Yours, Isaac Asimov, Ed. Stanley Asimov

Doubleday, 1995, 332 pages, C$??.?? hc, ISBN 0-385-47622-1

Despite what anyone may think of Isaac Asimov’s fiction, opinion, style or latter years (this reviewer, for one, maintains that most post-1970 Asimov novels were average at best, errors otherwise), there is no denying the influence he had on SF and America during his life. This in itself would make the Asimov name pretty valuable (to publishers) even after his untimely death in 1992.

So here is another book by Asimov about Asimov. In this case, here is the Stanley Asimov-edited book of Isaac Asimov-written letters. Before e-mail, before facsimiles there was the letter, and Asimov wrote a bunch of them. How much of a bunch? “Isaac received about 100,000 letters in his professional career… he answered 90 percent of them.” [Introduction] Even considering that half these answers were on postcards, that’s a staggering mass of material.

To his credit, Stanley Asimov manages to distil a jovial book of Asimovillia, full of the Good Doctor’s own brand of immodest modesty, suggestive limericks and unique personality. A writer of nearly 500 books can’t escape having encyclopedic interests, and this is one of the most distinctive things gleaned from Yours, Isaac Asimov.

Beyond that, it’s a revealing look at the personality of the man by his writings, collected and edited by someone who knew him well. Even those who think they know everything about Asimov should learn a few things.

For instance, fans of the prurient Asimov from the forties and fifties will be surprised, even shocked, at the decidedly looser opinions of the more unleashed writer of the sixties onward. More than forty limericks, among other things, populate the pages of this book. Some of them are fairly spicy.

The book is divided in more than fifty short thematic paragraphs, among them “Being a liberal”, “Quantity”, “Campbell and Pohl”, “Fans”, “Youth”, “Memory”, “Censorship” and “Being Atheist”. Stanley poignantly ends the collection with two chapters on Health and Death. And yet, the overall tone of the book is one of cheer and good living. Asimov loved life and these letters show it.

Of course, this collection will mean more to Asimov fans that to relative newcomers. As such, it might not be worth buying in hardcover, but any serious Asimov collector should at least take a look at it.

It occurs to this reviewer that if ever humanity perfects the machine in Robert Silverberg’s “Enter a Soldier. Later, Enters Another” (Where everything known about a person is entered in a computer in order to simulate his personality), Asimov might be one of the best candidates to recreate. Not only has he left us more that 450 books from where to glean material (not including his massive autobiographies and everything everyone else wrote about him), but everyone could agree that Doctor A. should still be around.

I can’t think of a more telling homage.

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