… Time to Celebrate the Centennial of Isaac Asimov …


Late in the last century I was several times a speaker at the Dutch Treat Club, a group of New York writers and artists who met each Tuesday at Sardi’s restaurant.

Those convivial gatherings were punctuated with laughter, music and bright conversation.

Each time I visited the Dutch Treaters I watched Isaac Asimov, with his large, bright eyes; black-framed glasses; trademark silvery sideburns; twinkly smile;

and clever wit, presiding over the festivities.

Isaac and I would fire puns at each other, and one time he gave me his card.

In its entirety it read:

ISAAC ASIMOV
NATURAL RESOURCE

From anyone else that would be a statement of vaulting pride and over-reaching hubris, but not from Asimov.

NATURAL RESOURCE is the natural label for the science-fiction colossus who dreamt up the Foundation Trilogy,

which he considered to be the most popular and

successful of all his creations, and who formulated the three laws of robotics, bestowing upon robots the human touch through the I, Robot stories.

NATURAL RESOURCE is the natural sobriquet for one of the most prolific writers of all time and for the teacher we came to know in his innumerable guides to chemistry,

biology, physics, astronomy, mathematics, genetics, geography, geology, ecology, prehistory to modern history, literature, Shakespeare, the Bible, mythology,

Gilbert and Sullivan, the supernatural and even jokes and limericks, both clean and funny.

Making the mundane fascinating and the esoteric crystal clear, he may have been the world’s greatest explainer.

On April 6, 1992, Isaac Asimov shuffled off his mortal coil.

He had calculated that the average human being is allotted 2,830,000,000 heartbeats before expiration, and he himself had come very close to that number.

That’s all that was average about Isaac Asimov.

He entered the earthly stage a century ago, on January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, Russia, and his family came to the United States three years later.

Isaac taught himself to read before he was five, entered college at 15 and began writing professionally at 18.

Typing away eight hours a day, seven days a week in his windowless writing room, he published and edited an average of ten books each year,

totaling more than 30 million words!

When he wrote full time, he averaged 13 books annually.

“I’m my own book-of-the-month club,” he crowed.

A few other writers have birthed more books, but those products are almost always confined to a single genre, such as mysteries, westerns and romances.

They don’t come close to the scope and variety of Isaac Asimov’s multifoliate planets, which include nine of the ten categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification

System.

Fellow science-fiction authors were in awe of Asimov. Frederik Pohl opined, “I’m sure there were another hundred books in that head.”

Robert Heinlein added, “If Isaac doesn’t know the answer, don’t go look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica, because they won’t know the answer either.”

To the rest of us it would seem that anyone who fabricated more than 500 books, translated into more than 40 languages, must have reached an age of at least 250.

But Isaac Asimov did all that by 72 and with fewer than three billion heartbeats.

Barbara Walters once asked Asimov what he would do if the doctor told him he had only six months left to live.

His reply:

“Type faster!”

A life of such “scriptomania” would seem to require titanic dedication and discipline, but Asimov once confessed in an interview,

“It seems to most people that to write my books I have to work, but it’s not work to me.

The sensation I have when I write is pleasure.

I enjoy writing, and there’s very little else I do enjoy.

I have no self-discipline at all.

If I had self-discipline, I could make myself turn away from the typewriter now and then, but I’m such a lazy slob I can never manage it.”

In another interview, Asimov revealed that he wrote books because he found his more interesting than others on the same subjects.

Given his quicksilver mind, unquenchable curiosity, voracious knowledge, flypaper memory and reader-friendly style, his analysis was spot-on.

By the end of his years, his ideas and vision had transformed our culture and collective imagination.

What had once been confined within the tight boundaries of pulp magazines, such as Astounding Stories, now permeates how we live and move and have our being.

In Isaac Asimov’s words, “We are now living in a science fictional world.”

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……….    taught himself to read before he was five ! …. shit …. at five I was still working on making a sentence …………………w

In 1977, Asimov suffered a heart attack. In December 1983, he had triple bypass surgery at NYU Medical Center,

during which he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.

When his HIV status was understood, his physicians warned that if he publicized it, the anti-AIDS prejudice would likely extend to his family members.

He died in New York City on April 6, 1992 and was cremated.

He was survived by his siblings, his second wife Janet Asimov, and his children from his first marriage.

His brother Stanley reported the cause of death as heart and kidney failure.

The family chose not to disclose that these were complications of AIDS, because within two days, on April 8, Arthur Ashe announced his own HIV infection

(also contracted in 1983 from a blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery), which resulted in much public controversy;

also doctors continued to insist on secrecy.

Ten years later, after most of Asimov’s physicians had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that the HIV story should be made public;

Janet revealed it in her edition of his autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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