Few giants tower over our understanding of science fiction
the way Isaac Asimov does.
Without him, it’s unlikely that
we would have charged away from the space westerns and gadget adventures of the pulp era,
and raced towards what he himself coined “social science fiction”
Asimov laid the foundation for our understanding of robots, and space empires.
He led science fiction away from simply marveling at the new technology of the Atom Age,
instead, forcing us to question HOW we use it,
and what it means for us as a species.
He made science fiction something that ask you to think
rather than leaving it to simply serve as a distraction from everyday life.
Without him, we wouldn’t have modern science fiction.
But it almost didn’t happen.
[Extra Sci Fi Theme]
Revolution sweeps Russia.
In the midst of the chaos of civil war,
a child is born,
a child who will be someday known as Isaac Asimov.
But the chaos of revolution was no place for a child,
especially not one from a Jewish family, his parents decided.
So they got out while they could.
By the time the child was three,
they had moved to America, to New York.
A precocious child, Asimov learned to read at the age of five.
And because of the nearly universal lack of records from the Russian civil war,
his mother got him into school early
by telling them he was born a year earlier than he was, maybe.
Maybe, it was just a month earlier than he was actually born.
You see this child, Isaac Asimov,
one of the first major writers to really explore the butterfly effect,
would have his own life, and thus so many of our lives,
forever altered by this one small fact.
There was no record of his date of birth.
No one, not even his own parents, knew for certain when he was born.
It was somewhere between early October, 1919,
and the beginning of January, 1920.
And when young Asimov learned
that his mother had fibbed to get him into school,
he insisted that the school change the records to give him his”real” birthday.
And for his”real” birthday, he chose to be the youngest he might have been,
choosing a birthday of January 2nd, 1920.
A decision that will have unforeseen consequences.
But those consequences are years away.
As he grew up,
his parents ran a candy store where he worked frequently.
And there, fortunately for all of us, they sold magazines.
Not just any magazines, mind you, Science Fiction magazines,
值得注意的是 不是其他杂志 而是科幻杂志
which young Isaac poured over in all of his free time.
When it came time for college,
Asimov knew he wanted to go into the sciences.
So, he enrolled to be a zoologist.
But he soon found he disliked dissecting cats
and so became a Chemistry major instead.
And as he was plugging away at his college degree,
one day he decided to take a trip down to the offices of Astounding Stories,
where he met one John W. Campbell.
They sat and talked for an hour,
by the end of which,
Campbell had promised to take a look at one of Asimov’s stories.
This he did, and rejected it.
But this did lead to regular meetings between the two
and time and again, Asimov submitted writing,
until at last, he got one accepted.
Finally, with a story called Marooned off Vesta,
he became a published author.
Though, amusingly, not by Campbell
but by his rival publication, Amazing Stories.
After that, encouraged by Campbell,
he wrote fervently and began being published everywhere,
including his favorite magazine, Campbell’s own Astounding Stories.
By now, he had graduated,
and was busy getting rejected by medical schools.
With medicine not seeming to be in the cards,
he had to choose another path.
As he was mulling over getting his Masters in chemistry,
his old friend Campbell read him an Emmerson quote.
It said:” If the stars should appear
one night in a thousand years
how would men believe, and adore, and persevere for generations,
人类会如何景仰 崇拜 并世代保留
the remembrance of the city of God?”
After reading the passage, Campbell exclaimed that he thought instead
the stars appearing once in a thousand years would drive people mad.
And then asked Asimov to write a story about THAT.
Campbell offered Asimov double pay,
and Asimov set off to write the story that Campbell always knew he could.
He wrote Nightfall.
This instantly propelled him into the first rank of science fiction writers.
While demand for his stories grew,
and letters from fans started pouring in
science fiction writing still wasn’t making ends meet.
He wanted to get married,
and was looking for something more stable
and with America entering the Second World War
he decided to put away writing,
and start a real career down at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
For a year, he didn’t write.
But lucky for all of us, during the war,
a lot of people with a bent for science on the east coast
ended up at the Philadelphia Naval Yards.
So two of his coworkers and close friends
ended up being L. Sprague de Camp
and the man who helped get him the job,Robert Heinlein,
and they wouldn’t let him just give up on the things he loved.
And so again, he picked up the pen.
But once more, a twist of fate pulled him away.
In 1945, he was drafted.
He shouldn’t have been, but he was.
Remember when, as a child,
his mother had claimed he was older than he was to get into school
and then later, he rebelled
and insisted on saying his official birthdate was
the one that made him seem as young as possible?
Well, that instance put him just below the oldest legal draft age of 26.
And so, he was shipped off to Hawaii.
But, in one of the strangest twists of fate in sci-fi history.
Nine months later, a clerical error gave him an honorable discharge
九个月后 办事员记录错误 使他光荣退伍
and he was back on the east coast,
and throwing himself back at writing.
It’s this period that gave us some of his greatest works.
and while he’ll go on to get a doctorate
and serve as a professor
before deciding to become a professional writer full time.
It’s this period we’re going to talk about
for the next two episodes.
Because Asimov’s great gift to sci-fi
was his ability to take theories or cutting edge scientific ideas
and ask, “What would humanity do with this?”
and, “How would this really play out?”
Due to his life of peculiar experiences,
Asimov saw technology not as gadgets and gizmos in isolation…
…but rather as a part of the march of human progress.
He saw that, you couldn’t look at technology
without looking at what it would mean to society…
…and how we would use it as human beings.
Now his failing, as later writers would point out… …
is that he didn’t realize that human nature,
along with the foundation of societies, can change.
Many of his books and many of his characters came
out of the culture of a post World War 2 America…
…with his perspectives, values, and biases.
And even when he was commenting on,
or critiquing those values, sometimes he couldn’t shake those biases.
He also — and here I am committing a great blasphemy
in the science fiction world by saying this — wasn’t…
…a great writer… in the technical sense.
His prose are utilitarian, and his characters are often histrionic… …
serving less as characters, and more as devices to propel the plot.
But his ideas, his ideas were revolutionary.
He was the first great ideas writer of modern Sci Fi,
and perhaps the best.
Every book played with some theme or concept,
exploring some notion that would impact our thinking for generations.
At times, this makes his books hard to read today… …
because his ideas have become so much a part of of our society… …
that the revelations in them,
which must have been mind-blowing when they were first released… …
are hard not to have spoiled by their mere act
of existing in the modern world.
Robotics,AI, Economics, Political Theory…
机器人 AI 经济 政治理论
…all of these bare the stamp of his incredible mind.
And he was one of the most prolific writers of the modern age… …
leaving behind roughly 500 books, ranging from mystery novels,
to books on hard science…
…to folios of dirty limericks.
But it’s the two greatest pillars of his idea-centric science fiction we’ll be focusing
on for the next few weeks:
…and The Foundation.
We’ll see you then!
Few giants tower over our understanding of science fiction