Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

Date of Birth: 2 January 1920
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One of the great science fiction writers of the 20th century, creator of the popular and increasingly intertwined Foundation and Robot series, Isaac Asimov was born Isaak Iudich Azimov in Petrovichi in the former Russian SFSR – his exact birthdate is unclear but I was some time in 1919 or 1920 (in his 1979 autobiography In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920–1954, he claimed that “The date of my birth, as I celebrate it, was January 2, 1920. It could not have been later than that. It might, however, have been earlier. Allowing for the uncertainties of the times, of the lack of records, of the Jewish and Julian calendars, it might have been as early as October 4, 1919. There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain and it really doesn’t matter. I celebrate January 2, 1920, so let it be.”)

His family relocated to the United States in 1923, settling in Brooklyn in New York, Asimov becoming a naturalised citizen at the age of eight. He taught himself to read by the age of five and devoured the newspapers and magazines stocked by his father in his candy stores and by the age of nine had been introduced to the science fiction pulp magazines. Intellectually gifted, he attended a series of public schools until graduating at the age of 15, accepting a scholarship at Seth Low Junior College, a branch of Columbia University in Brooklyn, and completing his Bachelor of Science at Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus in 1939, aged around 19. He went on to complete a Masters in chemistry in 1941 and a Doctor of Philosophy in the same subject in 1948.

He’d spent the war working as a chemist at the US Naval Air Experimental Station alongside fellow future science fiction and fantasy writers L. Sprague de Camp and Robert A Heinlein before joining the Boston University School of Medicine in 1949, becoming associate professor of biochemistry. He’d stared writing science fiction in 1929 and aged 18 was a member of the Futurians, a group of New York science fiction fans who counted among their number at various times Frederick Pohl, James Blish, Cyril Kornbluth and Donald A. Wollheim among many others. Marooned Off Vesta, his third science fiction story (the first, Cosmic Corkscrew was rejected by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine and was subsequently lost; his second, Stowaway was similarly rejected but was later printed in the the April 1940 issue of Astonishing Tales under the new title The Callistan Menace) was published in the March 1939 edition of Amazing Stories.

It was the beginning of a long and prolific career as a science fiction writer. In 1958 he resigned his position at Boston University to become a full-time writer, by which time he’d already published some of his key novels, including I, Robot (1950), Foundation (1951) (both “fixups” of related short stories), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953) and The Caves of Steel (1953). Alongside Heinlein he became the most influential of American genre writers.

By the time of his death in 1992 at the age of 72, he’d published 504 books – science fiction novels, collections of short stories, anthologies that he edited, books for children and young adults and several books of popular science writing. He was published in all of the major science fiction magazines and in 1977 leant his name to the long-running and influential Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (later Asimov’s Science Fiction). He also became a familiar face on television and in documentaries, making him one of the most recognisable of genre writers outside science fiction circles. His ” Three Laws of Robotics”, formally stated in the 1942 short story Runaround (“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 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 Law”) have become well known even among those who may not have heard of Asimov. Several of his works have been adapted into film or television, often unsuccessfully, frequently failing to capture the sheer scale and grandeur of his concepts.

Genre Filmography