and to force them on people when they are not asked for.
Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, writing or editing more than 500 books.
He was widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark, one of the “Big Three” of the science fiction Golden Age of the 1930s-1950s.
A handsome and charming man (geniuses always look good to me), Isaac Asimov was a charming and hilarious writer. I loved him.
I liked his robot stories and novels (who doesn’t like his robot stories?), but my favorite Asimov writings were his autobiographies, his humorous introductions, and his science essays.
Asimov was a prolific public speaker, as well, speaking wherever he was invited provided he could reach the location by driving there from his home in New York City.
Knowing this from reading his engrossing two-volume autobiography, on a trip to New York City to visit family there in the mid-1980s, I got up the courage to call Asimov’s publisher, Doubleday, to ask his editor if Isaac would be speaking anywhere nearby while I was in town.
His editor, kindness herself, promised to find out and to call me back the same day.
Hopeful, after not hearing back from her for several hours, I anxiously called her again to ask if she had any news; I didn’t want my inquiry to be forgotten in the rush, no doubt, of Asimovian business, and to miss, possibly, my only chance of seeing Isaac in person.
His editor told me, immediately and delightedly, that I was in luck as Isaac would be speaking in Long Island in a few days.
And that Isaac himself would be calling me soon to tell me exactly when and where.
I was thunderstruck. After hanging up, I fidgeted and paced nervously around the apartment, waiting for the call. I wondered what I would say to Isaac. My mind was a blank; I was overcome with joy. (I was glad that my family were at work and that I was alone, so that I wouldn’t have to explain my excitement to anyone.)
Isaac called me within an hour or two. I was shocked by his Brooklyn accent; he sounded almost blasé. I was too scared to speak, and wrote down his directions almost wordlessly.
On the day of the talk, waiting for the train to Long Island where Asimov would be speaking at a small college, I browsed in a newsstand, looking for train reading. I was surprised to find one of Isaac’s science essay collections among a small selection of books. I bought it.
I didn’t read the book on the train; I was too excited. After the train deposited me in Long Island, I took a cab to where Isaac would be speaking. I walked into the designated campus lecture hall, and saw Isaac standing, alone, across its spacious lobby.
Isaac was looking down, perusing some notes in his hands, and hadn’t noticed me come in. Bravely, I walked up to him, and, interrupting his reading, introduced myself as the woman from out of town whom he had spoken with on the phone.
Isaac graciously said hello, then noticed his book tucked under my arm (how he knew it was one of his, I can’t answer). He asked me if I would like him to sign it.
I never ask famous people for autographs as I consider the approach an intrusion and the request an impertinence (unless, of course, the person is attending a fan event and sitting at a table for the specified purpose of signing autographs). I felt a bit abashed, thinking that Isaac must have thought that I had brought the book with me solely for the purpose of asking him to sign it.
But Isaac didn’t seem annoyed. In fact, he slid the book out from under my arm almost before I could mumble out an acquiescence, as I shot for a hopefully enthusiastic-sounding “sure”! He seemed eager. He asked me how I spelled my name, and signed my book with relish.
(I rationalized that he must have been so used to being asked to sign his many, many thousands of books circulating that when he saw one in the offing he grabbed it and signed it automatically, to save time, without thinking about it; that it must have become such a rote process for him that he barely noticed doing it.)
I liked that Isaac had been thoughtful enough to sign my book. It was a nice keepsake of meeting him. An even nicer “keepsake” was coming up.
Isaac’s talk was funny, of course; he was always funny. Sitting toward the back of the room, I noticed a young man sound-recording it with professional-looking equipment, obviously on behalf of the college.
I approached the student after the talk and asked him if he would mind supplying me with a copy of the tape when one was available, as a souvenir; I offered to purchase a copy. The young man kindly replied that he would send me a copy free of charge when one was ready. (Later, after I had returned home, he kindly obliged me.)
After Isaac’s talk there was a reception in the same lobby in which I had met him. I hadn’t expected it and was happy; I might have a chance to speak with Isaac again.
The lobby was crowded with people, this time, however, and the sound-recording fellow had attached himself to me and was following me around, talking with me, which made it difficult for me to get close to Isaac and to hear him chatting with other people. (I’m too charming, myself, sometimes.)
Finally, I sidled close enough to Isaac, surrounded by his professorial hosts, friends, and admirers, to hear him speaking.
He noticed, stopped speaking, and asked me in front of everyone, “May I have a kiss?”
Now it was my turn to oblige.
(From reading his autobiography, I knew that Isaac flirted with every female within earshot of him. But he was the only Isaac Asimov to me.)
I had started to devour Isaac’s books of science essays as a teenager. Occasionally I would buttonhole friends or corner family members where they couldn’t escape and tell them some utterly fascinating fact from science which I just couldn’t keep to myself. No one else seemed to be as enraptured by science as I was, however. (Some people, males all, have assured me that the science facts that I have told them were “not true”. I never argue. I just think, “Well, stay stupid, then.”)
I do have to admit that Isaac’s science fiction, however, although I enjoyed it, grated on me a bit, at times. It was typically 1950s-sexist, as most fiction was then (and still is; John Grisham, one of the very few modern fiction writers I have bothered to read, is notoriously sexist).
Robert Heinlein was a worse offender than Isaac, but, gritting my teeth at the way he portrayed women, I enjoyed Heinlein’s science fiction books, as well; especially his stories involving time travel. (For some reason I’m not clear on time travel is my favorite subject in science fiction. Heinlein was the master of it. I don’t know how he made up his ingenious, twisty plots.)
Asimov called himself a “feminist”, but that was not easy to deduce from his fiction. All of the women in his stories were sex objects, silly housewives, or pathologically cold and unapproachable scientists.
His own admittedly favorite female character was Susan Calvin, the latter type, a paranoid, angry scientist; always smarter, in reality, than the male scientists around her. I related.
Isaac loved Susan for her brilliance and assertiveness, as I did. But there was no purpose to her bitchiness. Stories involving Calvin could have been resolved identically if she had been rational and kind as well as assertive and brilliant. (Why did Rosalind Franklin just pop into my head?)
I used to think when I read Asimov’s earlier short stories, “Isaac, if you want to prove that you’re a feminist, make one of these male characters female, then don’t change anything else. Leave the rest of the plot, action, and dialog exactly the same. Then you’ll see what true equality really is.”
I thought that Isaac became a bit cranky toward the end of his life; he seemed critical of women, especially.
Isaac Asimov died of AIDS, caught from a blood transfusion given during open heart surgery years earlier, during a time when AIDS still wasn’t spoken of due to fear of discrimination (not Isaac’s idea, but his doctors’; Isaac agreed to the subterfuge when it was presented to him that there might be retaliation against his family). No one besides his family knew at the time of his death, in 1992, that AIDS was the cause. It was years before it came out.
I forgave him his end of life snark. I am still a little devastated by his death. I can only imagine how much his family must be, and how much they must miss him.
I always loved Isaac. I always will.
And I’ll never forget my kiss.
June 11, 2012
In Memory Yet Green
The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, Volume One
Isaac Asimov. Doubleday, 1979 (out of print).
In Joy Still Felt
The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, Volume Two
Isaac Asimov. Doubleday, 1980 (out of print).
I, Asimov – A Memoir
Isaac Asimov. Doubleday, 1994/95.
Asimov’s third autobiography, a condensed version of the two above.
Yours, Isaac Asimov
A Life in Letters
Isaac Asimov. Doubleday, 1995; Main Street Books, 1996.
It’s Been a Good Life
Isaac Asimov. Prometheus Books, 2002.
Find more books by Isaac Asimov (fiction and non-fiction) at my Amazon bookstore.
Articles on Isaac Asimov:
Time, July 7, 1967 (subscription only)
What Makes Isaac Write?
Peter Stoler, Time, February 26, 1979
The Protean Penman
Stefan Kanfer, Time, December 19, 1988
Isaac Asimov: Author. Scientist. Raconteur. Babe magnet. Wit. Genius.
Cracked reference webpage (NSFW – language.)
More Information on Isaac Asimov:
Isaac Asimov books at my Amazon bookstore.
Wikipedia. Source unknown.
Please contact me if you know the origin.
© 2011 Cathi Carol. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: March 9, 2013
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