ASIMOV

Frequently Asked Questions about Isaac Asimov

Last modified: 11 July 2014

FAQ for alt.books.isaac-asimov

This document answers frequently asked questions about Isaac Asimov and his works.

Compiled by Edward Seiler (ejseiler@earthlink.net) and John H. Jenkins (jenkins@mac.com). Special thanks to Soh Kam Yung, Mark Brader, Matthew P. Wiener, and Colin Cutler for their contributions.

Copyright © 1994-2014 by Edward Seiler and John H. Jenkins. All rights reserved.

For a German translation of this FAQ, see Bálint Krizsán's site.


Table of Contents:

  1. For starters
    1. Just how many books did Asimov write?
    2. Where can I get a list of all of Asimov's books? Is there a WWW or FTP site for this information?
      1. Lists available from books.
      2. Lists available on the Internet.
    3. Where can I download Asimov's fiction on the net?
    4. Where else can I find Asimov stuff on the net?
    5. I would like to buy a certain book by Asimov, but I can't find it anywhere. Can you help me find it?
    6. Who can I contact regarding rights and permissions for works by Isaac Asimov?

  2. Biographical (non-literary)
    1. How do you pronounce "Isaac Asimov"?
    2. When did Asimov die? What was the cause of his death? Where is he buried?
    3. When and where was he born?
    4. Who are the other members of his family?
    5. Was he married? Did he have any children?
    6. Where did Asimov live, attend school, and work during his life?
    7. What are the titles of Asimov's autobiographies? Where can I get them?
    8. What books and articles about Asimov have been written by others?
    9. What religious beliefs did Asimov have?
    10. Did Asimov do anything other than write all day and all night?
    11. Is it true that Asimov had a fear of flying?
    12. What other notable quirks, fears, and pet peeves did Asimov have?

  3. Biographical (literary)
    1. When did he start writing?
    2. What was his first published story?
    3. What awards did he win for his writing?
    4. What is Asimov's last book?
    5. Of his own work, what were Asimov's favorite and least favorite novel? What were his favorite and least favorite stories?

  4. The Foundation/Robot Series
    1. What is this Forward the Foundation I keep hearing about?
    2. Did Asimov really write Forward the Foundation? Didn't he die before it was done, so somebody else really wrote it up from notes?
    3. What about the contradictions between Forward the Foundation and other Foundation books?
    4. Is it true that a new Foundation Trilogy written by three different authors was published? How could the publisher be allowed to do such a thing?
    5. What is the chronological order of the Foundation books?
    6. What is the order in which the Foundation books should be read?
    7. Foundation and Earth? What book is that? Why can't I find it on sale in a bookstore?
    8. Whatever happened to the Solarians, who mysteriously disappeared in Robots and Empire?
    9. What is the significance of the ending of Foundation and Earth?
    10. Why do Asimov's books give two reasons why the Earth becomes radioactive?
    11. Did Asimov write the Foundation books with any plan in mind?
    12. Is Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation an Asimovian robot?
    13. What are the Laws of Robotics, anyway?

  5. Other writings
    1. What is the relationship between the movie Fantastic Voyage and Asimov's novel?
    2. What did Asimov write besides the Foundation and Robot books?
    3. What is the source of the title of the novel The Gods Themselves?
    4. Is there an index of his science articles for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF)? Of his editorials in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM)?
    5. What is the Asimov-Clarke treaty?
    6. There's this really neat story by Asimov which I would like to read again, and I can remember the title; could you tell me where to find it?
    7. There's this really neat story by Asimov, but I can't remember the title...
    8. I'd like to hear some opinions about some of Asimov's books. Do you have any?
    9. What is the title of the essay that Asimov wrote concerning the ultimate self-contained, portable, high-tech reading device of the future which turns out to be a book? Where can I find it?
    10. In his story "Pate de Foie Gras", Asimov presented a puzzle, but did not provide a solution to that puzzle. He stated that some people wrote him with an answer immediately after the story's publication, and as science advanced he eventually began receiving letters with another possible solution. But he doesn't say what those solutions were. Did he ever provide the solutions, and if so, what are they?
    11. Did you know that Asimov is the only author to have published books in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System?

  6. More than books...
    1. What records, audio tapes, videotapes, and software are available?
    2. Have any of Asimov's books or stories been made into a radio production, movie or television series?

For starters

Just how many books did Asimov write?

Short answer:

An awful lot. Hundreds.

Long answer:

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.

Where can I get a list of all of Asimov's books? Is there a WWW or FTP site for this information?

Lists available from books.

Lists compiled by Asimov appeared in his three Opus books (Opus 100, Opus 200, Opus 300), and in his autobiographical volumes (In Memory Yet Green, In Joy Still Felt, I. Asimov: A Memoir, and It's Been a Good Life.)

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.

Lists available on the Internet.

Lists of his known books and short stories are archived and available via the web with links listed below. Any omissions or errors in the lists should be reported to ejseiler@earthlink.net or jenkins@mac.com.

The web pages available are:

Where can I download Asimov's fiction on the net?

All of Asimov's work, fiction and non-fiction, was under copyright at the time of the Good Doctor's death. Under current U.S. law, the copyrights for his works published before 1978 will not expire until 95 years after the copyrights were obtained, and those published from 1978 onward will remain in effect for 70 years after his death. Thus these copyrights will remain in effect until dates ranging from 2034 (for his first story published in 1939), through 2072 (for works published in 1977), and works published from 1978 onward will remain under copyright until 2062, although the relevant laws may change between now and then.

As a result, none of Asimov's fiction is legally available for free download on the net without the permission of his estate.

A number of Asimov's books and stories are available for purchase in popular e-book formats, such as Kindle editions at amazon.com, epub editions at the iTunes store and eBooks.com, Nook Books at Barnes & Noble.

Where else can I find Asimov stuff on the net?

Check out the Isaac Asimov home page for links to other Asimov-related information on the net.

I would like to buy a certain book by Asimov, but I can't find it anywhere. Can you help me find it?

If the book is out of print, there are a number of possibilities to explore:

Who can I contact regarding rights and permissions for works by Isaac Asimov?

You can contact Gary S. Wishik, Esq. at


Biographical (non-literary)

How do you pronounce "Isaac Asimov"?

"EYE'zik AA'zi-mov". The name is spelled with an "s" and not a "z" because Asimov's father didn't understand the English alphabet clearly when the family moved to the U.S. in 1923. (In Russian, the spelling was the Cyrillic equivalent of Azimov, and in Yiddish, the Hebrew letters were aleph-zayin-yod-mem-aleph-vav-vav.) One way to remember this pronunciation is the pun from The Flying Sorcerers by Larry Niven and David Gerrold: "As a color, shade of purple-grey", or "As a mauve". Asimov wrote a poem ("The Prime of Life") in which he rhymes his surname with "stars above"; someone else suggested amending the poem to rhyme it with "mazel tov", which he thought an improvement.

Asimov's own suggestion, however, as to how to remember his name was to say "Has Him Of" and leave out the H's.

When did Asimov die? What was the cause of his death? Where is he buried?

Asimov died on April 6, 1992 of heart and kidney failure, which were complications of the HIV infection he contracted from a transfusion of tainted blood during his December 1983 triple-bypass operation. (The revelation that AIDS was the cause of his death was not made until It's Been a Good Life was published in 2002). His body was cremated and his ashes were not interred.

When and where was he born?

Asimov was born (officially) January 2, 1920, in the town of Petrovichi (pronounced peh-TRUV-ih-chee), then in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (czarist Russia no longer existed, while the USSR hadn't formed yet) and now in Russia. It can be found at latitude 53°58' N, longitude 32°10' E, about 400 km. southwest of Moscow and some 16 km east of the border between Belarus and Russia. Born to Jews in the early days of the RSFSR, there are no accurate records, however, and it is possible that he may have been born as early as October 4, 1919.

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.

Who are the other members of his family?

He was the son of Judah Asimov (1896-1969) and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov (1895-1973), who were married in 1918. Asimov was named Isaac after his mother's father, Isaac Berman. He has a sister Marcia (born Manya in 1922) and a brother Stanley (1929-1995).

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.

Was he married? Did he have any children?

Asimov met Gertrude Blugerman on a blind date on Valentine's Day, 1942, and they were married five and a half months later, July 26, 1942. They had a son David (b. 1951) and a daughter Robyn Joan (b. 1955). They separated in 1970 and their divorce became effective on November 16, 1973.

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.

Where did Asimov live, attend school, and work during his life?

When the Asimov family came to the United States in 1923, they moved into their first apartment at 425 Van Siclen Avenue, in the East New York section of Brooklyn. In the summer of 1925 they moved one block away to an apartment at 434 Miller Avenue. They moved half a mile eastward in December 1928 to another apartment at 651 Essex Street, above the second candy store bought by his father. In early 1933, they moved to an apartment on Church Avenue, and after a brief stay there they moved to an apartment above yet another family candy store, at 1312 Decatur Street, in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn. In December of 1936, Asimov's father sold his third candy store and bought his fourth, at 174 Windsor Place, in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, and the family moved to a house across the street.

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.

What are the titles of Asimov's autobiographies? Where can I get them?

In Memory Yet Green covers the period from 1920-1954. In Joy Still Felt spans the time from 1954-1978. These two volumes were published by Doubleday in 1979 and 1980, with paperback editions following a year later. They are currently out of print, and thus your best bet for finding them is to check used book stores, science fiction conventions, etc.

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).

What books and articles about Asimov have been written by others?

See Isaac Asimov: Biography, Books, and Criticism

What religious beliefs did Asimov have?

Asimov had no religious beliefs; he never believed in either God or an afterlife. He considered himself a Humanist, one who believes that it is humans who are responsible for all of the problems of society, as well as the great achievements throughout history. The Humanists believe that neither good nor evil are produced by supernatural beings, and that the solution to the problems of humankind can be found without the intervention of such beings. Asimov was a strong proponent of scientific reasoning who adamantly opposed creationists, religious zealots, pseudoscience, and mysticism.

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.

Did Asimov do anything other than write all day and all night?

Although famous for writing over eight hours a day, seven days a week, Asimov found time to do a few other things beside writing.

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              fictional
Asimov 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.

Is it true that Asimov had a fear of flying?

Yes, the same author who described spaceflights to other worlds and who argued valiantly for the cause of rationality suffered from an irrational fear of heights and flying. This had the consequence of limiting the range over which he travelled throughout much of his life.

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.

What other notable quirks, fears, and pet peeves did Asimov have?

Asimov was a teetotaler in later life, mainly because in all of his experiences with drinking alcoholic beverages, just one or two drinks were sufficient to get him drunk. On the day he passed the oral examination for his Ph.D., he drank five Manhattans in celebration, and his friends had to carry him back to school and try to sober him up. His wife told him that he spent that entire night in bed giggling every once in a while and saying "Doctor Asimov".

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.


Biographical (literary)

When did he start writing?

When he was eleven years old he began writing The Greenville Chums at College, which he planned to be the first book in a series. After writing only eight chapters about the adventures of boys living in a small town, he gave up after recognizing the fact that he didn't know what he was talking about. However he made a very important discovery in the process. After he wrote the first two chapters, he told the story he had written so far to a friend at school during lunchtime. When he stopped, his friend demanded that he continue. When Asimov explained that he had told him all that he had so far, the friend asked to borrow the book when he was finished reading it. Asimov was astonished to discover that his friend thought that he was retelling a story that he read. The implied compliment impressed him so much that, from that day on, Asimov took himself seriously as a writer.

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.

What was his first published story?

After John Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, rejected his short stories "Cosmic Corkscrew", "Stowaway" and "This Irrational Planet" in June, July, and September of 1938, "Marooned Off Vesta" was accepted for publication by Amazing Stories in October and was published in the March 1939 edition on January 10, 1939.

What awards did he win for his writing?

What is Asimov's last book?

Asimov's publishers have on more than one occasion published the Good Doctor's "last" book as a marketing ploy. The six titles most often so-described are:

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.

Of his own work, what were Asimov's favorite and least favorite novels? What were his favorite and least favorite stories?

Asimov's favorite novel was The Gods Themselves, largely because of the middle section, which was both absolutely brilliant and included non-humans and sex. (Asimov had often been accused of being unable to write stories with non-humans or sex and therefore leaving them out of his work.)

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.


The Foundation/Robot Series

What is this Forward the Foundation I keep hearing about?

Forward the Foundation is the last-written of the Foundation books. It was near completion at the time of Asimov's death and published a year later. It is currently available in both hardback and paperback.

Did Asimov really write Forward the Foundation? Didn't he die before it was done, so somebody else really wrote it up from notes?

Yes, Asimov really wrote all of Forward the Foundation.

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."

What about the contradictions between Forward the Foundation and other Foundation books?

The whole Foundation series is rife with contradictions. There are two main reasons for this.

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.)

Is it true that a new Foundation Series written by three different authors was published? How could the publisher be allowed to do such a thing?

Yes, The Second Foundation Trilogy was published by HarperPrism. The first novel, Foundation's Fear, by Gregory Benford, was published in March 1997; the second novel, Foundation and Chaos, by Greg Bear, was published in March 1998; and the third novel of the trilogy, Foundation's Triumph, by David Brin, was published in April 1999. According to the afterword in Foundation's Fear, although the three novels are being developed as stand-alone books, they will "carry forward an overarching mystery to its end."

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.

What is the chronological order of the Foundation books?

In the Author's Note at the beginning of Prelude to Foundation, Asimov says:
"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.

"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."

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.

What is the order in which the Foundation books should be read?

There are actually three answers to this question.

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.

Foundation and Earth? What book is that? Why can't I find it on sale in a bookstore?

Foundation and Earth was published by Doubleday in 1986, and a paperback edition was published late in 1987 by Ballantine/Del Rey. Bantam/Spectra published new paperback editions of most of Asimov's science fiction novels starting in 1990, but when Foundation and Earth went out of print in the United States, Bantam/Spectra did not acquire the rights. It remained out of print until Bantam/Spectra reacquired the rights and reprinted new editions of many of Asimov's science fiction books in August 2004.

Whatever happened to the Solarians, who mysteriously disappeared in Robots and Empire?

The fate of the Solarians is explained in Foundation and Earth.

What is the significance of the ending of Foundation and Earth?

Foundation and Earth ends with a "hook" for a sequel -- the main problem of the novel itself has been solved, but a new problem is introduced in the last few pages which threatens the future of mankind.

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.

Why do Asimov's books give two reasons why the Earth becomes radioactive?

Asimov introduced the idea of the Earth becoming radioactive in Pebble In the Sky. It is also a plot element in the other two "Empire" books, The Stars, Like Dust and The Currents of Space. In these three books, it is always assumed that the Earth became radioactive as a result of a nuclear war. These books were all written in the early 1950s, when it was commonly felt that there would be a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union in the next few years.

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.

Did Asimov write the Foundation books with any plan in mind?

No.

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.

Is Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation an Asimovian robot?

The television program Star Trek: The Next Generation included an android character, Data, whom we are specifically told (in the episode "Datalore") was created in an attempt to bring "Asimov's dream of a positronic robot" to life. Unfortunately, the producers of the show locked onto the "positronic" aspect as if that were the key quality to Asimov's robots. Asimov's view was exactly the opposite -- his robots are "positronic" because positrons had just been discovered when he started writing robot stories and the word had a nice science-fictiony ring to it. The use of positrons was just an engineering detail and relatively unimportant to him.

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.

What are the Laws of Robotics, anyway?

The Three Laws of Robotics are:

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.


Other writings

What is the relationship between the movie Fantastic Voyage and Asimov's novel?

Asimov wrote the novel from the screenplay. He made a certain number of changes which he felt were necessary to minimize the scientific implausibility of the story. Because, as he put it, he wrote quickly and Hollywood works slowly, the novel came out some six months before the film was released, giving rise to the idea that the movie was made from the novel.

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.

What did Asimov write besides the Foundation and Robot books?

Lots. Asimov published over 500 books by the time of his death. Many of these, of course, are anthologies of work by other people, and a large number are juvenile science books, but there are a lot of books left.

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.

  1. Other science fiction novels
    1. The Lucky Starr books
    2. Fantastic Voyage, and Fantastic Voyage II
    3. Nemesis
    4. The Gods Themselves
    5. The End of Eternity
  2. Science fiction short story collections
    1. Nine Tomorrows
    2. Earth is Room Enough
    3. The Martian Way and Other Stories
    4. Nightfall and Other Stories
    5. The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
    6. The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov
  3. Anthologies
    1. The Hugo Winners/New Hugo Winners (7 volumes)
    2. Isaac Asimov presents the great sf stories (25 volumes for 1939 through 1963)
  4. Mysteries
    1. Black Widower stories (several collections)
    2. A Whiff of Death
    3. Murder at the ABA
  5. "Guides"
    1. Asimov's Guide to the Bible
    2. Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare
    3. Asimov's New Guide to Science
  6. Essay collections
    1. F&SF Essay collections (Asimov had a monthly science column from the early 1950s through 1991)
    2. Asimov on Science Fiction
    3. Asimov's Galaxy
  7. Histories
    1. The Greeks
    2. The Roman Republic
    3. The Roman Empire
  8. Other non-fiction
    1. Understanding Physics (aka The History of Physics)
    2. The Universe
    3. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology
  9. Humor
    1. Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor
    2. The Sensuous Dirty Old Man
    3. Asimov Laughs Again

What is the source of the title of the novel The Gods Themselves?

The title is obtained from the quote "Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain", which originally appeared in German ("Mit der Dummheit kaempfen die Goetter selbst vergebens") in Friedrich von Schiller's play Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans, or Joan of Arc), Act III, Scene 6. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations translates the quote as "Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain." The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives the translation "With stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain."

Is there an index of his science articles for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF)? Of his editorials in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM)?

Asimov compiled a list of his F&SF essays on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his first essay, in the November 1978 issue of F&SF, and reprinted (slightly updated) in the collection The Road to Infinity. That list is ordered alphabetically according to the title of the essay, and includes a designation of the collection in which each essay appears as well as a very brief subject description for each essay. However Asimov went on to write a total of 399 essays, the last of which appeared in February 1992. (A 400th essay was compiled by Janet after his death and published in the December 1994 issue of F&SF.)

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 at asimovonline.com.

What is the Asimov-Clarke treaty?

The Asimov-Clarke Treaty of Park Avenue, put together as Asimov and Clarke were travelling down Park Avenue in New York while sharing a cab ride, stated that Asimov was required to insist that Arthur C. Clarke was the best science fiction writer in the world (reserving second best for himself), while Clarke was required to insist that Isaac Asimov was the best science writer in the world (reserving second best for himself). Thus the dedication in Clarke's book Report on Planet Three reads:
"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."

There's this really neat story by Asimov which I would like to read again, and I can remember the title; could you tell me where to find it?

If you correctly remembered the title, and Asimov did in fact write the story, you can find a list of collections and anthologies that the story appeared in the Guide to Isaac Asimov's Short Fiction on the Web. If you can't find the story there, it is probably because Asimov did not write it. Often there is confusion between Asimov and other well known science fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke or Robert Heinlein. Asimov also edited or co-edited a large number of anthologies, and since his name was usually featured prominently on the cover, readers sometimes mistakenly associate his name with a story that appeared in an anthology that was in fact written by another author. But if you remember the correct title, you will probably find the story listed in the Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, compiled by William Contento, which covers stories anthologized before 1984, or in The Locus Index to Science Fiction.

There's this really neat story by Asimov, but I can't remember the title...

The story is probably "The Last Question". It can be found in a number of Asimov's anthologies (it was his favorite of his own stories, after all):

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:

I'd like to hear some opinions about some of Asimov's books. Do you have any?

Certainly opinions of Asimov's books are a favorite topic of discussion in the alt.books.isaac-asimov newsgroup, and this FAQ does not intend to answer this question once and for all. However most people have not read most of Asimov's books, and those that have are probably too busy reading to offer their opinion for the umpteenth time to new readers of the newsgroup.

John Jenkins has written reviews for a great number of Asimov's books, both fiction and nonfiction, and collected them together 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.

What is the title of the essay that Asimov wrote concerning the ultimate self-contained, portable, high-tech reading device of the future which turns out to be a book? Where can I find it?

The title of the essay is "The Ancient and the Ultimate". It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in January 1973, and appeared in the Doubleday collections The Tragedy of the Moon (1973) and Asimov on Science (1989).

In his story "Pate de Foie Gras", Asimov presented a puzzle, but did not provide a solution to that puzzle. He stated that some people wrote him with an answer immediately after the story's publication, and as science advanced he eventually began receiving letters with another possible solution. But he doesn't say what those solutions were. Did he ever provide the solutions, and if so, what are they?

In each of Asimov's collections that included the story, whenever there was a foreword or an afterword, he avoided giving away the answer. In later years, he complained jokingly that because of the advance of science, there was at least one new way that would probably be even better than his original solution.

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.

Did you know that Asimov is the only author to have published books in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System?

No, because that claim is not true, despite the fact that it is repeated in numerous lists of "amazing but true facts" that circulate on the Internet, and even shows up in the third edition of The New York Public Library Desk Reference. Asimov himself mentioned this a couple of times, but always by prefacing it with the clause "I have been told by a librarian that...". The reason that the claim is not true is because not one of Asimov's books was classified in the 100s category of Philosophy. Here are the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System: Although a great number of his books were classified in the 500s and the 600s, there are three other categories that were sparsely represented (for Asimov, that is): A more accurate statement is that Isaac Asimov is the only author who has so many well written books in so many different categories of library classification.

More than books...

What records, audio tapes, videotapes, and software are available?

See Asimov on Other Media.

Have any of Asimov's books or stories been made into a radio production, movie or television series?

RADIO:

The Caves of Steel:
BBC Radio Play, June 1989, faithfully adapted by Bert Coules, with Ed Bishop (UFO's Commander Straker) in the role of Elijah Baley.

Liar:
Exploring Tomorrow, Mutual Broadcasting System, February 26, 1958, with an introduction and narration by John W. Campbell.

The Foundation Trilogy:
BBC Radio 4, in eight one-hour installments, May 6, 1973 - June 24, 1973

Hostess:
X Minus One, NBC radio, December 12, 1956

C-Chute:
X Minus One, NBC radio, February 8, 1956

Nightfall:
Dimension X, NBC radio, September 29, 1951

X Minus One, NBC radio, December 7, 1955

Pebble in the Sky:
Dimension X, NBC radio, June 17, 1951

FILM:

Bicentennial Man:
The movie is based on Asimov's short story "The Bicentennial Man" and Robert Silverberg's novelization The Positronic Man, and was released in the U.S. on December 17, 1999. The Touchstone Pictures production starred Robin Williams as Andrew Martin, and was directed by Chris Columbus.

Foundation:
The rights to a Foundation movie were purchased in 1994, but as the I, Robot experience illustrates, it remains to be seen if a film will ever be produced and released.

Nightfall:
A movie named Nightfall was made after a group in Hollywood bought the rights from Doubleday in the late 1980s. The movie plot had practically no relation to the story, and by all accounts is truly and thoroughly awful. Asimov was never consulted in the making of it, and completely disowned any responsibility for it.

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:
An animated science fiction film from France, for which Asimov took the original, poorly done translation to English, and reworked the translation into good English. He did not have any part in writing the script or story, concerning a warrior that begins an adventure into the future in a search to discover the unseen evil force that is destroying his world.

Light Years was released in 1988; directed by Rene Laloux, running time 79 minutes.

Sleeper:
Asimov's work on Woody Allen's 1973 science fiction spoof was very minor. In 1972, Asimov was asked, as an expert in science and science fiction, to read over the script and identify any mistakes that Allen, who knew relatively little about those subjects, might have made. Asimov, who was a fan of Allen's, read the script and loved it, and stated flatly that it was perfect and needed no changes. Asimov was offered the position of technical director for the movie, but refused, since that would require a lot of travel. Instead he recommended Ben Bova, who took the job "and did very well".

The Ugly Little Boy:
This short story was made into a film by Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1970s.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture:
At the request of Gene Roddenberry, Asimov provided advice for this picture, and was listed at the very end of the credits as the Science Adviser.

I, Robot:
In August 1967, John Mantley, the producer of the television show "Gunsmoke" expressed interest in Asimov's robot stories, and paid for option rights. The option was renewed every year for the next twelve years until finally the rights to produce a movie were bought. After Asimov refused to do the screen adaptation, Harlan Ellison was hired, and though he wrote a screenplay in that Asimov was greatly pleased with, the movie was never made. Ellison tells the story of his battle with Hollywood in the introduction to I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay, published in December 1994.

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:
Rather than an Asimov story made into a movie, FV is a movie for which Asimov wrote a novelization of the screenplay. Initially he considered such a project as beneath his dignity, but then warmed to the idea once he realized that he could include a lot of anatomy and physiology. In his book he tried to correct some of the most glaring flaws in the screenplay, but nevertheless felt uncomfortable about the whole idea of miniaturization. (His dissatisfaction eventually led him to write Fantastic Voyage II.) Asimov wrote so much faster than the movie was produced that the book came out half a year before the movie was released, giving the mistaken impression that the movie was based on the book. He is not listed in the credits of the movie because he had no part in its production.

Fantastic Voyage was released in 1966, starring Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, and Donald Pleasance; directed by Richard Fleischer; running time 100 minutes.

Evidence:
In September of 1946, Asimov sold the movie, radio, and television rights to the short story "Evidence" for $250 to Hollywood director Orson Welles. Welles never made a movie from the story.

TELEVISION:

The Android Affair:
This is a made-for-cable movie first broadcast by the USA cable channel in April 1995, and advertised as being "based on a story by Isaac Asimov". In fact, Asimov's involvement was slight -- the actual screenplay was based on a shorter film, and Asimov was given co-credit for the story of the shorter work. In particular, the plot is not based on any of Asimov's published work and involves some very non-Asimovian androids, who are not positronic and gleefully lack the First Law.

Probe:
Asimov was credited as adviser and co-creator of this television series, which lasted for a 2-hour pilot and six 1-hour episodes on ABC in 1988 before a writer's strike came along and ended the series. It starred Parker Stevenson as brilliant young scientist Austin James, who owned his own high-tech think tank consulting firm, and used his scientific expertise to solve baffling crimes as a sort of modern day Sherlock Holmes.

Salvage 1:
A science fiction television series starring Andy Griffith which aired on ABC in 1979, for which Asimov served as a science adviser. Griffith played Harry Broderick, a scrap and salvage man who undertook such adventures as building a rocket that took him to the moon to collect abandoned space hardware, moving an iceberg from the North Pole to provide water for a drought-stricken island, and pumping oil from dried-out wells.

Out of the Unknown:
Six of Asimov's stories were used for episodes of this British TV anthology series, which ran on the BBC in the U.K. for 20 episodes from 1965 to 1966, and for a third season of 13 episodes in 1969. "The Dead Past" and "Sucker Bait" appeared in the first season in 1965; "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Reason" (retitled "The Prophet") in the second season (1966); and both "Liar!" and "The Naked Sun" ran during the third season in 1969.

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".

The Caves of Steel
BBC 2 did a production of The Caves of Steel that was broadcast as part of "Story Parade" on June 5, 1964 and repeated on August 28, 1964. The teleplay was by Terry Nation (who invented "Blake's 7" and the Daleks in Dr. Who), and Elijah Baley was played by the late Peter Cushing. It also starred John Carson and Kenneth J. Warren. The master tapes of the program were erased, however a few clips from the production have turned up in various documentaries about Asimov's work.

Little Lost Robot
The story "Little Lost Robot" was made as an episode of the British anthology series "Out of This World", produced by ABC television in 1962. This series is commonly confused with the later BBC series "Out of the Unknown". "Out of This World" ran for thirteen episodes, and like the later BBC series, it presented adaptations of famous SF works as well as original teleplays. (It was script-edited by Irene Shubik, who also script-edited the 1964 BBC version of "The Caves of Steel", and both produced and script-edited "Out of the Unknown"). The adaptation of "Little Lost Robot" is the only known surviving example of the Out of This World series, the other episodes having been erased by ABC many years ago.


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Edward Seiler
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