Birthplace: Petrovichi, Russia
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: AIDS
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered)
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Party Affiliation: Democratic
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Foundation
Military service: US Army (1945-46, served 9mo in Hawaii)
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov is one of the best-known and most successful authors to emerge from the Golden Age of science fiction. The author of nearly 500 books (albeit many of them anthologies or collaborative efforts), he managed to publish an astonishingly broad array of works: mystery, poetry, science, humor, horror, literary criticism, mythology -- even guides to the Bible and Shakespeare. In fact, Asimov managed to insert himself into every single category of the Dewey Decimal System except Philosophy. Asimov's best known works are the short story "Nightfall" (1941, acclaimed as the best science fiction story ever written), and the various installments in his Foundation and Robot series (Foundation's Edge, I, Robot, etc.). It was Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" and his concept of the positronic brain that inspired Gene Roddenberry to create Data, the Star Trek: The Next Generation android. It has been said that Isaac Asimov defined the voice of science fiction, setting the norm that all others followed or varied from.
Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia (near Smolensk) in 1920, around 2 January. Although his parents, Anna Rachel and Judah Asimov, were Jews, they did not raise the young Isaac to be religious. The family emigrated to the U.S. when he was three years old and soon owned and operated the first in a series of candy stores. As a youngster, growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov soon showed himself to be remarkably bright, with an extraordinary memory. By the time he was five he had taught himself to read. And despite the family's frequent moves (selling one candy store in order to buy another in a new location), he was always at the head of his class, and frequently being promoted. He skipped half of kindergarten, half a year of first grade, and half a year of third grade. Being quick to perceive the lesson before the teacher had gotten more than part way through it, he often became bored in class and tried to alleviate the situation by talking to his neighbor -- something for which he was frequently in trouble.
Although intellectually proficient, he was at the same time socially and physically awkward. He never learned how to ride a bike or swim, and if he spent even ten minutes out in the sun his skin would burn fiercely (which may explain his pronounced preference for artificial lighting). He was also a claustrophiliac, having a peculiar liking for small, enclosed spaces. At age nine he began working in the family store (where he discovered science fiction novels), by eleven he had begun his first novel, The Greenville Chums at College. Although he never completed the novel (dismissing it as not good enough), he had firmly established in internal identity as a writer at an early age.
In high school he contributed to the school newspaper; and in 1935, as a fifteen year old at Seth Low Junior College, he had one of his letters published in his favorite magazine, Astounding Science Fiction. In 1939, the same year he graduated from Columbia University (with a BA in Chemistry), he had three short stories published in national sci-fi pulps -- one in Astounding ("Trends") and two more in Amazing Stories ("Marooned off Vesta", "The Weapon Too Dreadful To Use"). A mere two and a half years later he had published at least 30 stories; among them was "Night Fall", the now-classic story that brought him instant recognition as a serious author.
With the advent of World War II, Asimov moved to Philadelphia to work as a junior chemist at the U.S. Naval Air Experimental Station, where he rubbed elbows with Robert A. Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp. Impressively, despite the work load, he managed to publish 8-10 stories per year. Still, there remained an imbalance in his personal life. His shyness and social awkwardness, and his busy work schedule, meant he was unable to meet the right girl (or perhaps any girl). Thus on Valentine's Day, in 1942, friends fixed him up on a blind date with a girl named Gertrude Blugerman. The two were instantly attracted to each other, and were married five and a half months later. The relationship, which produced a son and a daughter, lasted some thirty years before finally ending in divorce, after which Asimov soon remarried, to science fiction author Janet O. Jeppson.
1942 was also a significant year professionally for it marked the year that Asimov began both his now famous Foundation stories -- eventually collected and published in Foundation Trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953) -- and the robot stories that would give rise to another science fiction classic, I, Robot. The robot series would later inspire at least two films: Bicentennial Man (1999), and I, Robot (2004).
Despite his civilian work for the Navy, in 1945 Asimov was inducted into the Army where, not surprisingly, he earned the highest score in his company on the intelligence test -- and the lowest score on the physical-conditioning test. After the war, and after his discharge in July of 1946, Asimov returned to Columbia. By 1948 he had earned his doctorate degree in chemistry, and he took a teaching position in biochemistry at Boston University. Although granted tenure (while an assistant professor) in 1955, Asimov gave up his teaching duties in 1958, preferring to write rather than be forced to churn out "mediocre" research. Still, in an unusual twist, he retained his place on the faculty and in 1979 -- despite his having left to pursue interests more dear to his heart -- the university promoted him to the rank of full professor.
After withdrawing from his work at the university, he began to write a substantial amount of non-fiction, while his science fiction output dwindled. Over the next twenty-five years he produced very few short stories and only four sci-fi novels. Purportedly he felt he simply could not match the level of work being produced by the genre's "New Wave" authors, a group which included Brian Aldiss and J. G. Ballard.
What science fiction Asimov did produce in this era varied markedly in quality, from the disappointing Fantastic Voyage movie tie-in novels to the impressive The Gods Themselves (1972) which won a Hugo and a Nebula. Meanwhile, Asimov wrote a considerable number of mystery stories in the 70s. 1977 saw the creation of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine which went on to extraordinary commercial and critical success -- a development due, at least in part, to the fact that the name Asimov was by now synonymous with the highest quality science fiction. Although his name graced the cover, Asimov left the editing work to others; however, he contributed a 1,500-word editorial in every issue as well as answering letters.
Finally in 1982, Asimov fans were at last able rejoice as a new novel, Foundation's Edge. From this point on Asimov began to publish numerous sequels to his earlier major works, trying to tie the Foundation and Robot story lines together to create a resultant new and deeper meaning. Tragically, this fresh burst of productivity would be delimited by the consequences of a heart bypass surgery performed in 1983 -- blood used in an infusion was tainted with the HIV virus, and in 1992 Isaac Asimov died of AIDS. Since his passing, unpublished Asimov works have continued to be released, including Forward the Foundation (1993), and I. Asimov (1994), and in 1997 he was inducted posthumously into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
During his lifetime Asimov was the recipient of at least eight Hugo awards and two Nebulas, and he was also awarded the 1957 Thomas Alva Edison Foundation Award for his book Building Blocks of the Universe, the Howard W. Blakeslee Award from the American Heart Association in 1960 for his book The Living River, the James T. Grady Award of the American Chemical Society in 1965, and the Westinghouse Science Writing Award, 1967. In 1981 an asteroid, 5020 Asimov, was named in his honor. The Honda corporation's anthropoid robot ASIMO is also named for him. Asimov's personal papers (1965 onward) are currently archived at Boston University's Mugar Memorial Library, where they consume 464 boxes on 232 feet of shelf space.
Father: Judah Asimov
Mother: Anna Rachel Berman
Brother: Stanley (journalist, b. 1929, d. 1995)
Wife: Gertrude Blugerman (m. 26-Jul-1942, div. 16-Nov-1973)
Wife: Janet Opal Jeppson (psychiatrist, m. 30-Nov-1973, until his death)
Son: David (b. 1955)
Daughter: Robyn Joan (b. 1959)
High School: Boys High School, Brooklyn, NY
University: BS Chemistry, Columbia University (1939)
University: MA, Columbia University (1941)
University: PhD Biochemistry, Columbia University (1948)
Professor: Boston University
Hugo 1966 Best Series, for The Foundation (all-time)
Hugo 1973 Best Novel, for The Gods Themselves
Hugo 1977 Best Novelette, for The Bicentennial Man
Hugo 1983 Best Novel, for Foundation's Edge
Hugo 1992 Best Novelette, for Gold
Hugo 1995 Best Memoir, for I. Asimov
Hugo 1996 Best Novel, for The Mule (retrospective)
Nebula 1973 Best Novel, for The Gods Themselves
Nebula 1977 Best Novelette, for The Bicentennial Man
Humanist of the Year 1984
Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame 1996
American Humanist Association Honorary President
Dutch Treat Club (1971-92)
Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
Phi Beta Kappa Society
International Academy of Humanism Laureate
Endorsement of Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer
Endorsement of Texas Instruments 1983
Naturalized US Citizen 1928
Draft Deferment: World War II 2-BL, reclassified 1-AB (1945)
Heart Bypass Operation 1983
Risk Factors: Acrophobia
Author of books:
Pebble in the Sky (1950, novel)
I, Robot (1950, short stories)
Foundation (1951, novel)
Foundation and Empire (1952, novel)
Second Foundation (1953, novel)
Asimov's New Guide to Science (1960, nonfiction)
The Rest of the Robots (1964, short stories)
Opus 100 (1969)
The Gods Themselves (1972, novel)
Murder at the ABA (1972, novel)
Opus 200 (1979)
Foundation's Edge (1982, novel)
Foundation and Earth (1986, novel)
Prelude to Foundation (1988, novel)
Forward the Foundation (1993, novel, posthumous)
I, Asimov: A Memoir (1994, memoir)
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