Friday, January 4, 2013

Remembering Isaac 1920-1992

Isaac Asimov, if alive today, would have been 93 years old on the second of January. 

The man was a walking lexicon. Prolific? Oh hell yes, he wrote more than 500 books and who could possibly guess how many commentaries, essays and letters.

He wrote science textbooks, on humor, books on Shakespeare, on politics, social and environmental issues and on religion. He loved and wrote many mysteries, and of course, science fiction.

For those of us who remember him best, his "Foundation" novels (seven in the series) and "Robot" series were the stuff of legends. His short story "Nightfall" (later expanded into a novel written with Robert Silverberg) presented a tale so original that no one has ever been able to write anything remotely like it. 

He was awarded the coveted Hugo award for his novel "The Gods Themselves."

It is impossible to calculate his influence in the world of science fiction. Asimov's "three laws of robotics" has been the foundation of countless robot tales by hundreds of authors.  

Asimov was a humanist, a Democrat and yes, an atheist. He was intensely curious about all things intellectual. He touted intellectualism as a means of bettering humanity, and he did not suffer fools lightly.

Isaac was taken from us too early. As many of his readers may know, Asimov died in 1992, the result of a HIV tainted blood transfusion he received during heart surgery in 1983. The cause of Isaac's death was not revealed until 10 years after his death. He is survived by his wife Janet, his son David and beloved daughter Robin.

This remembrance is short and sweet and I have included one of my favorite short stories from the master. He was a giant the likes of which we shall not see again.

Happy birthday, Isaac. Your fans miss you.

Meeting of two great minds: Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan

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Silly Asses 
by Isaac Asimov

Naron of the long-lived Rigellian race was the fourth of his line to keep the galactic records.

He had a large book which contained the list of the numerous races throughout the galaxies that had developed intelligence, and the much smaller book that listed those races that had reached maturity and had qualified for the Galactic Federation. In the first book, a number of those listed were crossed out; those that, for one reason or another, had failed. Misfortune, biochemical or biophysical shortcomings, social maladjustment took their toll. In the smaller book, however, no member listed had yet blanked out.

And now Naron, large and incredibly ancient, looked up as a messenger approached.

“Naron,” said the messenger. “Great One!”

“Well, well, what is it? Less ceremony.”

“Another group of organisms has attained maturity.”

“Excellent. Excellent. They are coming up quickly now. Scarcely a year passes without a new one. And who are these?”

The messenger gave the code number of the galaxy and the coordinates of the world within it.

“Ah, yes,” said Naron. “I know the world.” And in flowing script he noted it in the first book and transferred its name into the second, using, as was customary, the name by which the planet was known to the largest fraction of its populace. He wrote: Earth.

He said, “These new creatures have set a record. No other group has passed from intelligence to maturity so quickly. No mistake, I hope.”

“None, sir,” said the messenger.

“They have attained to thermonuclear power, have they?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, thats the criterion.” Naron chuckled. “And soon their ships will probe out and contact the Federation.”

“Actually, Great One,” said the messenger, reluctantly, “the Observers tell us they have not yet penetrated space.”

Naron was astonished. “Not at all? Not even a space station?”

“Not yet, sir.”

“But if they have thermonuclear power, where do they conduct the tests and detonations?”

“On their own planet, sir.”

Naron rose to his full twenty feet of height and thundered, “On their own planet?”

“Yes, sir.”

Slowly Naron drew out his stylus and passed a line through the latest addition in the small book. It was an unprecedented act, but, then, Naron was very wise and could see the inevitable as well as anyone in the galaxy.

“Silly asses,” he muttered.
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