Last modified: 20 September 2009
FAQ for alt.books.isaac-asimov
This document answers frequently asked questions about Isaac Asimov and his works.
Compiled by Edward Seiler (email@example.com) and John H. Jenkins (firstname.lastname@example.org). Special thanks to Soh Kam Yung, Mark Brader, Matthew P. Wiener, and Colin Cutler for their contributions.
Copyright © 1994-2009 by Edward Seiler and John H. Jenkins. All rights reserved.
For a German translation of this FAQ, see Bálint Krizsán's site.
An awful lot. Hundreds.
Well, it depends on how you count them.
For example, the most complete Asimov bibliography which Asimov himself had a hand in preparing is the catalogue in I. Asimov: A Memoir. It lists 469 items, including 2 wall posters and a calendar (which some people might not be inclined to count as "books".) It also lists 117 science fiction anthologies, none of which are entirely by Asimov, and many of which include no stories by him (and so some people might be inclined not to count those.) There are also books which were almost entirely written by someone else (the Superquiz books, From Harding to Hiroshima, the Book of Facts) which Asimov counted because he had an extensive role in the editing of the book. Some books were counted more than once if Asimov did extensive work on later editions (such as the Biographical Encyclopedia.) And, of course, Asimov recycled many of his stories and essays so that they appeared in more than one collection, and some books are nothing but recyclings of older books.
On the other hand, the catalogue in I. Asimov: A Memoir is not complete. Near the end of his life, Asimov's ill health kept him from keeping careful track himself of all the books he published, and so some books were left out of the catalogue. Some books, of course, were published after I. Asimov: A Memoir and so are not listed there. Ed Seiler's list of books includes numerous titles missing from the catalogue in I. Asimov: A Memoir, and ends up with a count of somewhat over 500.
And then there are books like Harlan Ellison's I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. It is based on Asimov's work, and both Asimov's and Ellison's name are listed on the title page, but the actual work on the screenplay is virtually all Ellison's. It was published in book form after Asimov's death, which makes it difficult to know if Asimov himself would have counted it. Does it count as an "Asimov" book?
So about the only definitive answer that can be provided at this point is: An awful lot. Hundreds.
The lists in Opus 100, Opus 200, Opus 300, In Memory Yet Green, and In Joy Still Felt include an official number for each of the books listed, indicating the order of publication. The catalogue in I. Asimov: A Memoir does not provide numbers for the books listed there, and is known to be incomplete. (It also has a number of typographical errors. The list in the first edition of It's Been a Good Life suffers from the same problems.) However, Asimov's personal records show that he did assign numbers to books 301 through 468. Official numbers for those books published towards the end of his life, and those published after his death, are not available.
Many of the books published after his 468th can be found by going through such sources as Books In Print or the Library of Congress online catalog. However, since Asimov often did not count as "his" books those on which a publisher merely slapped his name, these sources cannot be taken as complete. The compilation of a truly complete list is not a casual undertaking.
The WWW pages available are:
As a result, none of Asimov's fiction is legally available on the net without the permission of his estate.
Fictionwise is an online publisher that has the rights to sell a number of Asimov's books and stories in popular e-book formats.
Voyager, a company that published (among other things) excellent soft-copies of literary works, produced electronic copies of The Complete Stories, volumes one and two. These two books between them include 86 pieces of Asimov's short fiction, including most of his best stories. At one time these could be purchased online, but they are no longer available.
Nothing else is currently available legally via the net. In particular, none of the Foundation series can be downloaded legally from any site other than Fictionwise.
Asimov's own suggestion, however, as to how to remember his name was to say "Has Him Of" and leave out the H's.
Asimov's birthdate was temporarily changed by his mother to September 7, 1919 in order to get him into school a year earlier. When, several years later, he discovered this, he insisted that the official records be changed back. January 2, 1920 was the date he personally celebrated throughout his life.
His family left the Soviet Union on January 11, 1923 and arrived in New York City February 3.
Please note that the date given on the first page of Asimov's third autobiographical book, I. Asimov: A Memoir, is a typographical error (January 1, 1920). Asimov's other books leave no possible doubt that the date he celebrated as his birthday was January 2.
His father saved the money earned from several jobs during his first three years in the U.S. and bought a candy store in Brooklyn, which his parents ran for the next forty or so years.
Marcia married Nicholas Repanes in 1955 and has two sons, Larry and Richard.
Stan became a journalist and rose to vice president in charge of editorial administration for Newsday. Stan died of leukemia on August 16, 1995. He and his wife Ruth were the parents of Eric and Nanette, both journalists, and Daniel, a mathematician. Dan Asimov may be found on the net, but does not wish to be bothered with inquiries about Isaac, so please leave him alone.
Isaac first met Janet Opal Jeppson when he signed an autograph for her at an SF convention on September 2, 1956. He was suffering badly (and silently) from a kidney stone at the time, which gave her the impression that he was an unpleasant person. He later claimed to have absolutely no recollection of that first meeting. They next met on May 1, 1959, when Janet attended a mystery writers' banquet as a guest of Veronica Parker Johnson and was seated with Isaac. That time the mutual attraction was immediate. When Isaac and Gertrude finally separated in 1970, he moved in with Janet almost at once, and they were married at Janet's home by an official of the Ethical Culture Society on November 30, 1973. Asimov had no children by his second marriage.
In May of 1942, Asimov left New York to work at a wartime job at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and there he rented a room in someone else's house at 4707 Sansom Street, until September, when soon after getting married he and Gertrude moved into an apartment at 4715 Walnut Street. When the lease ran out they moved to another apartment in Philadelphia at Wingate Hall in December. They moved back to New York in September 1945, and in November he was inducted into the army. In the army he spent a week at Fort Meade, Md., and was then stationed at Camp Lee, Virginia until March of 1946, when he was transferred to the island of Oahu. He returned to the states in May, and after his discharge from the army in July, he and Gertrude moved into a small apartment in Brooklyn on 213 Dean Street in September 1946. In September of 1947 they moved to the downstairs apartment of his parents' house on Windsor Place, and in July of the next year moved to Apartment 9-C of the Stuyvesant Town complex on 273 First Avenue. They moved to Boston in May 1949 to an apartment at 42 Worcester Square, and quickly moved again in July to an apartment in the suburb of Somerville. In May 1951 they moved to an apartment at 265 Lowell Street, in Waltham, Mass. They moved two miles to the south to a house at 45 Greenough Street in West Newton, Mass. in March 1956.
In July 1970, he separated from his wife and moved back to New York, staying at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel. After his divorce from Gertrude in November 1973, he married Janet and moved into her apartment. They moved to the Park Ten apartments in April 1975, to a 33rd floor apartment overlooking Central Park, where they lived together until his death in 1992.
Asimov began his formal education in the New York Public School system in 1925 at PS182, and transferred to PS202 when the family moved in 1928. He continued on to East New York Junior High School 149 in September 1930, where he was placed in the rapid advance course, and graduated in June 1932. He entered tenth grade at Boys High School in the fall, and graduated in the spring of 1935. After attending City College for only a few days, he switched to the Brooklyn campus of Seth Low Junior College, which provided him with a scholarship of one hundred dollars. The college closed after his freshman year, so he continued at the parent institution, Columbia University, at the Morningside Heights campus. He graduated from Columbia with a B.S. in Chemistry in 1939. After his applications to all five New York City medical schools were rejected, he applied for the master's program in chemistry at Columbia. After he was rejected for the master's program, he convinced the department committee to accept him on probation. After one year the probation was lifted, and he earned his M.A. in Chemistry in 1941. He continued on at Columbia in a Ph.D. program, and after the gap in his research that lasted from 1942 through 1946 (due to his wartime job and his army), he earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry in May 1948.
Asimov started working in his parents' Essex Street candy store in 1929, when his mother became unable to work a full day due to her third pregnancy, and learned the steady work habits that would stay with him for the rest of his life. After his freshman year of college, he had a summer job at the Columbia Combining Company, where he cut and folded sheets of rubberized fabric. During his sophomore year he held a National Youth Administration job working for a psychology professor, and as a junior and senior his NYA job was as a typist for a sociology professor. Throughout the period of 1929 to 1942, he continued to work at the family candy store. He worked as a junior chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from May 1942 to October 1945, together with fellow science fiction authors Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp. In 1948 he obtained a postdoctoral position at Columbia, researching antimalarial compounds. In June of 1949 he took a job as instructor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine, and was promoted to assistant professor in December 1951. He was promoted to associate professor, which provided him with tenure, in July 1955. He gave up his teaching duties and salary at the School of Medicine in 1958, but retained his title, so that on July 1, 1958, he became a full-time writer. (He was fired, he said, for choosing to be an excellent lecturer and science writer, rather than be a merely mediocre researcher.) In 1979, the school promoted him to the rank of full professor.
I. Asimov: A Memoir was published by Doubleday in March 1994, and covers his entire life, written in 166 brief chapters arranged in roughly chronological order. Instead of writing only about the details of his life since 1978, at the request of his wife Janet he wrote a retrospective that provided insights into his thoughts, feelings, and way of thinking.
Yours, Isaac Asimov, a collection of excerpts from letters he had written over the years, edited by his brother Stan and published by Doubleday in October 1995, also provides a great insight into Asimov's personal and professional life.
It's Been a Good Life, a condensed version of his autobiographical volumes that also includes additional material, was edited by Janet Jeppson Asimov and published by Prometheus Books in 2002. The additional material includes "A Way of Thinking", Asimov's 400th essay for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which Janet put together from conversations they had and letters they had exchanged during many years of correspondence. More excerpts from those letters, chosen to illustrate Isaac's philosophy of life, are sprinkled throughout the book. It also features an expanded version of the epilogue that appeared in Yours, Isaac Asimov, which provides additional commentary about Isaac's final illness.
In addition, the three Opus books (Opus 100, Opus 200, and Opus300), The Early Asimov, and Before the Golden Age contain substantial autobiographical material, and Asimov talks a great deal about himself and his life in many of his other books, particularly in anecdotes found in his essays in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and his editorials in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (which has since been renamed Asimov's Science Fiction).
Asimov did not oppose genuine religious feeling in others. He did, however, have little patience for intolerance or superstition masquerading as religion.
Although he was an atheist, Asimov was proud of his Jewish heritage. His parents never made an effort to teach him religion. He did study in Hebrew school for several months while his father served as secretary for the local synagogue, where he learned some Hebrew and how to read Yiddish.
Asimov did have a great interest in the Bible, and wrote several books about it, notably the two volume Asimov's Guide to the Bible and The Story of Ruth.
He was a member of the Dutch Treat Club, a group that met for lunch every Tuesday at the Regency Hotel in New York. He joined the club in 1971 and was made president in 1985.
He joined the Baker Street Irregulars in 1973, a group of avid Sherlock Holmes fans that held an annual banquet to celebrate Holmes' birthday. Asimov admitted that he was not a true Holmes enthusiast, but enjoyed delivering banquet toasts, speeches, and singing sentimental songs.
Asimov was a Gilbert & Sullivan enthusiast since his youth, when he listened to the plays on the radio. In 1970 he joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and attended almost all of their meetings. He regularly attended G & S productions in Manhattan, and occasionally served as toastmaster at benefit shows. He loved to sing songs from the shows, and was quite proud of his singing voice (among other things).
He was also a P. G. Wodehouse fan, and a member of The Wodehouse Society. He acknowledged that the character of Henry, the waiter who played a central role in his Black Widower stories, was based on Wodehouse's Jeeves the butler. He also paid tribute to the influence of Wodehouse in his Azazel short stories. He belonged to an all-male club called the Trap Door Spiders, which met for dinner one Friday night every month, treating a guest invited by the host to dinner in return for the privilege of grilling him about his life and work. The club formed the basis for the Black Widower mystery short stories. The characters were loosely modeled on actual club members as follows:
Black Widower Trap Door Spider ============= ================ Geoffrey Avalon L. Sprague de Camp Emmanuel Rubin Lester del Rey James Drake Doc Clark Thomas Trumball Gilbert Cant Mario Gonzalo Lin Carter Roger Halsted Don Bensen Henry fictionalAsimov joined Mensa, the high-IQ society, in the early 1960s, but found that many of the members were arrogant about their supposed intelligence, so he let his membership lapse. However when he moved back to New York, he became an active member once again, and gave speeches to groups of Mensans on a number of occasions. Yet once again membership became a burden for him, so he resigned from the group.
Asimov was a member of the Explorers Club, and served as master of ceremonies for two years at their annual banquet.
Asimov discovered that he was acrophobic at the New York World's Fair in 1940, when he took his date and first love Irene on a roller coaster, expecting that it would cause her to cling to him in fear and give him a chance to kiss her. Instead it was he who was terrified while his date remained perfectly calm. Two years later, his wife-to-be Gertrude convinced him to ride on a roller coaster at Coney Island, and he was once again terrified.
Asimov did in fact fly on an airplane twice in his life. The first time he did so while working at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia during World War II. While working on dye markers that made ditched pilots more visible to rescue searchers, he developed a test to compare dye visibility that did not require a plane flight, but in order to validate his test he volunteered to fly in a small plane to observe the markers. He was so absorbed in his observations that he didn't suffer from any undue fear. His second plane flight took place on his return from his army station in Hawaii, in which he flew aboard a DC-3 to San Francisco.
After his military service in Hawaii in 1946, Asimov never ventured so far from home, and did not often travel great distances. When he did need to travel significant distances, he usually took a train, or rode in someone else's car, until he learned to drive in 1950. Oddly enough, he found that he felt quite comfortable behind the wheel of an automobile. In the 1970s he and Janet travelled by train to Florida and California, and they took several several sea cruises to such places as the Caribbean, West Africa, England, and France.
He was completely inept at any athletic activity that required any coordination; he never learned how to swim or ride a bicycle. Spending even ten minutes in the summer sun turned his skin a bright red. In the army he had the worst score in his company on the physical-conditioning test (though he had the highest score on the intelligence test). He was afraid of needles and the sight of blood.
Asimov discovered that he was claustrophiliac, meaning that he was fond of enclosed places. He was quite comfortable in small rooms with no windows, and always insisted on using artificial lighting when he worked. He considered the underground cities on Earth in The Caves of Steel as the ultimate windowless enclosures.
He did not allow anyone to call him by any nicknames, except for a few old friends who had been calling him Ike for years.
Asimov hated it when his name was misspelled in print or mispronounced by others. His desire to have his name spelled correctly even resulted in a 1957 short story, "Spell my Name with an 's'".
(Notable instances of his name being misspelled occurred on the cover of the November 1952 issue of Galaxy, which contained "The Martian Way", and on his 1976 Nebula Award for "The Bicentennial Man".)
When in 1940 he wrote a letter to Planet Stories, which printed it and spelled his name "Isaac Asenion", he quickly fired off an angry letter to them. (His friend Lester Del Rey took great delight in referring to him as "Asenion" for many years afterward. On the other hand, Asimov himself referred to positronic robots with the Three Laws as "Asenion" robots in The Caves of Steel.)
Asimov was quite perturbed when Johnny Carson, host of the Tonight Show, pronounced his first name as I-ZAK, with equal emphasis on both syllables, during an appearance on the television show in New York in 1968.
Asimov's first published writing was a column he did for his high school newspaper. His first accepted piece was a humorous essay entitled "Little Brothers", which appeared in The Boys High Recorder, his high school's semi-annual literary publication, in 1934, and is reprinted in Before the Golden Age. He wrote it in a creative writing class he took that year; a class which almost convinced him to give up writing.
All this, however, does not preclude the possibility of more books by Asimov being published in the future. There are, for example, enough uncollected F&SF science essays for one more collection. Additional volumes could be published in the "Complete Stories" series, as well as other anthologies (e.g., "The Honest-to-goodness Complete Robot Stories Book").
All we can say for certain is that with his death, Asimov appears to have stopped writing. He has, by no means, stopped publishing. It is therefore probably meaningless to refer to Asimov's "last" book in absolute chronological terms.
His least favorite novel was The Stars Like Dust. It was scheduled for serialization in Galaxy, then edited by Horace Gold. Gold absolutely insisted on including a subplot about the characters ransacking the Galaxy for an ancient document which would utterly revolutionize their political order. In the end, it turns out that the document is "gur Pbafgvghgvba bs gur Havgrq Fgngrf" (rot-13 coding added as spoiler protection, as if this sub-par novel could be truly "spoiled" by giving away plot points).
Asimov loathed the subplot and bitterly resented being forced to add it. He offered to his editor at Doubleday, Walter Bradbury, to remove it for the hardcover publication, but Bradbury liked the subplot and insisted it be left in.
Then to add insult to injury, when the first paperback edition was published by Ace, they changed the title (for the worse) and totally gutted the novel, to the point that Asimov could hardly recognize it.
Asimov's three favorite stories were (in order): "The Last Question", "The Bicentennial Man", and "The Ugly Little Boy" (all found in The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov, among other places).
Among his least favorite stories were:
"Black Friar of the Flame" (found in The Early Asimov). The story was his first attempt at a "future historical" and was bounced around from editor to editor until it was finally published. It was revised a half-a-dozen times and rejected ten times in a two-year-period. Asimov was so bitter over the story's history that he swore never again to revise anything more than twice, and he would even fight over having to do a second revision.
(This is his least favorite story among those that most Asimov fans are likely to have ever read. He also implies in The Early Asimov that it is his least favorite story of all time, but this is clarified in In Joy Still Felt.)
His all-time least favorite story was "The Portable Star" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1955). He disliked it so much, he never authorized its anthologization. He describes it as a sleazy attempt to cash in on the new interest in sex in sf started by Philip Jose Farmer's 1952 story, "The Lovers."
He also published a story, "A Woman's Heart" in the June 1957 Satellite which he considered so trivial that he never included it in any of his collections.
Forward the Foundation was originally planned to be a series of novellas, bridging the chronological gap between Prelude to Foundation and Foundation. The first three were completed long before Asimov died and published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
Asimov had completed draft material for the remainder of the book before his death. This material required some editing by Doubleday and Asimov's widow, Janet, before the book was published, but even Asimov was rarely published with no editing at all, and there was no significant expansion of incomplete sections done. The final result is correctly characterized as being "by Isaac Asimov."
First of all, Asimov simply didn't enjoy sweating over details in his fiction. There are a number of things Asimov enjoyed about writing -- that's why he wrote so much -- but purging his fiction of contradictions was not one of them. As early as 1945, he was finding it more effort than it was worth to keep up consistency in the Foundation stories and tried (three times) to end the series so that he wouldn't have to deal with it.
Secondly, Asimov's overall plan for the series changed. For example, the robot stories and Foundation stories were originally conceived as existing in separate fictional universes. It wasn't until the 1980s that he started to tie them together explicitly. Other examples would involve major spoilers for some of the later books.
(Also, the stories were written over the course of fifty years, starting from a time when Asimov was at the unspectacular beginning of his career and the Golden Age was a year old, to a time when Asimov was one of science fiction's Big Three and John Campbell, for whom the earliest stories were written, dead for twenty years. It should not be surprising that the seventy-year-old Grand Master should find some of the ideas of the twenty-year-old apprentice not quite up to snuff and not worth preserving.)
The novels were written at the suggestion of Janet Asimov and the representative of the Asimov estate. They approached Gregory Benford and asked him to write a Foundation book. After giving it some thought, he agreed to do so, and suggested that Bear and Brin write additional books to form a new trilogy.
"In any case, the situation has become sufficiently complicated for me to feel that the readers might welcome a kind of guide to the series, since they were not written in the order in which (perhaps) they should be read.Note that this order is slightly wrong, in that Currents of Space actually takes place after The Stars, Like Dust. Also Foundation and Earth was published in 1986, not 1983.
"The fourteen books, all published by Doubleday, offer a kind of history of the future, which is, perhaps, not completely consistent, since I did not plan consistency to begin with. The chronological order of the books, in terms of future history (and not of publication date), is as follows:
"1. The Complete Robot (1982). This is a collection of thirty-one robot short stories published between 1940 and 1976 and includes every story in my earlier collection, I, Robot (1950). Only one robot short story has been written since that collection appeared. That is Robot Dreams, which has not yet appeared in any Doubleday collection. [Robot Dreams (1986) does contain it; see also Robot Visions (1990)]
"2. The Caves of Steel (1954). This is the first of my robot novels.
"3. The Naked Sun (1957). The second robot novel.
"4. The Robots of Dawn (1983). The third robot novel.
"5. Robots and Empire (1985). The fourth robot novel.
"6. The Currents of Space (1952). This is the first of my Empire novels.
"7. The Stars, Like Dust-- (1951). The second Empire novel.
"8. Pebble in the Sky (1950). The third Empire novel.
"9. Prelude to Foundation (1988). This is the first Foundation novel (although it is the latest written, so far).
[9a. Forward the Foundation (1993).]
[9b. Foundation's Fear (1997).] The first novel in the Second Foundation Trilogy, it was written by Gregory Benford. Takes place after the first chapter of Forward the Foundation.
[9c. Foundation and Chaos (1998).] The second novel in the Second Foundation Trilogy, written by Greg Bear. Takes place at the approximate time of Hari Seldon's trial.
[9d. Foundation's Triumph (previously titled Third Foundation and Secret Foundation) (1999).] The third novel in the Second Foundation Trilogy, written by David Brin.
"10. Foundation (1951). The second Foundation novel. Actually, it is a collection of four stories, originally published between 1942 and 1944, plus an introductory section written for the book in 1949.
"11. Foundation and Empire (1952). The third Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1945.
"12. Second Foundation (1953). The fourth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1948 and 1949.
"13. Foundation's Edge (1982). The fifth Foundation novel.
"14. Foundation and Earth (1983). The sixth Foundation novel."
A) Read them in the order of action, as listed by Asimov.
B) Read them in the order of publication.
There is no real reason why (A) or (B) is the better order. If you're more interested in seeing the development of Asimov's universe, writing, and ideas, you may prefer (B). If you are more interested in the course of events in Asimov's universe, you may prefer (A). Note, also, that some of the more recent books contain spoilers for some of the earlier ones, so the impact of some stories may be lessened if you choose (A).
Note that Asimov in the Author's Note quoted does not actually suggest one order over the other, but does suggest chronological order as a possibility.
C) Just read the ones published in the 1950s (plus The Complete Robot) because the later ones all suck.
No true Asimov fan, of course, would agree that any of the Good Doctor's books "suck," but there is pretty broad feeling that the later books are not as good as the earlier ones. (There is also pretty broad disagreement with this assessment.) In particular, Foundation and Earth is considered one of the weaker books in the series. Of course, your mileage will vary, and you may be one of those who prefers the later books over the earlier ones.
Asimov fully intended to write a sequel to Foundation and Earth, continuing the story chronologically. He had, however, no specific plans for how he would develop the problem with which Foundation and Earth ends, let alone how to resolve it. His next (and final) two Foundation books were stories of the life of Hari Seldon, written largely because he couldn't figure out what would happen after Foundation and Earth.
He died before he had any specific plans for what would happen next.
Later on, Asimov realized that this explanation wouldn't wash. The effects he described would not be possible as the result of a nuclear war. He therefore provides a different explanation in Robots and Empire and Foundation and Earth.
Within the fictional universe, the explanation is that the characters in the three Empire novels thought that the Earth became radioactive as a result of a nuclear war, but that they were wrong.
Asimov's original intention was to write a series of longer stories to complement the series of short stories he was writing about robots. He started the Foundation series as a saga of the collapse of the First Galactic Empire and rise of the Second, using Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a model.
It wasn't long before he got bored with the series. Since the Foundation's ultimate success was guaranteed by psychohistory, there was a considerable lack of dramatic tension, and it was hard keeping the stories from contradicting each other. He therefore wrote "Now You See It--" as a way to end the series, but John Campbell, the editor of Astounding, would have none of it and insisted that Asimov alter the ending so that the series could continue. By the time he wrote the next Foundation story, "--And Now You Don't," Asimov had come to hate the series so much that Campbell didn't even attempt to convince him to continue. (Ironically, "--And Now You Don't" is among the strongest stories in the series.)
Over the course of the writing of the original Foundation stories, the focus shifted slightly. The "tiny bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon" faded into the background. Mentalics were introduced at Campbell's insistence as a means of throwing a monkey wrench into the Plan with "The Mule" -- superhumans with psychic powers were a favorite theme of Campbell's. The existence of the Second Foundation had been a part of the series from the beginning, as was its location at "Star's End," but its exact nature wasn't clearly defined until it acquired its role as the Mule's nemesis.
With these last two stories written, he considered himself forever finished with the Foundation series, even though there were still over 500 years of the Plan to run. They would simply be century upon century of the Foundation's growth and triumph under the direction of the Second Foundation, and really rather dull. Asimov did write one more Foundation story to open Foundation, and nothing more for over thirty years.
In the 1980s, Asimov was persuaded by Doubleday to write a new Foundation book. The result was Foundation's Edge. Again, he decided to create a more interesting story by making up a new threat to the Seldon Plan.
Foundation's Edge was so successful that Asimov was persuaded to finally write the third Elijah Baley novel, The Robots of Dawn, which created the first (implicit) connection between the Foundation and Robot books. This connection, which was not anticipated when Asimov started writing robot and Foundation stories in the 1940s, was finally made explicit in the next two books written, Robots and Empire and Foundation and Earth.
Finally, because he wasn't sure what to do next, Asimov wrote Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation to tell the story of Hari Seldon's life and the beginnings of psychohistory.
Asimov's key insight was that, inasmuch as we engineer our tools to be safe to use, we would do the same with robots once we start making them -- and that the main safeguards for an intelligent being are its ethics. We would, therefore, build ethics into our robots to keep them going off on uncontrollable killing sprees.
In some sense, the specific Three (Four) Laws are themselves an engineering detail, the robotic equivalent of the Ten Commandments -- it is a specific ethical system but not the only one possible. In Asimov's universe, they are the basis for robotic ethics and so absolutely fundamental to robotic design that it is virtually impossible to build a robot without them.
Asimov tended not to let other people use his specific Laws of Robotics, but his essential insight -- that robots will have in-built ethical systems -- is freely used.
In particular, Data is an "Asimovian" robot because he does have an in-built ethical system. He does not have the Three Laws, however (witness the episode "The Measure of a Man" in which he refuses to follow a direct order from a superior officer [Second Law] without invoking either danger to a specific human [First Law] or the higher needs of all of humanity [Zeroth Law]). Moreover, his ethical programming is not fundamental to his design (his prototype, Lore, lacks it altogether, and Data's ethical program is turned off for much of "Descent, part II").
Asimov stated that Roddenberry asked for his permission to make Data a positronic robot after the fact. Asimov himself had no input into the character.
There were plans to have Asimov appear on the show as a holodeck simulation and talk to Data (just as Stephen Hawking did). A combination of Asimov's location and ill-health made this impossible.
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 Law.
From Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D., as quoted in I, Robot.
In Robots and Empire (ch. 63), the "Zeroth Law" is extrapolated, and the other Three Laws modified accordingly: 0. A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. Unlike the Three Laws, however, the Zeroth Law is not a fundamental part of positronic robotic engineering, is not part of all positronic robots, and, in fact, requires a very sophisticated robot to even accept it.
Asimov claimed that the Three Laws were originated by John W. Campbell in a conversation they had on December 23, 1940. Campbell in turn maintained that he picked them out of Asimov's stories and discussions, and that his role was merely to state them explicitly.
The Three Laws did not appear in Asimov's first two robot stories, "Robbie" and "Reason", but the First Law was stated in Asimov's third robot story "Liar!", which also featured the first appearance of robopsychologist Susan Calvin. (When "Robbie" and "Reason" were included in I, Robot, they were updated to mention the existence of the first law and first two laws, respectively. "Robbie" was also updated to include a cameo appearance by Susan Calvin.) Yet there was a hint of the three laws in "Robbie", in which Robbie's owner states that "He can't help being faithful, loving, and kind. He's a machine - made so." The first story to explicitly state the Three Laws was "Runaround", which appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.
Asimov was never satisfied with Fantastic Voyage, and he never thought of it as "his" work. Later, a person who had bought the rights to the title and concept (but not the characters or situation) of the original was interested in making Fantastic Voyage II. Naturally he turned to Asimov, who at first refused. At some point, Asimov agreed, but insisted on handling his side as a pure book deal with Doubleday. Consequently, Asimov's book Fantastic Voyage II should not be considered a sequel to the original.
Following is a list of some of Asimov's better-known or more influential works. The list is purely subjective, based on the personal preference of the FAQ-keepers. There is much which is worthwhile but not listed. See the full lists of Asimov's works for more information.
Of the 174 editorials published in IASFM, dealing mainly with Asimov's thoughts on Science Fiction, 22 were included in Asimov on Science Fiction, 66 in Asimov's Galaxy, 10 in Gold, and 3 in Magic, but he did not compile an index to these. (Gold also reprinted 3 of the IASFM essays that appeared in Asimov on Science Fiction and 19 of the essays that appeared in Asimov's Galaxy, and Magic reprinted 2 of the IASFM essays from Asimov on Science Fiction and 3 from Asimov's Galaxy).
Asimov also wrote numerous other essays that were published in other magazines, many of which have appeared in other essay collections.
Seeing the need for a single index to all of Asimov's essays, Rich Hatcher and Ed Seiler valiantly decided to compile one, and after many months of work, it was completed. Their guide lists over 1600 essays, including the subject of the essay, the publication in which the essay first appeared, and a list of Asimov's collections in which the essay appeared. Indexes list the essays chronologically for each major series (e.g. the science essays in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), and also group the essays by subject, in order to help you find any essay Asimov wrote on any given subject. The guide is available via the World Wide Web.
"In accordance with the terms of the Clarke-Asimov treaty, the second-best science writer dedicates this book to the second-best science-fiction writer."
It is also found in a number of anthologies not consisting entirely of stories by Asimov.
There is a mathematical possibility that you're thinking of a story other than "The Last Question", but it's very slight. Asimov's own experience was that if someone couldn't remember the title of one of his stories (and especially if they weren't entirely sure if it was by him), then it was "The Last Question."
But just in case, here are some of the stories with titles that often aren't remembered as well as the plot:
John Jenkins has written reviews for a great number of Asimov's books, both fiction and nonfiction, and collected them together on the World Wide Web as Jenkins' Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov. John offers his views of what he likes and dislikes in Asimov's books from the point of view of a dedicated Asimov enthusiast, and provides a graphical rating system that neatly summarizes his evaluations for both the Asimov fan and the intended audience of each book. He has completed reviews for all of Asimov's fiction books, and is currently working through his nonfiction and short stories.
The problem presented in the story is that the goose lays golden eggs, and through careful scientific analysis, it is discovered that the goose is a living nuclear reactor that utilizes the isotope oxygen-18 to convert the isotope iron-56 to the isotope gold-197. The gold production goes up if the goose is provided with water enriched in oxygen-18. Further investigation shows that the something in the goose's liver converts any radioactive isotope into a stable isotope, so if the mechanism could be discovered, it would provide a method to dispose of radioactive waste. The problem is that there is only the one goose, whose eggs will not hatch, and if the goose dies, they will never be able to use its secret. The scientists are able to perform a biopsy of the liver, but the small amount of cells extracted are insufficient to produce the effect. How then, can they determine the mechanism and not have it disappear forever once the goose dies?
The story, written in 1956, leaves the solution as an exercise for the reader.
An abridged version of the story titled "A Very Special Goose" appeared in the September 25, 1958 issue of Science World, a magazine for high school students published by Street and Smith, the publishers of Astounding. In the teacher's edition, a solution is provided in the form of a letter from Don A. Stuart, which is a pseudonym used by Astounding editor John W. Campbell. Spoilers follow!
That solution explains that the best way to produce an environment free of oxygen-18 is to put the goose in a sealed greenhouse, together with a gander. The greenhouse is supplied with a sufficient quantity of plants and water for the geese to feed upon, and sunlight will keep the plants growing. Eventually the goose will process all of the O-18 from the air, food, and water, turning it into gold. Once the level of O-18 is sufficiently reduced, the goose will start laying gold-free eggs, and goslings will soon hatch. If enough goslings survive, they can be studied to determine the mechanism of the conversion process. The male goslings will then have to be studied to see if they can survive in an O-18 rich environment, since if they convert it to gold, they will not be able to get rid of it by laying eggs.
Here are some of the other solutions presented in the alt.books.isaac-asimov newsgroup in the past.
Since it is the liver of the goose that is of interest, if there was a way available to grow copies of the goose's liver, the mechanism might be studied in that way. Thanks to modern science, it should be possible to take the cells extracted by the liver biopsy and grow such livers in the laboratory.
Because of advances in in-vitro fertilization, it might be possible to extract egg cells from the goose's ovary, fertilize them, and implant them in a normal goose. This assumes that the egg that grows in the surrogate mother goose is not a golden one, and enough chicks that hatch are genetically capable of developing the mechanism.
Now that various other farm animals have been cloned, it might be possible to create clones of the goose, once again assuming that the egg can grow in a normal fashion. The advantage here is that the chicks will certainly have the same genetic capabilities as mother goose.
Nightfall was released in 1988, starring David Birney and Sarah Douglas; directed by Paul Mayersberg; running time 83 minutes. If you should happen to have a chance to view it, run, don't walk, the other way.
Another version of Nightfall was made and released directly to DVD in 2000, starring David Carradine and Robert Stevens, directed by Gwyneth Libby, with a running time 85 minutes. By all accounts, it too is dreadful.
Light Years was released in 1988; directed by Rene Laloux, running time 79 minutes.
In July 2004, Twentieth Century Fox released a movie titled I, Robot, starring Will Smith, that was "suggested by Isaac Asimov's book". The film was born as a screenplay titled "Hardwired" by screenwriter Jeff Vintar, and then, with the permission of Asimov's estate, the title was changed and the story modified to use some characters and plot elements from Asimov's stories. Directed by Alex Proyas, and written by Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, the movie uses some of Asimov's ideas, but does not attempt to recreate any of the story line in Asimov's short story collection.
Fantastic Voyage was released in 1966, starring Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, and Donald Pleasance; directed by Richard Fleischer; running time 100 minutes.
Many of these episodes no longer exist in the BBC's film archives. The only complete episodes remaining are "The Dead Past" and "Sucker Bait". A few clips from "Liar!" and "Satisfaction Guaranteed" have also survived, and turn up from time to time in documentaries about Asimovs work.
Asimov presented an episode titled "Robot", about developments in robotics, in December 1967 as part of the BBC documentary series "Towards Tomorrow". This is thought to be the original source of surviving clips from the Out of the Unknown teleplay "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and the BBC teleplay of "Caves of Steel".
In the UK, a BBC documentary series hosted by Gillian Anderson titled "Future Fantastic" was broadcast in 1997. One particular edition was titled "I, Robot", and focused a great deal on Asimov's work. It also contained some of the rare clips from "Liar!" and "The Caves of Steel".