Author. Scientist. Raconteur. Babe magnet. Wit. Genius. God damn it, man, stop hogging all the talent!
Isaac Asimov's made-up stories were a major influence on everything from the fictional Star Trek universe to the very real modern robotics industry to fucking NASA. These days authors get excited if a shitty movie gets made out of one of their shitty novels. While those authors were still learning to spell "unnecessary sequel", Isaac Asimov was teaching today's astronauts how to use a fucking slide rule.
You thought we were kidding?
You know how every day when you wake up, you put off that first morning pee until you check out Cracked.com? And you know how every time you log on, there are three brand new articles* for you to read? Well, that was Isaac Asimov, except that every day, there were three new complete books for his fans to read.
While this is of course an exaggeration, the fact is that the man wrote a LOT of books. He wrote the ones he's famous for - science fiction novels about galactic empires and robots and interplanetary wars. But he also wrote poetry, instruction books, essays, history books, short story collections, dirty limericks, and non-fiction science books of all kinds. It's rumored that his mother spent 17 additional hours in labor pushing out the typewriter he was using in the womb.
* Note that the term "Brand New" may occasionally be stretched to include David Wong's 2007 "Monkeysphere" article. Also note that David Wong has written 499 fewer books than Isaac Asimov.
Isaac Asimov was a Russian immigrant who started writing science fiction pretty much as soon as he discovered that words could be put to paper. In the early days of his career, the idea that legions of young men would spend millions of dollars attending sci-fi conventions and dressing up like comic book superheroes and moon men with giant laser rifles was unthinkable. Even if the internet had existed, the 18-29-year-old demographic had far more important issues to deal with than having long-distance arguments over which imaginary universe had faster spaceships or who should play their favorite masked hero on the big screen. Apparently, there was some Austrian guy pissing a lot of people off and trying to kill all the Jews in Europe, and most people were more than a little concerned about that.
As a consequence, there were no twelve-volume series of hack sci-fi novels for nerds to stain with tears of loneliness while they tried to forget their daily lives. Sci-fi was restricted to short stories in monthly magazines. This also meant that if you wanted to be a sci-fi writer, you'd better make sure the people at those magazines liked you.
We can see both sides of the argument over a world without science fiction.
Asimov is one of the purest examples of a fan becoming a star. His obsession with the sci-fi stories of his youth made him a master at telling such tales, and by the middle of the century, his place among the "big three" authors of that genre was undisputed. In fact, Asimov is probably the only one of the "big three" that the average Joe has ever heard of. (The other two are Stanley Mickelson, author of Large-Breasted Space Babes From the Edge of the Universe and Grover Hardwick, author of Where Do Spacers Poop? and Do Southern Androids Fondle Electric Sheep?)
By the time of his death in 1992, Asimov was one of the most admired, and, consequently, copied, authors in science fiction. In fact, he was a rock star of the science fiction world. The only difference between him and Robert Plant is that instead of wearing leather pants and being swarmed by legions of screaming, underage girls, he wore tweed jackets and was swarmed by legions of stuttering, underage boys. Fortunately, all he usually had to do for them was write his name.
So I make this one out to Eugene, too? How many fucking Eugenes are in this line?
Isaac Asimov would have been smart enough to figure out that there is more to this page after the ads.
Foundation (or: Help me, Hari Seldon... you're my only hope!)
One of Asimov's biggest copiers just happens to be the man who single-handedly saved science fiction in the late 70's and then single-handedly fucking ruined it twenty years later. While nearly every detail in Star Wars is a blatant theft from some other source (Didn't Sting do a movie about a desert planet, too?), a good number of them are straight out of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Most notably, the Imperial Capital in Foundation, to which Captain Han Pritcher travels through hyperspace, is an entire planet covered by a giant city, although to be fair to Lucas, no one approaches Pritcher and tries to sell them Death Sticks. Ol' George thought of that gag all by himself.
Asimov was a firm believer in the concept that knowledge was not inherently evil and brains would always prevail over brawn. In fact, most of his stories involve minimal violence, and his heroes usually emerge victorious based on their wits. Because of this, he was fed up with the way knowledge and technology, and robots in particular, were always presented as a re-telling of Frankenstein, complete with the "man should not try to play god" moral. It was this that prompted him to write so many stories about robots, including the one you've actually heard of.
Robot: You say we don't have individual personalities? At least if they cast me in another movie, I wouldn't play the same fucking character every time.
With all of these books under his belt, surely there must be one you've read, right? Unless you're a sci-fi buff, probably not, although it's very likely that you saw the hideous bastardization of I, Robot back in 2004. Rather than making a movie based even remotely on the source material, the people behind I, Robot completely ignored everything Asimov believed in and chose instead to give Will Smith yet another chance to go onscreen as Will Smith doing Will Smith things in a Will Smith movie. To add insult to injury, the whole film turns out to be yet another re-telling of Frankenstein. It's up to Smith and his Hollywood-sexy sidekick, Dr. Susan Calvin (who, based on Asimov's description, should have had the sex appeal and physical prowess of Janet Reno), to kung-fu their way into saving the world from its would-be robot overlords.
"Nightfall" may very well be one of the most original short stories in science fiction, and one of the coolest. Asimov published it early in his career, and was still being asked about it 50 years later.
There is a movie version, but it makes absolutely no sense and ties only very loosely to the story (see I, Robot above). There is also a full-length novel that someone else wrote around the original story. Though it bears Asimov's name, it's really not his work. Also, it's kind of crappy.
According to this site, it took nine people to write the lyrics to Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage". The result is three verses that tell the story of a man who wants to move to another neighborhood. Nine people got together and came up with this:
"I'm tryin' to find a place where I can live my life
And maybe eat some steak with my beans and rice"
It took Asimov two months by himself to write an entire novel about the cold war and the arms race, in which a team of scientists is shrunken and injected into a man's body. They travel through every major biological system before escaping dramatically in the nick of time. While originally reluctant to write the novel because it was a screenplay adaptation, Asimov changed his mind and even fixed a number of the movie's huge plot holes in his book. Also, there is no mention of either beans or rice, even though both could logically have fit into the story.
One must be careful when approaching the science fiction section of one's local bookstore. It's a frightening place, filled with nerds of every shape and size, from the 400-lb wannabe-metal guy trying to look as bored as possible with his copy of the latest shitty Star Wars novel to the saliva-slurping, bespectacled stereotype nerds arguing over the Dungeons and Dragons rules. Entering this section of the bookstore not only exposes you to these horrors, but your friends might see you, and then it's all over.
Be realistic... which of these two people do you think you're more likely to run into in the sci-fi section at your local Barnes & Noble?
If you do manage to get there, you are then faced with the question of which Isaac Asimov book to buy. Should you start with I, Robot or Foundation? Should you buy the short story collections? What about all of these books that say "Authorized by the estate of Isaac Asimov"?
The quick answers are:
1. Either one, but Foundation is better.
3. If Yoko Ono released an album under the Beatles' name, would you buy it?