Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.
Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein? and Arthur C. Clarke?, he was considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series. The Galactic Empire novels are explicitly set in earlier history of the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series. Later, beginning with Foundation's Edge?, he linked this distant future to the Robot and Spacer stories, creating a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein? and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith? and Poul Anderson. He wrote hundreds of short stories, including the social science fiction "Nightfall", which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
The prolific Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much non-fiction. Most of his popular science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as works on astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare's writing and chemistry.
Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as "brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs." He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association.
The asteroid 5020 Asimov, a crater on the planet Mars, a Brooklyn, New York elementary school, and one Isaac Asimov literary award are named in his honor.
Asimov first began reading the science fiction pulp magazines sold in his family's confectionery store in 1929. In the mid-1930s he came into contact with science fiction fandom, particularly the circle that became the Futurians. He began writing his first science fiction story, "Cosmic Corkscrew", in 1937; finished it on June 19, 1938, inspired by a visit to the offices of Astounding Science Fiction; and personally submitted it to Astounding editor John W. Campbell two days later. Campbell rejected "Cosmic Corkscrew", but encouraged Asimov to keep trying, and Asimov did. In October, he sold the third story he finished, "Marooned Off Vesta", to Amazing Stories, then a monthly sci-fi magazine edited by Raymond A. Palmer, and it appeared in the March 1939 issue. Two more of his stories appeared that year, "The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use" in the May Amazing and "Trends" in the July Astounding. For 1940, ISFDB catalogs seven stories in four different pulp magazines, including one in Astounding.
In September 1941, Astounding published the 32nd story Asimov wrote, "Nightfall", which has been described as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time". In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall" the best science fiction short story ever written.
"Nightfall" is an archetypal example of social science fiction, a term coined by Asimov to describe a new trend in the 1940s, led by authors including Asimov and Heinlein, away from gadgets and space opera and toward speculation about the human condition.
By 1941, Asimov had begun selling regularly to Astounding, which was then the field's leading magazine. From 1943 to 1949, all of his published science fiction appeared in Astounding.
In 1942, he published the first of his Foundation stories—later collected in the Foundation trilogy: Foundation? (1951), Foundation and Empire? (1952), and Second Foundation? (1953)—which recount the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire in a universe of the future. Taken together, they are his most famous work of science fiction, along with the Robot series. Many years later, due to pressure by fans on Asimov to write another, he continued the series with Foundation's Edge? (1982) and Foundation and Earth? (1986), and then went back to before the original trilogy with Prelude to Foundation? (1988) and Forward the Foundation? (1992). The series features his fictional science of psychohistory, in which the future course of the history of large populations can be predicted.
His positronic robot stories—many of which were collected in I, Robot? (1950) — were begun at about the same time. They promulgated a set of rules of ethics for robots (see Three Laws of Robotics) and intelligent machines that greatly influenced other writers and thinkers in their treatment of the subject.
The robot series has led to film adaptations. With Asimov's collaboration, in about 1977 Harlan Ellison wrote a screenplay of I, Robot that Asimov hoped would lead to "the first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction film ever made". The screenplay has never been filmed and was eventually published in book form in 1994. The 2004 movie I, Robot?, starring Will Smith, was based on an unrelated script by Jeff Vintar titled Hardwired, with Asimov's ideas incorporated later after the rights to Asimov's title were acquired. (Ironically, the title was not original to Asimov but had previously been used for a story by Eando Binder.) Also, one of Asimov's robot short stories, "The Bicentennial Man?", was expanded into a novel The Positronic Man? by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and this was adapted into the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams.
Besides movies, his Foundation and Robot stories have inspired other derivative works of science fiction literature, many by well-known and established authors such as Roger MacBride Allen?, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Donald Kingsbury. These appear to have been done with the blessing, and often at the request of, Asimov's widow, Janet Asimov.
In 1949, the book publisher Doubleday's science fiction editor Walter I. Bradbury accepted Asimov's unpublished novelette "Grow Old Along With Me" (40,000 words) for publication, but requested that it be extended to a full novel of 70,000 words. The book appeared under the Doubleday imprint in January 1950 with the title of Pebble in the Sky. The Doubleday company went on to publish five more original science fiction novels by Asimov in the 1950s, along with the six juvenile Lucky Starr novels, the latter under the pseudonym of "Paul French". Doubleday also published collections of Asimov's short stories, beginning with The Martian Way and Other Stories in 1955. The early 1950s also saw the Gnome Press company publishing one collection of Asimov's positronic robot stories as I, Robot and his Foundation stories and novelettes as the three books of the Foundation trilogy. More positronic robot stories were republished in book form as The Rest of the Robots?.
When new science fiction magazines, notably Galaxy magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, appeared in the 1950s, Asimov began publishing short stories in them as well. He would later refer to the 1950s as his "golden decade". A number of these stories are included in his Best of anthology, including "The Last Question" (1956), on the ability of humankind to cope with and potentially reverse the process of entropy.
Beginning in 1977, Asimov lent his name to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (now Asimov's Science Fiction) and penned an editorial for each issue. There was also a short-lived Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine and a companion Asimov's Science Fiction Anthology reprint series, published as magazines.
Extended Foundation series:
Foundation's Edge? (1982)
Foundation and Earth? (1986)
Prelude to Foundation? (1988) (occurs before "Foundation")
Forward the Foundation? (1993) (occurs after "Prelude to Foundation" and before "Foundation")
Other books in the Foundation Universe