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Isaac Asimov (born Isaak Ozimov; c. January 2, 1920 â€“ April 6, 1992) was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was known for his works of science fiction and popular science. Asimov was a prolific writer, and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.
Asimov wrote 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 novelette “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.
Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much nonfiction. 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, and Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as works on astronomy, mathematics, history, 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 elementary school, and a literary award are named in his honor.
The first book is I, Robot (1950), a collection of nine previously published short stories woven together as a 21st-century interview with robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin. The next four robot novels The Caves of Steel (1953), The Naked Sun (1955), The Robots of Dawn (1983), and Robots and Empire (1985) make up the Elijah Baley (sometimes “Lije Baley”) series, and are mysteries starring the Terran Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. They are set thousands of years after the short stories and focus on the conflicts between Spacers â€” descendants of human settlers from other planets â€” and the people from an overcrowded Earth. “Mirror Image”, one of the short stories from The Complete Robot anthology, is also set in this time period (between The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn) and features both Baley and Olivaw. Another short story (found in The Early Asimov anthology), “Mother Earth”, is set about a thousand years before the robot novels, when the Spacer worlds chose to become separated from Earth.
The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both considered classics of the genre, but the later novels were also well received, with The Robots of Dawn nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1984, and Robots and Empire shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1986.
One source of inspiration for Asimov’s robots was the Zoromes, a race of mechanical men that featured in a 1931 short story called “The Jameson Satellite”, by Neil R. Jones. Asimov read this story at the age of 11, and acknowledged it as a source of inspiration in Before the Golden Age (1975), an anthology of 1930s science fiction in which Asimov told the story of the science fiction he read during his formative years. In Asimov’s own words:
It is from the Zoromes, beginning with their first appearance in “The Jameson Satellite,” that I got my own feeling for benevolent robots who could serve man with decency, as these had served Professor Jameson. It was the Zoromes, then, who were the spiritual ancestors of my own “positronic robots,” all of them, from Robbie to R. Daneel.
The books in suggested reading order:
The Rest of the Robots
The Positronic Man
Caves of Steel
The Robots of Dawn
Robots and Empire