the end of yet another year and the beginning of a new one and I'm getting sentimental about "What The Future Was."
I've been meaning to hammer out a tribute to Isaac Asimov for a while, and since that we're also on the cusp of his Birthday (January 2nd, 1920) I thought this afternoon would be a great time to start and maybe get one finished in the same short period as a tribute and salute to his prolific nature. The man wrote more books, short stories and articles then most of us will ever read in a lifetime. I think the man was a genius. Mr. Asimov might have regretted what I'm about to say since he was a devote Humanist like my Grandfather, but Isaac Asimov must have been an angel slumming. There are times that I thought he was better than we deserved.
I often wonder what the Science Fiction landscape would be like today if Asimov was still alive. After all, I thought that much of his work and the magazine that bares his name was a perfect antidote to "Franchise Fever" that's overtaken SF since 1967 (or 1977... whatever.)
Somewhere here in my office there's a paper that I wrote about how Isaac Asimov changed Science Fiction specifically and American ligature in general. I wrote it 16 years ago and it's on a floppy disk and a format that's now obsolete. It was written using a word processor program that hardly anyone can remember. Someday I might actually have the patience to find a print-out of it and retype it for our archives, but to be honest, it's probably dreadful despite the fact that it was the best thing I ever wrote back then.
But the fact that I wrote an article about him and it's stored on a medium that's now obsolete is ironic, because he once wrote about the dangers of technology moving too fast and losing the ability to read what was stored earlier just because a particular medium or format is simply out of fashion or passé. Mr. Asimov was a visionary.
What I remember about that article that was worth sharing is this: Mr. Asimov was one of the very first SF writers to make Science Fiction 'Normal.' He also wrote science books for kids of all ages that help a lot of us grasp difficult subjects. Even though he held a doctorate in Chemistry, wrote books on every subject conceivable to modern society, he had the ability to write about complex subjects and mind-bending concepts in such a way that made it easy for any of us to understand.
Here's a perfect example, back in 1986 I read a book he wrote about the concepts of Space Travel and the hurdles humankind and society would have overcome. [I'm killing myself over Google trying to find the name of the book... I want to say it was 1979's "Extraterrestrial Civilizations." ] The book was broken down into sections, about the laws of Physics that would have to be bent or broken to make Interstellar Travel possible as we see it in movies and read about in books, what societal problems would we have to overcome just to send one ship to the stars, and the emotional and physical problems people might encounter on the journey - and exploring what kind of hardships these people might encounter if they ever returned home if they encountered the effects of Time Distortion via Ernestine's Relativity... (YOU travel closer to the speed of light, time back home goes by faster... thus hundreds or thousands of years pass on Earth while you've only experienced a few years pass... heavy stuff.)
This was just an amazing yet heartbreaking book for someone to read in his teens, the concepts of traveling through space like an Interstellar Swashbuckler is nearly impossible in the foreseeable future, but Asimov painted a very real picture of what it could be like if it were ever possible. And he did so in such away that made the problems and their solutions seem very real and tangible.
That's real magic, how he wrote about heavy, deep and complex concepts that even someone like myself in my youth could understand. That was what most of his work was like, though. Asimov's writings left you feeling as if you had accomplished something, that you've read something of real substance but weren't burdened with language that was written 'over your head.' Asimov didn't 'write down' to his audience, he didn't needlessly uncomplicated the subject matter - it's a difficult thing to try and explained how he treated his readers as if they were intelligent while at the same time taught anyone who was willing to read what he wrote. That was part of his genius, you felt smarter than you really were just by reading what he had to say.
The Greatest Job In The World!
As if you would need another example of what made Asimov such an incredible writer and an inspiration to someone like myself: when The Davis Publication first started to publish "Asimov's Science Fiction," Mr. Asimov had the best job in the world as "Editorial Director." For each issue, he wrote editorials and responded to reader e-mail.
No kidding when I say this, I thought then (and still do now,) that Mr. Asimov had the best job in the world. I mean, come on! What could be better than having a job working for a publication with literally your name on it, direct and give guidance to the editors on staff, and hammer out an article about any topic you like and have it be as long or as brief as you would like?
That's almost as good as having your own website that's read by tens of thousands of people all over the world!
Mr. Asimov changed my view of the world through his almost-monthly column (I remember it being published less than 12 times a year, I might be wrong.) I used to run to either the local bookstore or library to read his prose. Often, if I found it at the Bakers bookstore, the local magazine, and stationary store, I would buy it the issue, read his column first and then the rest of the magazine cover to cover and in order.
I didn't always agree with what Mr. Asimov's point of view. And according to him, that was OK. Actually, through some of the letters he received from others who challenged his opinion, he said that he expected to be challenged his views. He actually encouraged us, his loyal readers, to do so and write in. He made it very clear that his views on any given subject based on what he knew or believed at the time of writing.
He wanted to be engaged with his readers and compel us to be better thinkers and eventually better writers. I believe that he once wrote a column about how some of his most loyal and sycophantic fans really bothered him when they had the knee-jerk reaction of "Right As Always, Mr. Asimov," Looking back now I think he said things contrary to his own beliefs just to see how those crazed fans would react.
He was uncomfortable at times with being the "Elvis" of Science Fiction, and he was very vocal about all of us having minds of our own. He demanded it. He was angry with many of us who weren't free thinkers. Man! That used to make him angry...
As I wrote earlier, He wanted to be equals with his readers and offered to encourage us to become better writers by publishing essays about what it was like to be an author, the deadly sins that no good scribe should commit, and how to do discipline yourself to keep writing and finish what you start.
In many ways, I think he's indirectly responsible for The Fedora Chronicles, just one of many influences in my life that led me to this point.
Famous Last Words
Barbara Walters was granted an interview with Mr. Asimov, and she asked a question that I thought was in bad taste or awkward: what would he do if he found out that he was going to die soon. His answer was in perfect deadpan... "Type Faster."
As most of us know, he did eventually die after a long illness in April of 1992. I'll never forget where I was when this happened. I was at the corner market in Downtown Potsdam, New York reaching for one of the last copies of his Magazine with his column in it. It was an article about the origins of The Foundation Series and the troubles that came from publishing it (how he never got any money from Gnome Press and didn't see any payment until they were published again by Doubleday.) He also wrote about how it was getting harder for him to write since he felt tired all the time... unable to do what he said he wanted:
"Whether I will improve with time, I can't say. Certainly, there seems no sign of it at the moment
Believe me, I'm sorry about this, more so then you can possibly be."
I believe those are some of the last words of his published. And I've often wondered what it must have been like for someone like him to be so passionate about writing and not be able to work right up until up until he finally passed. What would he have written if he had more good years left?
I also wonder what the world of Science Fiction would have been like if he had been around. What could he have done if he had been able to have the ability to publish new work on the internet and what would that have meant for his Magazine? And of course, I wonder what his thoughts would have been on the internet, a medium that went mainstream only a few short years after he died.
Remember Mr. Asimov by writing more...
Rather than dwelling on what could have been and what the world of Science Fiction and the global community of writers if he had lived longer; there's something else I can do. I can encourage all of you the way he encouraged me. In this day and age of visual and audio stimulation and an over-abundance of multi-media nonsense, we need more of the written word. We need to take our time to write thoughtful essays and articles and take an equal amount of time to read what others have posted.
I want to turn The Fedora Chronicles back into a writers club again. That's what our goal should be for 2008. I'm asking everyone to turn something in to be published on our main page while I continue to re-vamp the index pages.
Write about what you think of the past, and what your hopes and fears are for the future. Write about your travels, share with us where you've been and where you're going. Just write about anything. Then send it to our main desk and we'll format it and post it the right way.
The Fedora Chronicles is here for you, here to support you and give you words of encouragement. It's about time we support our fellow scribes and authors. It's time to uplift our wordsmiths.
I can't imagine a better way to pay tribute to our fellow writers that inspired us and aren't here anymore.
Share your memories of Mr. Asimov.