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Definition: Asimov, Isaac from Philip's Encyclopedia

US writer and scientist, b. Russia. Though he published several serious scientific works, he is best known for his science fiction stories. His prolific output contains some of the finest novels in the genre, including I, Robot (1950) and The Foundation Trilogy (1951-53).

Summary Article: Asimov, Isaac (1920-1992)
From Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Communication

Isaac Asimov is considered one of the most prolific science writers of all time and one of the most prolific authors, regardless of genre, of the 20th century. In all, he is credited with nearly 500 books, including hundreds of works of nonfiction, and had a profound influence on the development of science fiction and the popularization of science.

Asimov was born on January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. His family emigrated to the United States in 1923 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. He became a naturalized citizen in 1928. His family owned candy stores, which also sold science fiction magazines; Asimov started out from a young age as a science fiction fan.

He was a smart child, learning to read before attending school and skipping grades so that he was only 15 when he entered Seth Low Junior College, and he later graduated from Columbia University in 1939 at the age of 19.

His first published story was in his high school literary magazine. He had a fan letter published in the magazine Astounding Stories, whose editor, John W. Campbell, would become a guiding force in Asimov's early career. When Asimov finished his first science fiction story, “Cosmic Corkscrew,” in 1938, Campbell rejected it but encouraged him to continue writing. Amazing Stories published “Marooned Off Vesta”—Asimov's first professionally published story—in 1939 and “Nightfall,” one of his most famous stories, in 1941.

Asimov's relationship with Astounding Stories (which would later become Astounding Science Fiction) and with Campbell would see the production of some of his most important stories, those from the Robot and Foundation series. In the 1950s, Asimov branched out from Astounding Science Fiction to publish in Galaxy Science Fiction and Fantasy & Science Fiction, and he also began publishing novels with Gnome Press (later he would publish with Doubleday).

His novels and short story collections include Pebble in the Sky (1950); I, Robot (1950); The Stars, Like Dust (1951); Foundation (1951); Foundation and Empire (1952); The Currents of Space (1952); Second Foundation (1953); The Caves of Steel (1954); The Martian Way and Other Stories (1955); The End of Eternity (1955); and The Naked Sun (1957). Asimov also wrote mystery novels and a series of books for children (the Lucky Starr novels, published under the pseudonym Paul French) such as David Starr, Space Ranger (1952); Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953); and Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954). The many collections and anthologies of his work included Robot Visions and the posthumous Magic: The Final Fantasy Collection. Later, several novels and stories were made into films, including I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man.

The Foundation series, a major assemblage of Asimov's work produced in the 1940s and 1950s, was published in magazines as stories and then collected into a trilogy of novels—Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The series, which traces the history of an imagined future society, was inspired by Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The series received the Hugo Award as the best all-time science fiction series from the World Science Fiction Convention in 1966. Asimov continued the series in the 1980s with Foundation's Edge. His last novel, Forward the Foundation, was published posthumously in 1993.

There was a long break between Asimov's science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s and science fiction written decades later. Meanwhile, Asimov had a university career at Boston University's School of Medicine, beginning in 1949, and he stayed affiliated with the university throughout his lifetime. Asimov also started working on nonfiction books in the 1950s. His first was Biochemistry and Human Metabolism, which he cowrote with colleagues from Boston University's School of Medicine. He became a major popularizer of science in addition to his career in science fiction. He turned out to be a profoundly able explainer of science for laypeople, writing about a diverse spectrum of areas, including physics, mathematics, astronomy, and earth science.

He also wrote on subjects outside of science, such as the Bible and Shakespeare. He was well known for his public speaking ability and storytelling, and he wrote several autobiographies, including Memory Yet Green (1979) and I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), as well as It's Been a Good Life (2002), a posthumous collection of autobiographical writings.

Asimov's many awards include several additional Hugo Awards for his short stories and novels, as well as a special Hugo Award for distinguished contributions to the field (1963). Other Asimov awards include the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award (1986). He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1997. Fantasy & Science Fiction dedicated a special issue to him in October 1966, and his name was attached to a magazine begun in 1976, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The American Humanist Society named him 1984's Humanist of the Year; he later became president of the society.

With a reach that extended throughout the publishing and film worlds, Asimov's life, from 1920 to 1992, paralleled the rise of 20th-century Big Science and was interwoven with the rise of science fiction.

See also

Science Fiction

Further Readings
  • Asimov, I. (1979). In memory yet green: The autobiography of Isaac Asimov 1920-1954. New York: Doubleday.
  • Asimov, I. (1980). In joy still felt: The autobiography of Isaac Asimov 1954-1978. New York: Doubleday.
  • Asimov, I. (1994). I. Asimov: A memoir. New York: Doubleday.
  • Asimov, I., & Asimov, J. J. (2002). It's been a good life. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.
  • Asimov, I., & Asimov, S. (1996). Yours, Asimov: A life in letters. New York: Doubleday.
  • Isaac Asimov Home Page:
  • Amber, David
    Copyright © 2010 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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