Issaac Asimov, 1920-1992
Considered one of the three greatest
writers of science fiction in the 1940s (along with Robert Heinlein
and A. E. Van Vogt), Asimov has remained a potent force in the genre.
Stories such as "Nightfall" and "The Bicentennial Man,"
and novels such as The Gods Themselves and Foundation's
Edge have received numerous honors and are recognized as among
the best science fiction ever written. As one of the world's leading
writers on science, explaining everything from nuclear fusion to the
theory of numbers, Asimov has illuminated for many the mysteries of
science and technology.
Many critics, scientists, and educators
believe Asimov's greatest talent was for popularizing or, as he called
it, "translating" science for the lay reader. His many books
on atomic theory, chemistry, astronomy, and physics have been recognized
for their extraordinary clarity, and Asimov has been praised for his
ability to synthesize complex data into readable, unthreatening prose.
Also notable among Asimov's science
fiction works is the "Foundation" seriesa group of
short stories, published in magazines in the forties and then collected
into a trilogy in the early fifties. It was written as a "future
history," a story being told in a society of the distant future
which relates events of that society's history. Asimov did not invent
the concept, but there can be little doubt that he became a master
of the technique. Foundation, Foundation and Empire,
and Second Foundation have achieved special standing among
science fiction enthusiasts. In 1966, the World Science Fiction Convention
honored them with a special Hugo Award as the best all-time science
fiction series. Even many years after the original publication, Asimov's
future history series remains popularin the 1980s, forty years
after he began the series, Asimov added a new volume, Foundation's
Edge, and eventually linked the Foundation stories with his robot
novels in The Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire, Foundation
and Earth, and Prelude to Foundation.
Asimov's association with the field
of science fiction has been a long and distinguished one. He is credited
with the introduction of several innovative concepts into the genre,
including the formulation of the "Three Laws of Robotics."
Asimov maintains that John W. Campbell gave the idea for the laws
to him; Campbell, on the other hand, said that he had merely picked
them out of Asimov's early robot stories. In any case, it was Asimov
who first formally stated the three laws: "1. A robot may not
injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to
come to harm. 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings
except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot
must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not
conflict with the First or Second Laws." Asimov says that he
used these precepts as the basis for "over two dozen short stories
and three novels ... about robots," and he feels that he is "probably
more famous for them than for anything else I have written, and they
are quoted even outside the science-fiction world. The very word `robotics'
was coined by me."