back to article From Soviet to science fiction icon, the weird life of Isaac Asimov 100 years on

As the New Year’s festivities wound down a lot of science and science fiction fans toasted the 100th anniversary of the birth of Isaac Asimov, one of the titans of the profession. Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books and reams of articles on everything ranging from science, psychology, astronomy, biochemistry (which he taught …

  1. TimMaher Silver badge

    From Asimov to Zelazny

    Great article Reg.

    I was massively interested in the entire genre, particularly from the late sixties to the late seventies.

    My wall height bookcase was filled with SF, both fiction and fantasy and I could lose myself in these books for nights at a time.

    It was some years after I coined the title, to impress a friend, that I realised that Asimov was not the first on the shelf.

    It was Brian Aldiss.


    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

      Funny, my bookshelves do indeed run from Asimov to Zelazny.

      I haven't read enough of either in the last decade, I should fix that.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

        I strongly recommend adding Aldiss and Adams to it.

    2. DJV Silver badge

      Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

      For many years my collection started with Douglas Adams, however young upstart Ben Aaronovitch has now stolen pole position. Zelazny still sits at the other end, though.

      1. Martin Gregorie

        Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

        So does my collection. Odd, that.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

        Have you not read the collected SF works of Alfred Aardvark? Amazing, amusing, atypical and astounding...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

      Asimov made me discover sci-fi, so many years ago.

      I had all books from him, but I remember I ended up the fondation cycle at the 2nd fondation book.

      So many memories.

    4. OssianScotland

      Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

      Douglas Adams is (rightfully) first on my shelves

      (although I think I may have a Ben Aaronovitch somewhere in the "to be reorganised" pile)

      Last is Karl Zeigfreid

      1. Old_Fogey

        Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

        But Karl Zeigfreid should be filed under F - Lionel Fabthorpe.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

          Fabthorpe – don't give the man ideas.

          (For those not in the know Lionel Fanthorpe is a somewhat eccentric British science-fiction author – among other things.)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

        "Douglas Adams is (rightfully) first on my shelves"

        Shouldn't that be (leftfully)?

    5. Ian Michael Gumby

      Meh! Re: From Asimov to Zelazny

      "After multiple rejections he eventually earned his Master of Arts degree in chemistry in 1941 and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in chemistry in 1948, serving as a civilian in the US Army in the Second World War."

      Ok, so I know that the author wanted to cover his academic career, but if you read what was written, it makes it sound like after he earned his PhD in '48 he served in the US Army during WW II making him the first man to have a time machine. ;-)

      But seriously... Asimov is one of the greats and yes like many here, I bet we could earn a masters or a PhD in English Lit specializing in Science Fiction. I think my paperback science fiction collection weights about 300 lbs. Unfortunately some of them are starting to fall apart w the glue separating. The collection goes back 50 years, including some books I got from my older brother. (Not including HG Wells)

      Sorry for the Grammar N thing... but seriously... :-(

      1. Muscleguy

        Re: Meh! From Asimov to Zelazny

        Indeed, the 7 year gap also suggests an interregnum in the studies. I took 5 years, huge project and had to write it part time while earning money as a Teaching Fellow. My thesis is a real tome. I nearly bound it in two parts to make a point but one of my external examiners kindly made it for me. I was put off by the extra cost.

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    Asimov was a letcher

    I am always wary of judging someone's behaviour in years gone by with today's eyes.

    If everyone around you is doing XXX, then is XXX wrong ? We may think that XXX is wrong today, but can you condemn someone doing it when many others around were doing it ? How would you behave in that environment ?

    I like to think that I behave well, but who knows how standards could have changed in 40 years time - I could be remembered as a YYY-ist.

    Things move is all directions. What is 'saucy' can later become 'a personal intrusion/...' - eg pinching a bottom. What is 'disgusting' can become 'acceptable' - eg homosexuality.

    1. Just Enough

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      It's almost a certainty that our great grand children will find aspects of today's behaviour appalling, just as we find aspects of our great grand parent's. And it won't necessarily be the obvious ones that we may already have our suspicions about (e.g. use of fossil fuel, plastic disposal, meat consumption), it'll be things we currently consider entirely innocent.

      Equally, there'll be things they get up to that would shock us.

      And yet every generation still believes itself to be the pinnacle of righteousness, set aside from the indefensible behaviour of the past.

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        It's almost a certainty that our great grand children will find aspects of today's behaviour appalling,

        Brexit, for example. :-/

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      Agreed. That was the point of Obama's rebuke of "woke culture" a month or so ago.

      While not quite a match to your comment about time & context, I still think Kwame Appiah's quote is worth keeping in mind as much as one can:

      "Moral narcissism is about being more concerned with the cleanliness of your hands than with how your conduct shapes the lives around you." - Kwame Anthony Appiah

    3. Rich 11

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      If everyone around you is doing XXX, then is XXX wrong ?

      It wasn't everyone though, was it? It was primarily men pinching women's bottoms, not everyone pinching everyone else's bottoms. I'm sure you can imagine how men -- fifty years ago and today -- would have responded to having their bottoms pinched by other men, so it shouldn't be a stretch to imagine how so many of the women must have felt about it both then and today.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        Not a good analogy/parallel, far better is:

        having been touched by women

        This does happen. It is not always welcome - then and now.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          "This does happen."

          Since a tie is no longer mandatory male attire then presumably women no longer have the licence to straighten it. Always reckoned to be a "good sign" - as was a woman casually resting her hand on a man's arm.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          Hmm I have to agree, I think (and I may be wrong), that womanly sexual assualt on guys is usually not touching, but visual, and takes the form of 'getting the girls out' and shoving them in front of your face. A Not Nice use of biological triggers ladies :-). Touching also qualifies but I think is far less common.

          1. GrapeBunch

            Re: Asimov was a letcher

            What I want to know is: are you a coward? Or are you a cowardess ?

            Thanks. See you next week. Ma'am.

      2. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        @Rich 11

        "It wasn't everyone though, was it? It was primarily men pinching women's bottoms, not everyone pinching everyone else's bottoms"

        Judging by actions over the last 20 years toward me I dont think women of a certain generation had any problem pinching the arse of a guy even if I am considerably younger. Through school there was always the groping by girls if they wanted to try it on in the classroom (consent? Ha!). The bladdered girl at the party trying to drag you off for a snog (yes late teens). None of this goes back 50 years, try less than 30.

        I have never found it difficult to illicit the opinion of a women on a guys looks. Often without asking for it. While things get painted as a one way street the truth is often more colourful.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          Going back to school days, I don't remember the boys ever playing kiss chase.

      3. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        > It was primarily men pinching women's bottoms, not everyone pinching everyone else's bottoms

        (Oh! The Humanity!) Seriously, though, most of us reading this aren't old enough to have actually lived it so our experience is second-hand and often based on hackneyed stereotypes. The reality that there were rules of conduct between men and women that you stuck to. These rules were more relaxed for certain groups so there may have been more physical contact among them but it wasn't universal by any means. If a man got a reputation as a bit of a lecher then respectable girls would keep their distance. Slightly less respectable ones.....well.....

        I find modern Puritanism objectionable, its not liberating, its cloying, repressive and is far too focused on the 'T'. Its judgmental but at the same time supremely ignorant. I hope it will eventually die out.

        1. Trixr

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          I'm far from puritan, but some dude grabbing my arse would find his balls up around my ears. And it was the case back then too, actually, except that women were mostly expected to put up with it, or get hubby to defend his property.

          At best, you hear most women of that era say "you put up with it". It's a vanishingly small number who enjoyed it. And even then, what you enjoy from someone you actually find attractive vs someone you don't can be quite different.

          As for reputation, maybe he had that reputation among men in his social circle, and the women he targeted, but it's really unlikely that women in general would have been in on the loop unless they were very close to it. Your random female fan in those relatively sheltered days would probably not be expecting the famous author Dr Asimov to be playing grab-arse with them.

          1. Dazed and Confused

            Re: Asimov was a letcher

            As for reputation, maybe he had that reputation among men in his social circle, and the women he targeted, but it's really unlikely that women in general would have been in on the loop unless they were very close to it.

            Funnily we were talking about this sort of thing with my mother the other day. She'd been a nurse back at the end of the war and through in to the early 50s. She commented that there were certain doctors that everyone knew not to stand close to.

            The situation with a famous author is likely different in that at a con are people around them are likely to be in a more open group, so there will be less chance for the warnings to spread.

            On the other hand there might have been a groupie effect. I've no idea whether he had that effect but I've known normally sane women throw their knickers at some celeb they fancy. Yeah I thought this was a myth too, but no. The fact that some (or even many) women throw themselves at a celeb doesn't give them license to assume all women will welcome their advances.

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: Asimov was a letcher

              I was a child in the 1970s and had parents who were probably slightly more progressive than others, and were certainly more restrained, so a lot of "that sort of thing" passed me by, but you only have to dig up one of the myriad "old news clips from the archive" shows that are on telly for proof that these things did happen, and were regarded as normal in many parts of society, and not confined to the output of slightly odd screenwriters who gave us the Carry On films, Are You Being Served, the Benny Hill Show and The Magnificent Evans.

              I realise it's Wales-biassed, but Tudur Owen hosts quite a good clips show which isn't all about the antics of half-cut miners in working men's clubs :-)


    4. StheD

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      Before he fled Boston during his divorce, Asimov would go to the MIT SF Society picnic every May. (With Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement). I was at the last of these in 1970. Even back then, he was a bit much. He was with Willy Ley's daughter, who he was clearly sleeping with, and I found out later he hit on a friend of mine who also attended. His son David came also - and the relationship did not look good. Those who read his F&SF science columns know that he always mentioned his daughter Robin but never David.

      However, he did have his good points. He sang all four versions of the Star Spangled Banner for us. He said that whenever some right-winger called him a Commie, he challenged them to a Star Spangled Banner sing-off.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      Hmm. How did he judge himself at the time? And how did others judge?

      I've got a copy of this book (the Corgi edition):

      "Asimov's lecherous limericks" contains this anecdote regarding verse 58: Asymmetry.

      "Having recited some limericks to a young lady with considerable success, I came to this one. [...] When I said 'By keeping one breast / In total arrest' I placed my hand on one of her breasts as though to keep it steady, and she paid no attention whatever, thinking it was part of the verse.

      "As soon as I work up my courage, I'll try it on someone else. (The trouble is that a succession of successes doesn't help. The first failure is likely to be a drastic one.)"

      - which I think shows that Asimov knew such behaviour was not entirely proper.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        By "drastic" failure, in this context, he's imagining getting slapped or shouted at, or at worst a punch in the face from a third party. Not legal proceedings or a scandal that would get him fired from his job or barred from polite society.

        "Not entirely proper", sure. But not "utterly beyond the pale", either. People looked at things differently 50 years ago. Just watch a couple of Carry On movies.

        1. GrapeBunch

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          Even at the time, I never thought that Carry On movies portrayed people. They flaunted actors--and worse.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          I related the limerick incident. I made a point of using mild language. In plain fact, Asimov's behaviour was not at the time utterly beyond the pale: he kept getting published and wasn't barred from polite society.

          As for the idea that the worst he'd get would be (e.g.) a punch in the face from a third party - actually, no. It could just as easily have been the first party. If he'd tried that sort of stunt with my mother (born in the 1930s), he might well have got a punch in the face from her which would have decked him. I am quite serious.

          Do Not Ask.

          Yes, people looked at things differently in times past. If you didn't actually leave any physical evidence of an assault, what was there for the law to worry about? That was one form of judgement. Another form of judgement was that some men were appalling pests and couldn't be trusted alone with women and there was nothing to be done about it but to spread the word. And so on.

          We've learnt more since. Some of us, anyway. And we're still ignorant.

    6. Robert Halloran

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      Asimov was a guest at an SF convention my now-wife was involved with in the early 80s while a graduate student. She said sharing an elevator with the man became a strenuous exercise in self-defense, and her female co-workers all shared similar experiences with her.

    7. strum

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      Bottom-pinching was wrong then, too (as Pohl's attitude confirms). It was just that blokes stuck together and ensured that any woman who objected was ridiculed into silence.

      You'd only need to ask leches like Asimov whether they'd approve of similar treatment of his sister?

    8. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      From what I've read, it was probably an outlet from his first marriage which he admitted was a mistake.

      He always liked sex, his first wife didn't, that built up frustration between them. There was also a professional distance between them. Gertrude wanted a university professorial doctor she could show off to society, environments Isaac was never comfortable in. He loved immersing himself in science and science fiction and SF conventions, things anathama to Gertrude.

      Marrying Janet Jepperson was the best thing he did in his personal life, he found somebody who enjoyed the physical side of life just as much as he did; as well as sharing professional interests.

      1. First Light

        Re: Asimov was a letcher

        Martial problems don't give anyone a license to feel people up.

        Nor does sexual frustration mean men or women are entitled to gratification at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

        Who knows, he may have been a sex addict.

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: Asimov was a letcher

          "Martial problems don't give anyone a license to feel people up."

          Nobody said it did.

    9. juice

      Re: Asimov was a letcher

      > I am always wary of judging someone's behaviour in years gone by with today's eyes.

      I generally agree with this principle - the Carry On films are a prime example of how much society has changed, and even media which is still popular today can carry odd overtones. For instance, I loved LOTR as a kid, but reading it as an adult makes me realise how much Tolkien believed in the class system, as exemplified by the relationship between "I know my place" Sam and Frodo.

      But in this case, I think it's pretty clear his behaviour was viewed as unacceptable at the time. To quote the article:


      To be frank, Asimov was a lecher. A sex pest. He was so renowned for being a buttock grabber that in 1962 he was invited to give a semi-serious talk at the World Science Fiction Convention on “The Positive Power of Posterior Pinching.”


      But in the late 1960s Asimov went through a period of grabbing the bottoms of women he found attractive – [Frederik] Pohl took the issue up with him.


      I'm also fairly sure that I read at some point[*] that it got to the point where women-crew at various conventions volunteered to act as gropees, so he wouldn't attack attendees or other celebrities.

      Any which way, it's pretty clear that Asimov did it because he knew he could get away with it because of who he was, not because it was acceptable at the time. Much like a certain american businessman, whose proclamation that "you can grab them by the pussy" didn't seem to harm his ability to be elected as US president. Or in the UK, where Jimmy Saville managed to retain a spotless reputation for decades until his death opened the floodgates.

      It's a shame that none were ever seriously challenged (or at least: if they were, it was hushed up or waved away), as a lot of individuals and maybe even the world would be in a better place...

      [*] IIRC, it was an editorial in one of the American short-story magazines, and it was phrased in a distinctly sanitised, zero-libel way. Not sure which though; I ploughed through hundreds of these a few years back. May even have been Asimov, ironically...

    10. Ian Michael Gumby

      Re: Asimov was a letcher


      Try Heinlein.

      Care to compare story and plot lines within their various universes?

  3. SonofRojBlake


    Favourite Asimov quote: "If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."

    1. keith_w

      Re: Quote

      My favourite Asimov quote: "Harlan says he isn't 5'2" tall. But if he stands on his tip-toes, he is."

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Quote

      "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent".

  4. Just Enough

    frustrating genius

    I used to love Asimov as a teenager, but as I got older I became more conscious of his flaws that largely spoiled his work.

    His dialogue is clunky for a start. He has an annoying habit of illustrating his points and ideas repeatedly. So you often find characters explaining things to you at exhausting length, yet again, when all the time you were wishing they'd just get on with things. And his characters inter-relationships never sounded real. Just people talking at each other. He also couldn't write female characters for toffee.

    There's no doubt he was a genius writer and visionary, but I find reading him frustrating now.

    1. Kubla Cant

      Re: frustrating genius

      That's my recollection, too.

      SF is a curious genre. I was addicted to it in my early 20s, then I suddenly lost interest. From time to time I read a rave review of a new SF novel and I give it a try again, but I can rarely get beyond the first chapters.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: suddenly lost interest

        Frankly a lot isn't exactly SF, but Fantasy and Space Opera. Or full of egotistical Transhumanism and infeasible AI.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: frustrating genius

        I too went through an SF phase, from the ages of about 15 to 25, but gradually devolved more into honest fantasy, which is to say "SF that doesn't try to pretend it's based on science".

        However, I can still find "SF", of sorts, to grip me. Have you tried Connie Willis, or even Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go?

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: frustrating genius

          The works of the late great Iain (M) Banks are, to me, what modern sci-fi can be; not space-opera, and not generally relying on "future technology" as a mcguffin in place of plot. All good literature is about the characters, not the setting.

          1. Dolvaran

            Re: frustrating genius

            Give me James Blish anyday!

    2. ForthIsNotDead
      Thumb Up

      Re: frustrating genius

      I know what you mean. I also had that exact same reaction to Alan Sillitoe (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner).

    3. mdubash

      Re: frustrating genius

      Yes, he did struggle to distinguish between his characters - they all spoke the same, without humour, and in an explacatory manner. It was him, really...

    4. Mage Silver badge

      Re: frustrating genius

      Certainly I think it was a mistake returning to the Foundation series in the 1980s. His detective stuff was good.

      I always thought the 3 laws where really a sort of "locked room" detective thing, set up the laws and then have a story figuring out why the robot broke them. I never (even in 1960s & 1970s) thought they were serious suggestions about what humanoid robots would be like. Also the give-away is the idea that the Positronic brain INHERENTLY had the laws, they weren't simply an addition to programming. Also the "robots" are not much like computers today, nor like the computers in his stories, it was SF themed detective stories. See also Caves of Steel.

      Now which is the only story he wrote himself that it's suggest the characters are not humans?





      The original Nightfall short story (not so much the late novelization).

      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: frustrating genius

        Now which is the only story he wrote himself that it's suggest the characters are not humans?

        Pretty sure he wrote "Blind Alley” and The Gods Themselves. I think there were others, but that's what a quick search yielded.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: frustrating genius

          He definitely wrote The Gods Themselves, a book in three parts, the first "Against Stupidity" set on Earth, finding communication with a parallel universe with different laws of physics, the second "The Gods Themselves" a genuine and somewhat successful attempt at describing a totally alien society with free-spirited ethereal juveniles and 'hard' and more ruthless adults communicating with and exploiting the Earth's universe for free power, and the third "Contend in Vain" back on Earth with a realisation that the power transfer is harming the sun, but that being suppressed by ego and free power.

          It could easily have been an environmental allegory, and I often think of "Against Stupidity The Gods Themselves Contend in Vain" when the current crop of politicians appear on the news with their lates twit-belch. I assume it is a quotation from something more classical?

          On a non-sci-fi but still fiction note, I loved his Tales of the Black Widowers which was definitely closed room detective work (in this case it was the butler that solved it). Highly recommend for light, entertaining and sometimes amusing detective-like short stories.

          1. Stevie

            Re: frustrating genius

            The Gods Themselves contains a rape scene that takes place between "married" non-human aliens that is entirely non-titilating, hinging as it does on a (probably over-explained for some) mechanism of reproduction that has no equivalent in human terms, and that entirely outraged me on the victim's behalf.

            Asimov's work may not age well sometimes, but even in the 1980s he retained the power of imagination to come up with an astounding and disturbing idea, and the ability to write it up in an effective manner.

            I found some of TGT to be tediously written, and it took some effort to get into the story because of that same effect others have noted - my tastes have changed over the years of reading SF since the heady days of finding "I Robot" and "Foundation" in the Panther edition circa 1970.

            But the ideas in the story are astounding. Nip down your local library and try it out for yourself.

      2. juice

        Re: frustrating genius

        > I always thought the 3 laws where really a sort of "locked room" detective thing, set up the laws and then have a story figuring out why the robot broke them. I never (even in 1960s & 1970s) thought they were serious suggestions about what humanoid robots would be like.

        IIRC (and again, this is straining brain cells which haven't been queried for a while) - that's pretty much exactly right: each of his 3-laws stories was an attempt to find and document loopholes in the laws. As it would be pretty boring to read about robots which behaved exactly as expected!

        In some ways, and as with Sir Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, he was a victim of his own success, as he was pushed into writing a lot more Robot stories than originally planned.

    5. ratfox

      Re: frustrating genius

      When I was young, I used to prefer his later work; it's the opposite now. The difference between the initial Foundation trilogy and the later additions is quite obvious.

      I would snarkily say that his way of writing character relationships probably mirrored his own interpersonal skills: He was a brilliant conversationist and speech maker, but probably not a very empathetic person.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Professorial Sci-Fi

      I have to agree. In his early writing he too often sounds like a professor delivering a lecture. The characters are like his Teaching Assistants - intelligent but lacking in personality.

      Still, the ideas (and the plot) make the books seminal, enduring, and well worth reading even now.

  5. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Other writing

    To fill in a gap in my timetable during the last year of my degree in the early '80s, I signed up to an anthropology course (at the time, it seemed marginally more interesting than History and Philosophy of Science, although I'm not so sure now).

    I needed to find a subject for an assignment, and I pulled from the anthropology section of the main Science library a collection of essays to try and find some inspiration.

    Looking through the index, I saw an article on current and future society, and was shocked to see that it was written by the aforementioned Isaac Asimov. I was a prolific Science Fiction reader at the time, and consumed this with some gusto, very interested in what he had to say on the subject.

    He was very prophetic. The article had been written in the late 1960s or early '70s, and he was already worried about the population on Earth, the tension between population and resources, and the role technology would take in allowing the planet to support this increasing population (if you remember, he had theorized about a world that was completely built over in his Sci-Fi, Trantor, in the Foundation series).

    He came up with some startling conclusions. He said the role of Religion in promoting large families (particularly Catholicism, but also non-Christian religions) had to be countered, that birth control had to be promoted and made freely available particularly to the poorest in society, and that increase in population for some 2nd and 3rd world countries had to be downgraded as a indicator of the success of those countries. The most startling was that he was saying that homosexuality should not only be accepted, but should be promoted as a whole-life lifestyle, if only as a population control measure! (although I'm not sure what he would have made about surrogacy and other methods, as I got the impression that he thought that same-sex relationships would be childless).

    In the time since, I have read a number of his collected non-fiction articles (as well as some of his crime fiction), and I'm sure that my current world-view has been very heavily influenced by what he wrote, as the more I read, the more it chimed with my own thinking.

    I did not pick up that it was AIDS that had killed him. It's somewhat ironic I think to find that someone who was so prophetic, and knew about biochemistry, was killed essentially by a side effect of a technology he had not picked up on.

    1. JimC

      Re: Other writing

      Those views about population, resources, catholicism/large families and so on were utterly conventional in the late 1960s. There was nothing especially radical about them.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Other writing

        There was nothing especially radical about them.

        If anything, the "radical" thinkers were moving away from those subjects by the late 1960s, probably because taken to their logical conclusions:

        [Peter Gathercole] birth control had to be promoted and made freely available particularly to the poorest in society

        they are essentially the remnants of eugenics.


        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Other writing

          Whilst I understand the similarity to eugenics, the thoughts were not to deny the people the right to have children, but to make sure that family sizes were constrained to try to stop the rise in global population. Eugenics was just one facet of a larger whole.

          In many traditional societies, a large number of children is/was required to ensure that enough of them survived to take care of the parents in old age. It is using the extended family essentially as a pension.

          With modern medicines, better living conditions, cleaner water and better food supply (yes, I know that there are areas of the world where food and water supply is not good), the need for a large number of children has largely been rendered unnecessary. Continuing to have large families makes the limited resources, especially in the aforementioned areas, adds to the overall problem.

          The way I look at it, giving the people the ability to control the number of children they have, if implemented correctly, is a means of getting the poorest a boost out of poverty, not to eliminate them from society.

          And religious (and political) practices that encourage large families do not help. Historically, it was necessary. When people were migrating to unpopulated areas of the world, increasing the population was necessary to ensure survival, and this can historically been seen in Jewish society (back in the wandering tribes of Israel), the American west, and I'm sure other times and places in history. Those days are over, and we must, MUST curb the population rise or find another planet to ship the surplus population to.

          Unfortunately even modern western consumerism and capitalism have become infected with the need to have an ever increasing pool of workers and consumers (thus a rising population), so politically, even in the so-called First World, population rise has been seen as something necessary. In fact, most national pension schemes are built around an ever increasing pool of workers paying taxes to support the smaller number of retired people living on a pension. This is simply not sustainable.

          What Asimov (and others) were suggesting, and I agree with, is not eugenics. It is racial survival!

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Other writing

            The best contraceptive seems - across the years - to be education. Simple but broad education helps people to "better themselves" (not a fan of that term, but it conveys a meaning), and people who are more secure feel less need for the large families - for plenty of children to help scratch a living from the land, to bring in dowries on marriage, to look after you when you are old. It's not as if varied methods of birth control aren't available worldwide, it's that without education people don't necessarily understand the benefits.

            On a very crude level, a woman who is educated - especially if she has a job - will almost always delay starting a family. Having your first child later means less opportunity to produce children.

            It's a very complicated subject and just providing the method of control doesn't work so well without the other things.

            I'm probably utterly misrepresenting the man, but the impression I got wasn't one of suggesting birth control as a way of helping the poor of the third world out of poverty, per se, it was more a colonial "look at these savages who aren't as sophisticated as us, let's teach them cricket".

            Eugenics was still "a thing" in the 1950s and 1960s and only really started fading out in the 1970s, even among people who were otherwise incredibly progressive. I know a person who spent the best part of their life improving the lives of those with what used to be termed "mental handicaps", treating them as people with skills to offer society, and not as sub-human anomalies deserving of a life locked up in an asylum, and yet this person still to this day would argue for - if you asked - sterilisation of such people and would advise abortion if a diagnosis was made prenatally.

            <aside>I had quite shocking personal experience of this when one of my own children was born with a medical condition needing quite a lot of hospital treatment, but which was not at all life-threatening or -limiting and certainly had no bearing on mental acuities. One of my (admittedly elderly) relatives' first reaction wasn't "congratulations on your new baby" but "oh dear, I am sorry", and for the next fifteen years or so conversations often started along the lines of "how is poor x these days?"</aside>

            It's only one step from there (sterilisation) (and thankfully it's a step that person doesn't take) to argue that children growing up in certain "sink estates" should have long term contraceptives fitted by default, so that they don't become parents as soon as they leave school.

            Suggesting that birth control is "the answer" sees "overpopulation" as a singular problem, and doesn't understand that "lifestyle" is a large part of it. I have no evidence to back this up (look up those regular "how many planets" articles) but it's entirely possible that a family of two grandparents, two parents and six children living a simple but productive life in one of the poorer parts of the globe actually has a small fraction of the environmental impact that a 2+2 family has in the western world. The planet could probably support more people overall if we in the west reduced our use of its resources, even if people in the poorer parts started using more.

            Population rise in the "western world" is an interesting thing. It is absolutely not happening because of the birth rate. In the UK, for example, the average fertility rate in 2018 (children in each "completed family") is 1.89 children, with the total fertility rate (see the source) now at 1.70 per woman - and it has been below 2.0 (the crude replacement rate) since the mid 1970s.

            Maybe I'm overthinking it. I certainly don't have the answers, and as a westerner I'm part of the problem.


    2. baud

      Re: Other writing

      > he was already worried about the population on Earth, the tension between population and resources

      It was nothing new, Malthus had already started talking about that a century earlier

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Other writing

        Yes, but the difference between Malthus and later thinkers like Asimov was the accelerating effect of technology on increasing the potential capacity of Earth. I'm sure that we've already exceeded by at least a couple of orders of magnitude the maximum population that Malthus predicted, if he did at all.

        Back in Malthus's day the rate of technological development, although very significant was relatively slow compared to the 20th Century. So we had the water powered mills, and maybe the beginnings of the steam age, both of which allowed production and thus population to become centralized. This started the migration of workers from the country to the cities. But the main means of transport was still by water, be it by sea or canal with wind or animal power, and the slow movement of goods prevented very large cities from developing.

        By the time Asimov was writing, we had both the internal combustion engine and electricity integrated into society, which effectively allowed the countryside to be abandoned to the few people needed to run the farm machinery. Rapid bulk transport of people and goods was the norm. We were well into the atomic age, and would see the development of nuclear energy within his lifetime. Flying was becoming a viable form of transport to the wealthy, and the prospect of electronics and automation would appear to make it inevitable that even more people would be concentrated in the cities.

        You see his thinking in books like "The Caves of Steel", the likely effect on society in the follow up books "The Naked Sun" and "Robots of Dawn", and also his further extrapolation of this to the planet Trantor in "Foundation", where the whole planet was built over.

        So I would still defend Asimov as being visionary, as he could see further into possible futures than Malthus, due to his solid grounding in science, and his outlook on the future as a Science Fiction writer.

  6. adam 40 Silver badge

    Happy Xmas Eve!

    "January 2 as a likely date, and one that allowed for an extra holiday after the Christmas festivities"

    Well, as this is the Russian Orthodox Church, I think you'll find Xmas Day is tomorrow, and they have had off from 31st Dec to today already as holiday, so it won't be "extra" at all....

    But it will fit in with an otherwise spare day offski!

    1. keith_w

      Re: Happy Xmas Eve!

      However, he wasn't living in a Orthodox country, he was living in the United States when he chose his birthday, so despite the fact that he was Russian Jew, he chose his birthday on the basis of a non-Orthodox Christmas celebration.

    2. Christoph

      Re: Happy Xmas Eve!

      I doubt he picked his birthday by the age of three when he left Russia? Or stuck to the original version of Christianity when he was Jewish?

  7. Dapprman
    Thumb Up

    Foundation and The Register

    I didn't realise it was his birthday. I've actually just finished a re-read of Foundation and the Empire (actually audio book this time) as I'm going through the series once more over the next six months. Must admit it if heavy going at times and showing it's age, but still good. If memory serves me correctly the Robots series was a far easier read.

  8. keith_w

    Anyone who is interested in early Science Fiction should read the book "Astounding" which recounts the life of that magazine and many of the authors who graced it's pages, including Isaac Asimov, R.A. Heinlein, and John Campbell.

    1. StheD

      And L. Ron Hubbard. But seconded - this an excellent book.

  9. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

    .. unlike some of his contemporaries (I'm looking at you - E.E. Doc Smith). Re-reading his books as an adult really, really made me cringe..

    As to Asimov - unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he wrote *serious* Sci-fi (as in Sci-fi that was believable) without getting bogged down by technology.

    1. myhandler

      Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

      You "read" EE Doc Smith? - I gave up on chapter two of whatever book it was - absolute trash.

      1. Gary Heard

        EE 'Doc' Smith

        I read the whole "Lensman" series when a youngster, they were so bad they were good. First series of books where I thought "If the baddies are so powerful why didn't they just steamroller the 'Goodies' at the beginning".

        They were total rubbish, but didn't stop me enjoying them

        1. Martin Gregorie

          Re: EE 'Doc' Smith

          I've always lumped 'Doc' Smith and A E van Vogt together as authors of fairly incoherent, BEM filled rubbish that I gave up while still a teenager.

          But a (very) recent rediscovery is just how good some of Fred Hoyle's books are, especially 'The Black Cloud' and 'Ossian's Ride'.

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: EE 'Doc' Smith

            But certainly you might regard the Skylark as "inventing" the Space Opera genre.

        2. Tom 7

          Re: EE 'Doc' Smith

          The Lensman series - what 5 books and before cut and paste every new weapon was an order of magnitude more powerful and the descriptions of the explosions were the same all the way through!

          1. the Jim bloke

            Re: EE 'Doc' Smith


            Every book had a more ultimate ultimate weapon.

            Pretty much what hollywood does with sequels these days.

            Also the Skylark series

            Not sure what the intended target audience was, but I was reading them as a teenager - or 'young adult' these days, which is a market well populated with ego-boosts and appeals to the unjustly persecuted and misunderstood

      2. Stevie

        Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

        You "read" EE Doc Smith? - I gave up on chapter two of whatever book it was - absolute trash.

        I think you meant to say it was sheerly, starkly unthinkable.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

      I thought that the Lensmen series by EE 'Doc' Smith were not as bad as some of his output, as there were some very strong female characters (Clarissa in "Second Stage Lensman" and the two sets of twins in "Children of the Lens"), and they were not the typical maiden in distress that you often saw in Science Fiction.

      This included a human-like race where the women had subjugated the men and lived in what was essentially a female only society. And a significant number of the baddies were either sexless or included women as well as men.

      The last book ("The Vortex Blaster" or "Masters of the Vortex" depending on where you lived) laughingly included in the series was total drivel, however, even though the main female character was still essential to the story.

      Some of his other books, like Galaxy Primes (UK title, I think it was known as something else in the US) had women in equal, if different importance with the men (in fact, the whole plot of the book was about male and female characters complementing each other in relationships that were more than the sum of their parts).

      And in the Family D'Alenbert books, his last works (although it is debatable how much more than the plot outline he was responsible for), the female characters were again essential in the whole story as vital members, having equal story time as the male characters.

      Skylark was, however, very much typical of the women being essentially MacGuffins, but they were much earlier works.

      All of his books were a product of their time, reflecting most other aspects of life in the first half of the 20th Century. In this day and age, it's all dated, but that's the point. It was not written for today's world and attitudes, and should be taken as a reflection of the times they were written in.

      I'm sure that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells could have similar complaints about how they were written, but that is just normal for the time.

      1. juice

        Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

        > I thought that the Lensmen series by EE 'Doc' Smith were not as bad as some of his output, as there were some very strong female characters (Clarissa in "Second Stage Lensman" and the two sets of twins in "Children of the Lens"), and they were not the typical maiden in distress that you often saw in Science Fiction.

        Yeps - for all that there's a few damsels in distress with heaving bosums and minimal clothing, he did have a few strong characters, and even made a point of making Clarissa (as the only female Red Lensman) actually more powerful than pretty much any of the male lensman, primarily because she was better at multitasking ;)

        Equally, he was one of the first pulp sci-fi writers (Triplanetary, which was retrofitted into becoming the first Lensman book in 1948) was written in 1934, and all of his books were originally serialised in magazines, so had to fit the design briefs by the editors.

        Then too, he actually broke the fourth wall in Children of the Lens, and parodied the traditional space-opera template in a scene when Kinnison pretends to be a writer...


        To stay in character Kinnison actually wrote a novel; it was later acclaimed as one of Sybly Whyte's best.

        "Qadgop the Mercotan slithered flatly around the after-bulge of the tranship. One claw dug into the meters-thick armor of pure neutronium, then another. Its terrible xmex-like snout locked on. Its zymolosely polydactile tongue crunched out, crashed down, rasped across. Slurp! Slurp! At each abrasive stroke the groove in the tranship's plating deepened and Qadgop leered more fiercely. Fools! Did they think that the airlessness of absolute space, the heatlessness of absolute zero, the yieldlessness of absolute neutronium, could stop QADGOP THE MERCOTAN? And the stowaway, that human wench Cynthia, cowering in helpless terror just beyond this thin and fragile wall . . ."


        1. Stevie

          Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

          Anyone who has chortled through an EE "Doc" Smith epic should look for these two Harry Harrison works:

          Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (novel)

          Space Rats of the CCC (short story)

          Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers takes the framework of Skylark, sorta*, and tweaks the nose of just about every famous SF book available around '71. Space Rats of the CCC is just a delight from start to end. All written in the extreme hyperbole-riddled style of the Doc and side-splittingly funny. I'm laughing now just at the memory of some of the scenes from each.

          * - The spacecraft is a jumbo jet, and the FTL is courtesy of a chunk of irradiated cheddar - the Cheddite Projector.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

            "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (novel)"

            Yep. Brilliant. I loved the bit where the pretty young thing took so long making her mind up over the two heroes that they eventually discovered they were gay and got together :-) Even that was pretty revolutionary for it's day as a plot point.

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

            Argh! tea | nose error from the memory!

            1. Stevie

              Re: He certainly wasn’t misogynist in his science fiction..

              Better check your mind-shield wasn't flushed away, or you could fall prey to the vile Hag-Loos.

  10. mdubash

    Great summary

    Thanks Iain - good to be reminded of the man's attributes -- good and bad. He who brought SF to the world...

    1. Gary Heard

      Re: Great summary

      Popularised it maybe, but "Bringing it to the World"??

      Mary Shelley, H G Wells and Jules Verne claim prior art as well as many others

      1. STOP_FORTH

        Re: Great summary

        Lord Dunsany springs to mind, although most of his stuff was fantasy and/or comic.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: brought SF to the world?

      Loads of SF before E E "Doc" Smith. He did popularise Space opera.

      Is this the oldest SF?

      "A True Story is a novel written in the second century AD by Lucian of Samosata, a Greek-speaking author of Assyrian descent."

      Available on Gutenberg and very entertaining, more so than I M Banks, IMO. The 1940s and 1950s was maybe the "golden age" of SF short stories.

      By 1980s even the popular folk that had written well in 1950s seemed poorer. But then I think that ST-TOS had more real SF stories than ST-TNG, if you subtract off Time Travel and Parallel Earth Development stories.

      Loads of 19th C and some 18th C. SF.

  11. Mystic Megabyte


    It was Alistair Cooke who said that when you have no news, anniversaries are your friend.

    Only a moderate FAIL because I've read and enjoyed Asimov ==========>

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Journalists

      But in a newspaper (or whatever El Reg should be called) - even a subject specific one rather than a general one - not all the content should be news. You want a mixture of straight news, analysis, comment and interesting stuff.

      Incidentally I highly recommend Cooke's 'Letters from America'. The Beeb have put about 900 of them out as podcasts, in series. Which I listened to all of many years ago before I had too many podcasts to get through. He's rather repeating himiself by the 1980s, but some of the stuff on the 50s (plus references back to the 20s and 30s is very interesting and his coverage of the 60s and 70s is also great. Because his podcasts were always meant to be about taking a step back from the current news stories - and maybe trying to add some historical context - they haven't dated in the way that straight news output does.

      1. VictimMildew

        Re: Letters from America

        The odd thing about Cooke's Letters is that they're fascinating to listen to but almost completely unreadable.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Journalists

      Yeah, I'm really missing those riveting reports on yield rates in the semiconductor industry.

      (You know them – they're the ones with zero comments.)

  12. SVV

    asked by Paul McCartney to write a science fiction musical for his then-band Wings

    .... although the idea was eventually dropped.

    I would guess that Isaac was following his own laws of robotics here, and was unable to perform a task that would cause human beings harm.

    1. GrapeBunch

      Re: asked by Paul McCartney to write a science fiction musical for his then-band Wings

      It was an Idea that had Wings but Aught Else.

  13. DaemonProcess

    4th law

    Actually the end of the Robots series brought up the requirement of a 4th law of robotics, based around the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, which would under those circumstances allow robots to kill people if it saved others, therefore bringing forth the debate about the quality of information, equality of races, are robot armies justified and all of that - basically an invitation for others to follow on the story developing these philosophical questions. For example would we allow an autonomous robot drone to kill an enemy general if that saves multiple lives elsewhere (I know AF drones are currently remote control, mostly). Topical.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: 4th law

      I think you men the "zero-th" law, as it took precedence over the first law.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. dmck

    The Robots of Dawn

    Detective Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw solve the third book.

    4th Law added - The rights of the many are more important that the rights of the few.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      If you get to the end of the set (is it "Robots and Earth"?), you find out that the Robots and Foundation stories are actually in the same universe (or at least in a merged universe).

      And in the prequel books to Foundation that have input from other authors, you find out that Hari Seldon was actually R. Daneel Olivaw! Whether this was Isaac's intention, I don't know.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        He also pulled End of Eternity into the series. It's a bit convoluted though.

        A yes.

      2. Criggie

        Hoi! Spoilers!!! *scold*

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Can you have spoilers on books which are that old?

      3. TSM

        I think you're mistaken here. In "Prelude to Foundation", we find that R. Daneel Olivaw is the one (acting in the persona of Demerzel, the Emperor's right hand man) who sets Hari Seldon on the path to developing psychohistory. And of course he also turns out to be the one who set up Gaia.

        I haven't actually read the Foundation books that were written by other authors, so it may be that what you say is true, but if so it would be a massive contradiction with the canon books.

  15. Mark 85

    In spite of what some may think, I do believe he was a genius, and his topics on which he wrote say he was more than a genius. A true renaissance man. Here's to you Isaac.

  16. Dedobot

    Used to grow with Asimov, Clark, Simak...but the Strugatski brothers are my sci-fi and not only, love.


  17. gormful

    In 1973 I attended a lecture by Asimov at college.

    After the talk, I stood in line and watched him patiently sign fifty or sixty copies of "I, Robot" and the Science Fiction Book Club edition of "Foundation Trilogy". When it was my turn, I bashfully turned over my copy of "101 Lecherous Limericks" (it was the only Asimov book I had on with me on campus).

    His face lit up, and he stood up and declaimed a couple of dozen REALLY filthy (and really funny) limericks.

    Good times...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I always recall one of his short stories - probably "The Dead Past” (1956). The government owns a new machine that could recreate images (video) of the past - anywhere, any time, even in the dark. Its undisclosed flaw is that noise degradation limits the effective recall period to only recent years. To keep the secret - historians are denied research access to the mammoth machine.

    A frustrated history professor challenges a young scientist to come up with a cheap small version. He does = and the design is published for anyone to make at home.

    Then the problem becomes obvious - anyone can see what anyone else was doing recently. As the government man says (paraphrased) "Welcome to the goldfish bowl".

    There was also another social side-effect - in that some people spent all their time replaying "video" of a particularly happy part of their life.

    1. Nifty Silver badge

      Asimov's prescience does bring out the goose pimples.

      1. juice

        > Asimov's prescience does bring out the goose pimples

        In this case, he may have been riffing on something in the book Childshood End, written by Arthur C Clarke in 1953.

        I don't have a copy of this close to hand, but to (badly) paraphrase: aliens land and attempt to steer humanity towards the next stage of evolution. As part of this, the aliens provide viewing machines which can display any event from any period of human time. This causes a huge fuss from various parties (celebrities, politicians and people with criminal connections), so they end up slapping a lock on it to prevent people viewing events from the last century...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I remember this story (vaguely). One of the other issues raised in it (IIRC) is one of the characters wanting to suppress the designs because in his past his child died in a house fire and he has kept the secret that he can't remember if he put his cigarette out properly before leaving it in an ashtray on the sofa. With the designs made public, he and anyone else would be able to find out.

  19. Nifty Silver badge

    Who recalls the excellent Radio 4 adaptation of the Foundation trilogy? With sound effects from the incomparable Radiophonic Workshop.

    Have all the tapes been lost? There's another lost BBC Radio SF drama of that era that would be perfect in today's global warming culture about life in England once the oil ran out. If you swap 'ran out' for 'can't be used' it could be replayed today and called cutting edge.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      BBC TV had some notable ones. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" terrified me as a kid in the 1950s - as did "Quatermass and the Pit". There was also the prescient "The Year of the Sex Olympics" (1968). All from Nigel Kneale.

      1. Nifty Silver badge

        Coincidentally I recorded Quatermass and the Pit off the Talking Pictures channel on Freeview a few days ago. Amazed to see it was in colour and good definition.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Amazed to see it was in colour and good definition."

          That is probably the 1967 Hammer film version. The original was a BBC TV series in 1958.

          IIRC a BBC documentary*** showed how they did some of the latter's special effects: a path's gravel rippling under the fingers of a prone man (outside a vicarage?); electricity cables waving about wildly in the excavation site. Probably don't remember any other scary bits as I was hiding behind the sofa.

          ***Possibly a 2002 Timeshift programme "The Kneale Tapes"??

      2. W.S.Gosset

        > Year of the Sex Olympics

        wiki: a world of the future where a small elite control the media, keeping the lower classes docile by serving them an endless diet of lowest common denominator programmes and pornography.


        That's... frighteningly accurate today.

        Although perhaps replace "docile" with "targettedly outraged".

    2. Ticowboy

      Get it here

      and thank you for your comment. It prompted me to dig around and have found lots of other recordings and stuff that will keep me busy for weeks.

    3. mdubash

      Yes, I remember listening at the time - and cassettes (!) of a copied version were among my prized possessions at one point A Long Time Ago. But I don't recall ever re-listening to it more than once...

    4. Dazed and Confused

      I remember listening to the BBC series when I was young, the transistor radio hidden under the pillow I must have been 10 or 11. It had be totally hooked. A few years later I found my sister's boyfriend had the series on open real tape and I copied it. Later on they published it on cassette tape, I've still got the set somewhere. But you can now get it from various places, I've got it from Audible along with an unabridged rendition. The first two books are very close to the original, the radio adaptation of Second Foundation is much further from the original but I think I actually prefer it but that might just be because I heard that first and I'm more familiar with it.

    5. GrimPilgrim

      This one?

      Is this the series you mean?

      If so you should be able to refresh your ears with it - the sound quality isn't the best but it's certainly listenable to.

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Who recalls the excellent Radio 4 adaptation of the Foundation trilogy? With sound effects from the incomparable Radiophonic Workshop."

      Yes! I listened live. I didn't have a tape recorder back then :-(

      I think I read somewhere that Netflix/Amazon/Apple/Someone is looking to make a series/miniseries of Foundation.

  20. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Sad story

    I read my copy of "Asimov on Science" which was a 30 year collection of essays, written in 1989, 2 years before he died of AIDS contracted during a triple bypass.

    One of the essays was written in 1964 about the maximum number of heartbeats for mammals, and in the afterward he says that was a quarter century and a billion heartbeats ago, mentions the triple bypass, and is very upbeat and optimistic about his own future.


    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Alex Wilson

    My dad read me Aldiss, Asimov, Blish, Norton and many others as a small child, so when I learned to read for myself I voraciously devoured all the scifi I could get my grubby little hands on... as a 10 year old I read everything EE Doc Smith wrote and begged borrowed (and even stole!) to complete my collection.

    I'm a fast reader so I've always struggled to find enough to read, even now I still read up to a book a day (thank god for ebooks!).

    I mostly swing between Fantasy/urban fantasy and military scifi these days but still sample freely across the whole spectrum of modern scifi, I rarely re-read or re-watch anything... there's always something newer and shinier in scifi!

    But its Asimov and Clarke that really formed my tastes and I'm eternally grateful to them for the things they taught me, the sense of wonder, wanting to know everything...

  22. The C Man

    The Missing Author from The Greats.

    For me one of the greats was Theodore Sturgeon. He took Sci-Fi in new directions with the concept of gestalt personalities but for me his first published book "The Dreaming Jewels" and his short story "To Marry Medusa" (condensed from "The Cosmic Rape") were the ones that made me a Sci-Fi fan. I return to them time and time again.

  23. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    I always find it hilarious when people try to judge books, movies, and music by todays standards. I thoroughly enjoyed Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, EE Smith, Van Vogt, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven, Edmund Cooper/Richard Avery and many others in my youth and many of them I still occasionally re-read and enjoy. I don't expect them to comply with todays ethical standards as that would be both pointless and narrow-minded. Were the authors imperfect? Of course they were, they were human, and products of their time and their upbringing. I won't stop re-reading their stories just because some 21st Century snowflake takes umbrage at their 20th Century behaviour. In fact, knowing that Asimov was a bit of lecher broadens my understanding of his writing. Now to go re-read some of my youth. I think I feel a Ringworld/Stainless Steel Rat binge-read coming on. :-)

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Nice to see Harrison mentioned. I feel he is often overlooked because his books weren't "serious". He did a great job of taking the piss out of more self-important authors in his "Bill the Galactic Hero" series, and the Stainless Steel Rat is the original sci-fi anti-hero.

    2. Sherrie Ludwig

      @Big Boomer

      I am a woman who can enjoy even old "boobs and blasters" SF if it is well-written, one of my favorite (now largely forgotten) writers is H. Beam Piper, as unreconstructed a sexist and racist as you will ever read, but he could write. Asimov, like many male writers, had a hard time writing women characters, the first male SF writer I read who could was John Varley (Titian, et. al.).

    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      A very precient bit from Niven, from I think one of the Motie books, something like:

      They all sat down and took their pocket computers out. They hummed and buzzed as they connected to the shipboard computer, and (the people) tapped at them until the Chair cleared his throat to bring their attention to the meeting at hand.

      I've been in oh so many meetings that start like that.

  24. Danny 2

    I have no mouse and I must squeak

    But there was a darker side, which some would argue (as Harlan Ellison did) was simply the way things were done back then.

    Oh, Harlan. To quote Mandy Rice-Davies, "He would say that, wouldn't he."

    If any young singletons have read this thread, don't alphabetise your sci-fi books. Any sane girl, except librarians, will run in horror and you'll either be nominated for a Darwin Award or polluting the gene pool. Leave them in random order, and interspersed with other books you don't even have to read or like. Give the impression of normality. Plus it makes looking for a book more fun.

  25. Sherrie Ludwig

    My experience with Dr. Asimov

    I am an avid reader of SF, and attended the 1980 WorldCon in Boston that year. At that time, I was, if I may say so myself, a very good-looking twenty-something. I was also new-married, and was standing in his autograph line with two books (the limit per person), one a copy of I, Robot to be autographed for my mother-in-law, and a copy of Murder at the ABA, Asimov's non-SF but highly entertaining murder mystery for myself. Directly in front of me was a sweet girl who was classic jailbait, about 15, buxom, and adorable. Dr. Asimov was autographing books and kissing any female willing to be bussed. He got to Ms. Jailbait, autographed her books, stood up, looked at her for a moment and said, "how old are you, my dear?" She, giggling, told him, "15". He solemnly shook her hand.

    When my turn came, I told him the I Robot was for my mother-in-law, and that she underlined passages in books she particularly liked, and that the only other writer she underlined more was Camus. He looked through the book briefly to note the underlinings, and autographed it. I said that while I owned a lot of his books, I chose this one for its uniqueness, it being his only murder mystery. He autographed it, stood up and swept me into a full-on, lean-back movie kiss. Yes, sideburns DO tickle.

    Later, I attended the lecture given by Dr. Robert L. Forward of JPL, scientist and author of some very good SF himself, on interstellar propulsion drives. I looked behind me, and there were Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl, sitting together and taking detailed notes. Great times.

    1. Danny 2

      Re: My experience with Dr. Asimov

      "Classic jailbait"‽ You mean she was tempting him into raping her because she was a pretty child, and you'd sympathise with him if he had?

      This metoo# movement must be as confusing to you as it is to your pussy grabbing President.

      1. Stevie

        Re: My experience with Dr. Asimov

        Oh Danny, if you can't work the jargon don't play with it.

        1. Danny 2

          Re: My experience with Dr. Asimov

          Stevie, that was my point too.

          I watched a US TV film thing yesterday that had a Gary Glitter song in it, not for the first time. Unlike Michael Jackson and many others celebrity 'creators' Paul Gadd was convicted and yet his dubious work is still in popular culture earning someone royalties.

          There is a philosophical argument about the work of monstrous humans and how we approach it, but in my opinion there should be no argument over profiting from it.

          I'd be offended by Gary Glitter the Musical, but I'd be appalled by Paul Gadd profiting from it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My experience with Dr. Asimov

        Jailbait has nothing to do with rape it means "a young woman, or young women collectively, considered in sexual terms but under the age of consent.". the issues of young woman choosing to place themselves in this situation than many legal systems have what are known as "young man defences" - if a young man meets a young woman in a place (such as a night club) the court may consider the situation instead of just a formal charge of under age sex or rape if a case is brought.

        Yes it seems that Asimov was a letch, but during his life a rarther large percentage of the westen male population acted in the same way if they got the chance - face it you just have to watch Benny Hill.or any of the colour Carry On films and you see it was just part of the culture of the times.

        1. Danny 2

          Re: My experience with Dr. Asimov

          "Jailbait has nothing to do with rape... but under the age of consent."

          Under the age of consent is rape. If you can't consent then it is rape. If you are under the legal age of consent then it is rape because you can't legally give consent.

          Jailbait is only jailbait because it is rape.

          Oh, and for the record this behaviour was never societally acceptable in the 1970s or 1980s. Benny Hill wasn't a rapist, he wasn't a signal. Sir Jimmy Saville was a child rapist, and it wasn't societally acceptable then. You can't blame the attitudes of the 1970s for 1970s criminals because in some ways societies attitudes have regressed.

  26. Danny 2

    A fair few folk have mentioned Arthur C Clarke

    [Disclaimer: Totally innocent according to Sri Lankan police who were about to be participants in genocide]

    Each time I see a little boy

    Of five or six or seven

    I can't resist a joyous urge

    To smile and say

    Thank heaven for little boys

    For little boys get

    Bigger every day

    Thank heaven for little boys

    They grow up in

    The most delightful way.

    Those little eyes

    So helpless and appealing

    When they were flashing

    Send you crashing

    Through the ceiling

    Thank heaven for little boys

    Thank heaven for them all

    No matter where,

    No matter who

    Without them

    What would elderly scifi writers do

    Thank heaven

    Thank heaven

    Thank heaven for little boys.

    I know this is an unpopular view but being a good story teller or whatever, being old or dead, is no excuse for causing harm to others. Me, I wouldn't sexually molest a fly.

  27. T. F. M. Reader

    Not just Sci-Fi

    Asimov will be forever remembered for his contributions to Science Fiction, of course. However, his creations are not limited to that genre alone. Besides popular science I would like to give an honourable mention to "Asimov's Guide to the Bible" and "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare", among others. I enjoyed both immensely when I discovered them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not just Sci-Fi

      And his "Tales of the Black Widowers"...

  28. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    Is it #MeToo?

    The essence of #MeToo is the abuse of power, the classic casting couch thing: if she wants the job, she'll have to sleep with the director/producer/studio head/boss.

    I think the behavior here is a bit different: Asimov wasn't in a position of power over the other attendees, "merely" being protected by his value as an attraction. This is, to me, "just" an example of bad behavior by celebrities. When coupled with appropriate reactions to being called on the bad behavior (apologies, etc), the net effect is that of "being a character or "colorful" ", which is still problematic, but, well, Hemingway is probably best known for being Hemingway, not being an author!

  29. Richard Pennington 1

    Another Asimov record? One for the librarians...

    I heard it said, a few years ago, that Isaac Asimov was the only writer to have been published in all 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.

    Is he still unique in that respect?

    1. Richard Pennington 1

      Re: Another Asimov record? One for the librarians...

      Replying to my own comment ... that distinction was also claimed by L. Sprague de Camp (a fellow SF writer who was a friend of Asimov and the model for one of the characters in the Black Widowers stories).

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What's with all the revisionism. He was a great writer. He's not there to be posthumously judged by our new standards. And sorry but as a 42 year old woman I can categorically say that if grabbing someone's backside is assault, I would spend most of my time as a plaintiff in court.

  31. Frumious Bandersnatch

    Shall I be the last to suggest that ...

    If these women didn't want their bottoms pinched, they shouldn't have gone to a sci-fi convention?

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