Books by Isaac Asimov

THE RETURN OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 1, 2003

"Perfect for short train rides, waiting rooms, and those who favor talk-talk-talk with a modicum of description."
Just because you're dead is no reason to let a long-running short-story franchise wither. Read full book review >
MAGIC by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

Another posthumous anthology from the science fiction grandmaster (1920-92), this time of previously uncollected stories and writings on fantasy—though Asimov uses examples from science fiction freely and makes no rigid distinction between fantasy and science fiction. Of the 11 stories, 8 belong to the familiar series featuring George and his tiny demons, Azazel, depending heavily on puns and jokes for their impact; in another, the Black Widowers interview Batman; while two are light, amusing fables. "On Fantasy," 13 pieces of mild criticism and commentary, includes introductions to books whose titles receive only passing mention and which remain un-footnoted by the publishers. Meanwhile, the nine pieces "On Writing Fantasy" incline toward general remarks rather than Asimov's usual prescriptive, avuncular how-tos aimed at wannabe fictioneers. Although Asimov fans will want to browse, this, like Gold (1994), a posthumous collection of writings on science fiction, is publishing at its laziest: Surely someone could have been induced to write something illuminating about the contents here. Read full book review >
GOLD by Isaac Asimov
Released: March 1, 1995

A posthumous anthology of previously uncollected science fiction writings from Asimov (192092; Forward the Foundation, 1993, etc.) comprising 15 stories, 18 nonfiction pieces about science fiction, and 20 essays on the craft of writing science fiction. In the fiction, there are a few nuggets among the less memorable short-shorts—such as the title story, a wonderful account of how a visual artist of genius struggles to represent and dramatize three undescribed alien characters (strongly resembling the aliens in Asimov's The Gods Themselves) from a science fiction novel. And "Cal" is a robot who yearns to write; given the capacity to do so by his writer owner, Cal so outshines his owner that the latter dismantles him. Part Two, "On Science Fiction," consists of magazine editorials, essays—such as "The Robot Chronicles," a fascinating exploration of how Asimov conceived and developed his definitive robot stories—and book introductions. These, devoid of context, lack even footnotes to tell us which books are being introduced. Finally, in Part Three, "On Writing Science Fiction," Asimov, at his most genial and avuncular, dispenses useful advice on "Plotting," "Ideas," "Suspense," "Originality," "Symbolism," "Revisions," "Dialog," and other aspects of the craft. A chance to browse through the prolific Grand Master's last words of, and thoughts about, science fiction. But the pleasure would have been enhanced if somebody had bothered to provide an introduction and some much needed background information. Read full book review >
I. ASIMOV by Isaac Asimov
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 1, 1994

"Mixed in with the bons mots and the gossip are true stories about Asimov's novels and short fiction that fans will cherish. Perhaps most gratifying of these is the confession of astonishment Asimov expressed upon reaching bestseller status, late in his life."
Asimov, knighted a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, was an eloquent raconteur; in fact, the book reads like a one-sided conversation, as he shares his opinions on surviving Star Trek conventions, other science fiction authors' egos, and, of course, his own career. Read full book review >
THE POSITRONIC MAN by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Nov. 1, 1993

Third and final collaboration between the late Asimov and Silverberg (Nightfall, 1990; The Ugly Little Boy, 1992), this based on Asimov's famous long story "The Bicentennial Man." Here, we get the biography of Andrew Martin—an apparently ordinary humaniform housekeeping robot whose experimental brain leads him to demonstrate capabilities hitherto considered unrobotic: he first becomes an artist, then a businessman; finally, he embarks upon a consciousness-raising campaign to have himself declared human in all respects. Like its predecessors, this novel-length rewrite doesn't significantly improve upon the original, but merely expands upon it. Still, there's bound to be an audience for Asimov's last novel, even if he didn't actually write it. Read full book review >
FORWARD THE FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: April 6, 1993

The final science-fiction novel by the legendary Asimov—a prequel to his widely acclaimed Foundation Trilogy, written in the 1940's. The story begins on Trantor, capital planet of a Galactic Empire that has stood for millennia; only a few citizens suspect that the Empire is about to collapse. Among them is Hari Seldon, mathematics professor and inventor of psychohistory: a science that allows him to predict and control the future. Psychohistory proves that the fall of the Empire is inevitable; but it also suggests ways to ameliorate the coming Dark Ages, and to lay the foundation for a Second—more stable—Empire. Luckily, Seldon has made important allies: the Emperor himself, who heard an early lecture by Seldon and has maintained an interest in him ever since; and Eto Dermerzel, long the power behind the throne. Essentially, the story is of Seldon's carrying out the mission implicit in the opening chapters. As with many of Asimov's last few novels, it includes a number of references to other books in his fictional universe, as well as an appearance by the long- lived R. Daneel Olivaw (the Robot series). As a result, many of the best things here will appeal primarily to those who know Asimov's fictional future in its entirety, or nearly so. That, let it be noted, is no small audience. Overall, not on a level with Asimov's best, but it may well be his most interesting fictional portrait of a scientist's life and work. A moving valedictory performance. Read full book review >
THE UGLY LITTLE BOY by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Asimov's famous long story "The Ugly Little Boy" (cf. the equally renowned "Nightfall," novelized by the authors in 1990) first appeared in 1958 in Galaxy magazine and described the emotional repercussions resulting from a 21st-century time-travel experiment in which a Neanderthal child is brought into the present. Like "Nightfall," it struck a sentimental and enduring chord in the science-fiction collective consciousness. The novel version here extends the story in two directions: the motives and interactions of the scientists involved in the experiment are explored in greater detail, while an entire new interwoven thread delineates the Neanderthal culture from which Timmy, the title figure, is plucked. Other than these, the plot remains pretty much the same, with the ending exactly as before: indeed, how could it be otherwise? Readers who preferred the novelized Nightfall will dive right in, as will those curious about the authors' ideas on prehistory and anthropology. Skeptics and cynics, however, will again simply wonder why they bothered. Read full book review >
NORBY AND THE COURT JESTER by Janet Asimov
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 22, 1991

In the tenth book about Jeff Wells and his appealing little robot, Norby, the two careen through time and space yet again. Jeff, Norby, and Admiral Boris Yobo travel to remote planet Izz, where—on the eve of the annual toy festival—trouble looms: Norby's robot-love Pera has vanished; Princess Rinda and her father are quarantined with Ickyspot; the Mainbrain One computer is acting erratic; and someone has introduced a computer game, Teenytrip, that has mesmerized the entire population into expecting major change. Suspicion centers on Ing, an Earth scoundrel exiled to Izz as court jester; worse, police chief Luka has fallen in love with him. But the villain is really beautiful singer Xeena, who turns out to be cousin to the queen, and who—using what looks like a hairpin but is actually a computer key—has awakened Mainbrain Two in a plot to take her rightful place in the royal family. All is resolved: Xeena is welcomed, Ing and Luka are united, and the expectations for change are satisfied by introducing parliamentary rule. That all clear? Part old-fashioned Saturday movie serial, part G&S operetta, and all preposterous: good, clean fun, and the loose ends can go into another book. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

This latest in a barrage of environmental overviews by big names takes a lowest-common-denominator approach, chatting up readers in discursive if not patronizing prose that spends much time assessing concepts such as Gaia and countering implied arguments that might be made by people who are either simple-minded or misinformed. Those who respond favorably to this treatment, though, might take to the totally nontechnical profiles of the major suspects- -global warming, ozone depletion, mounting trash, air and water pollution—because science-fiction institutions Asimov and Pohl sum up the problems clearly and include some jolting details about their causes and effects. Still the topics have been covered again and again in recent popular books and newspaper articles. What Asimov and Pohl promise to add here are suggestions for how catastrophe can be avoided and how political means can effectuate solutions—but these sections prove particularly weak. The authors don't come through with new visions or specific programs, and their political section combines the usual suggestions (write letters to public officials, etc.) with sketchy advice on starting an organization (pros and cons of having a constitution) and getting into politics through helping candidates, getting on political- party municipal and county committees, and getting out the vote on election day. Again, most of this is commonplace in manuals for grass-roots activists and unrelated here to the environmental issues they're supposed to implement. Just because the entire book is so basic, however, some libraries may find it handy. Read full book review >
NIGHTFALL by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Nov. 7, 1990

Asimov's long story "Nightfall" (1941), written when he was just 21, concerns the inhabitants of a planet with six suns. Periodically, only one sun of the six hangs in the sky, sad, every two thousand years, this is blotted out by an eclipse. Darkness falls, the stars come out; the inhabitants, who have never known darkness and have never seen the stars, go mad and destroy their civilization. It is Asimov's best known and most popular story, and one of the most famous in all science fiction. Here, then, 49 years later, for reasons best known to the authors, is the novel version. The story's essentially the same, notwithstanding the changed details and added aftermath. Hump psychologist Sheerin 501 (but what are the numbers for?) discovers how easily the people of planet Kalgash are driven mad by darkness. Eager astronomer Beenay 25 deduces the existence of an unseen planet and predicts that it will cause an eclipse. Ice maiden archeologist Siferra 89 confirms that civilization crashes and burns every 2,049 years. Skeptical journalist Theremon 762 scoffs at the whole idea of darkness and stars and the fall of civilization. Mysterious Folimun 66 of the fanatical Apostles of Flame warns everyone to repent—though he possesses curiously precise knowledge of the catastrophe to come. The eclipse duly occurs, the stars come out, Kalgash goes mad, and civilization falls in flames. Those that survive and recover their sanity—Beenay, Siferra, Theremon—realize that the oddly calm, decidedly pragmatic Folimun (all along, he's actually been trying to help) represents the only hope for civilization's rebirth. Pleasant. Bound to have curiosity appeal. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 26, 1990

The prolific Asimov cuts another notch in his smoking keyboard by collaborating with space-specialist White—this time to summarize ten millennia of human expansion and achievements and add a few worn words of wisdom for the difficult times ahead. Considering the scope of their project, which looks both ways at the problematic course of human progress, the authors have their work cut out for them, but they manage to hack and hew the past into a rough shape, encompassing the birth of civilization together with some of its subsequent highs and lows. For the early millennia the focus falls on the Middle East, with some slight attention given to developments in China and the Indian subcontinent. This pattern, once established, remains constant until recent changes in Europe and North America enter the picture in the current millennium; contributions from Africa—with the exceptions of Egypt and ancient Carthage—and South America are almost completely ignored, giving the historical outline a distinct ethnocentric bias. Advancements in agriculture, commerce, writing, and technology are duly noted, but the dominant features at every turn are the innumerable paths of conquest throughout recorded history, from 3000 B.C. to modern times. The effort to demonstrate the futility of empire-building and the persistent citation of population figures provide links to a scenario for the future, in which a decline in birth rates, pursuit of renewable energy resources, and the choice of world trade over world war are viewed as essential for survival of our species—at least until colonization of the solar system becomes possible as a means for humanity to find more breathing room. The familiar "greatest hits" approach to history, with little that's new for the frontiers of the future either. Painless and pointless, to the extent that even Asimov fans should have second thoughts. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT LASERS? by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Released: July 12, 1990

Lasers, once over lightly—from wavelengths, colors, energy, and excited atoms to CD players and optical fiber. Mostly coherent, though sometimes too terse to be clear (e.g., in describing the interaction between photons and atoms). Odd phonetics (waves = "wavez"—rhymes with Chavez?); indifferent illustrations, some miscaptioned. Serviceable; current. Index. Read full book review >
OUT OF EVERYWHERE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 1, 1990

Another collection of science essays from Asimov, all originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and ranging in subject from the source of the Nile to the role of poetry in modem life. Simple enough for even the most scientifically unenlightened reader, these 17 brief meditations on cosmic rays, the dangers of overpopulation, and how compasses work reflect both Asimov's passing philosophical interests and his freewheeling, conversational style. Though he denies any attempt at social commentary, Asimov never hesitates to express opinions when the opportunity arises—on, for example, SDI (it won't work), modern poetry (it should speak to the lay reader, as opposed to other poets), and the way to achieve success (be aware of Kipling's "unforgiving minute"). His technique is as practiced and predictable as a George Burns routine as he begins each essay with a diverting personal anecdote, then expands his theme—or, in some cases, abruptly changes the subject to address the evolution of man, the formation of the moon, the effects of radon, or whatever other scientific issue has struck his fancy. Clearly enjoying his freedom to "pound the table as anyone would like to," and admittedly not spending an enormous amount of time on each essay, Asimov satisfies only the most cursory interest here—but these pieces entertain nevertheless and may, on occasion, even spark further interest among readers. Typical Asimov, for better or worse. Read full book review >
NEMESIS by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Oct. 1, 1989

From the author who needs no introduction: a medium-future space drama, often quite absorbing despite the absence of a theme or even much of a plot. In the 23rd century, a crowded Earth and dozens of space colonies are seeking new opportunities for development. One such self-contained colony,' Rotor, bossed by the single-minded, secretive Jason Pitt, disappears from the solar system, having both discovered a hitherto unknown star nearby, the red dwarf Nemesis, and invented hyper-assistance, a drive that moves Rotor at the speed of light. What's more, the Nemesis system boasts a habitable planet, Erythro. As ten years pass back on Earth, various pressures mount to recontact Rotor; agent Crile Fisher is assigned to persuade physicist Tessa Wendel to invent a truly instantaneous hyperdrive—aboard Rotor, you see, is Fisher's daughter Marlene. Now, as regards Rotor, Pitt's desire is to develop a totally independent civilization, so he has told Earth nothing of Rotor's whereabouts, nothing about Marlene (she's acquired frightening mental powers and can read people unerringly at a glance), about Erythro (where Marlene has contacted a colony intelligence), or about Nemesis (five thousand years hence, it will plunge through the solar system). Yet a threatened clash between Fisher's hyperdrive expedition and Pitt's hard-line isolationists fails to materialize, as Pitt sees his dreams die and Fisher realizes that the Erythro-intelligence has claimed Marlene. A low-key, oddly likable performance considering that, despite all the complicated maneuvering, nothing much happens: the old Asimov charm keeps the pages turning. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1989

Another "Mammoth Book of. . ." (last time out, Short Novels of the 1930s, 1988). We are now entering the era of John W. Campbell, the dynamic and uniquely influential editor/writer, who—in emphasizing science and craftsmanship—left an indelible stamp on the field. The 1930's, fans will recall, produced many ideas but few claims to literary respectability. Under Campbell, the ideas of the 1940's grew more refined; his writers were obliged to become more competent and capable. (Not all the writers here, however, were "Campbell writers.") Several of these selections are recognized classics: Jack Williamson's "With Folded Hands" describes how the human race is destroyed by the perfect robot-servants it has created; T.L. Sherred ("E for Effort") postulates a time-scanner used in a noble but doomed attempt to expose lies and hypocrisy; C.L. Moore's "No Woman Born" remains the benchmark for human-brain-in-robot-body stories; Theodore Sturgeon's "Killdozer!" is the scariest and most convincing machine-runs-amok tale you'll ever come across; Isaac Asimov's "The Big and the Little" became part of his remarkable Foundation trilogy; A.E. van Vogt's tale of super-pseudoscience, "The Weapons Shop," still thrills as it strains credulity. And other, less fully realized variations (time travel, medical disaster, hypnotic illusions) have nostalgia value at least. Generously proportioned, agreeably priced, and most certainly worthwhile. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1989

The authors collected here should know about the occult—nearly all of them are dead. But to the credit of the editors of this shoestring (dead authors=much public domain work=low royalties) anthology, mixed among the very moldy and familiar chestnuts (Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, W.F. Harvey's August Heat) are some rarities: H.G. Wells' life-after-death tale, Under the Knife; Arthur Conan Doyle's personality-transfer story, The Great Keinplatz Experiment, and little-collected tales from August Derleth, Edith Wharton, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and others. Editor Asimov contributes a forgettable introduction and, to each tale, a slightly more useful afterword discussing the tale's theme (22 themes—"Evil Eye," "Exorcism," "Soul Travel," etc.—with one story per theme). Overall, an anthology of interest primarily to occult-fiction completists. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1989

The authors collected here should know about the occult—nearly all of them are dead. But to the credit of the editors of this shoestring (dead authors=much public domain work=low royalties) anthology, mixed among the very moldy and familiar chestnuts (Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, W.F. Harvey's August Heat) are some rarities: H.G. Wells' life-after-death tale, Under the Knife; Arthur Conan Doyle's personality-transfer story, The Great Keinplatz Experiment, and little-collected tales from August Derleth, Edith Wharton, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and others. Editor Asimov contributes a forgettable introduction and, to each tale, a slightly more useful afterword discussing the tale's theme (22 themes—"Evil Eye," "Exorcism," "Soul Travel," etc.—with one story per theme). Overall, an anthology of interest primarily to occult-fiction completists. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1989

The fifth collection of a dozen stories about the Black Widowers—that circle of self-styled intellectuals chronically unable to solve the riddles their dinner guests pose until they're rescued by their colorless waiter Henry. The stories, which rarely take the form of whodunits, return in some ways to the earliest detective stories in the range of problems they pose. How could someone have stolen a prize recipe from a locked house? What became of a cameraman who left his hotel for an engagement across the street but never arrived? Why would someone steal an old purse, then return its contents to the owner? But this freedom is purchased at a heavy price—for the stories are as gimmicky as ever, as tiresomely formulaic, as padded with vacuous conversation or smug didacticism, and as devoid of interest as intellectual puzzles for anyone who doesn't much care what work of literature might well be (there's a large dose of "might" in every solution) indicated by the phrase "triple devil," or what kind of man might call himself "Dark Horse." The Black Widowers invariably begin their grilling of their guests with the supremely churlish question "How do you justify your existence?"—an unusually apt question to put to this book. Asimov promises in two separate notes to continue the series "for as long as I live." A chilling thought. Read full book review >
AZAZEL by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Nov. 1, 1988

Eighteen lightweight stories, 1982-88, plus one original, about Azazel—the grumpy, egotistical, two-centimeter-tall demon that only pompous, tightfisted linguist George Bitternut knows how to conjure up. Azazel, though he will not use his amazing powers for George's personal gain, is susceptible to flattery and may be prevailed upon to help George's friends. But since Azazel's understanding of human society and foibles is severely limited, the results are always unfortunate. Gottlieb Jones, for example, dreams of becoming a great writer. Azazel fixes it; Gottlieb becomes a great writer—a great copywriter with no interest in producing literature. Mordecai Sims, an impatient writer of articles, desires the ability to manage his time better—no waiting in line, or for cabs, or elevators, or whatever. After Azazel arranges things, poor Mordecai finds himself with no wasted time whatsoever—and thus no time to think up any ideas. A young wife, Fifi, desires to travel, but her husband Sophocles will have none of it. Azazel gives Sophocles an irresistible urge to travel, everywhere, constantly; unfortunately, he travels so much that Fifi never gets to stay anywhere or see anything. And so forth. Harmless, vaguely amusing froth. Read full book review >
Released: July 15, 1988

Compared with the works of the founders of modern sf, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, those of the 1930's, contrary to the overblown title, often seem insufferably crude; even the better craftsmen of the era were prone to excessive verbiage, prose that was more puce than purple, cartoon characters and antics, and rickety or nonexistent plots—all of which are on ample display here. Sf, however, is primarily a literature of ideas—so, readers may observe herein the fascinating, sometimes traumatic birth of ideas that became classic, and, with various modifications, persisted into the present. Thus, H.P. Lovecraft describes some mind-swapping horrors from the distant past. Editor/writer Horace L. Gold (Galaxy) posits the dilemma of a man whose brain is transplanted into a dog's body. A woman is revived from the dead in Cornell Woolrich's melodrama. Editor/writer John W. Campbell (Astounding) discovers some aliens frozen in the ice of Antarctica. Another editor/writer, Harry Bates (Amazing), speculates on far-future humans so intellectualized that they have devolved into idiots. Murray Leinster invents the notion of travelling into probability-worlds. Eric Frank Russell and Leslie T. Johnson time-travel into the gar future. L. Sprague de Camp, in the best story here, defeats some alien conquerors by knocking off their thinking-caps. Stanley G. Weinbaum's immortal female conqueror harasses the distant future. And Jack Williamson's sinister nasties invade Earth from another dimension. Ideas sound familiar? They should. Worth a try for nostalgia buffs and students of the field. Read full book review >
THE RELATIVITY OF WRONG by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 29, 1988

The 24th collection of Asimov's essays, these culled from recent monthly columns in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The essays are grouped into three parts: "Isotopes and Elements"; "The Solar System"; and "Beyond the Solar System." Expect lots of chemistry and chemical history in Part I, including personal bits about Asimov's tiff with Harold Urey, who was not willing to admit someone who had not taken physical chemistry into Columbia's graduate chemistry program and made it very tough indeed. Here find essays on naturally radioactive substances and artificial radiation; the charms and dangers of carbon 14 in the body ("The Enemy Within"): and discourses on sulfur, phosphorus, and early matches, ending with an essay on the importance of phosphorus as the energy store of cells and as the calcium phosphate of bone. Asimov's fascination with size, distance, brightness, and other measurables is a familiar refrain seen in essays like "The Incredible Shrinking Planet." This is a neat exercise in logic and discovery that finally establishes Pluto as a small and icy "mesoplanet" (A's coinage for a planet between major and minor), accompanied by an even smaller moon, Charon. Or in an essay on novas, which led to a controversy over whether the Andromeda nebula, in which a nova had been spotted, was a far distant "island universe" or a nearby solar system in the making. Revelation comes in a succeeding essay on super-exploding stars: the star in Andromeda was a supernova 2.3 million light years away in the Andromeda galaxy. Concluding essays deal with matter and antimatter, star voyages, and, finally, the title piece, in which Asimov knocks the idea that right and wrong are absolutes. The point is that some things are wronger (or righter) than other things and we all got off on the wrong foot with the spelling, arithmetic drills, and short-answer tests of grade school. "Good" scientific concepts get refined over time, that's all. And written about by upbeat, postive-thinking, righter-than-most Asimov. Read full book review >
NATURE
Released: March 30, 1988

Number 32 in the author's series on the history of scientific discoveries. Asimov has said that he has written a book for every day of the year; if so, this must be a February day—short, cold, and muted. Only about one-fifth of the book is actually about superconductivity; the rest is on low temperatures, how they have been achieved in the lab, and what absolute zero means. Erratic phonetic spelling is provided in the text, e.g., copper ("KOP-per"), but not Nernst; vacuum ("VAK-yoo-um") is given three syllables, not wrong but hardly common usage. The author doesn't make quite clear why high temperature superconductors have caused such a stir, but the Asimov accuracy and breadth of knowledge are present and his breezy style makes the book accessible. Timely, slightly perfunctory, just the right length for a quick report. Read full book review >
ASIMOV'S GALAXY by Isaac Asimov
HISTORY
Released: Jan. 27, 1988

Sixty-six essays, 1980-86, taken from Asimov's regular editorial column in the science-fiction magazine that bears his name (he has no other control over the magazine's content), and supplementing his previous remarks on the science-fiction field (Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981). Asimov regulars by now will be familiar with both format (short—about four pages) and style (genial, relaxed, informative, reasonable almost to a fault). Following a general, introductory section, and sometimes in response to readers' letters, Asimov discusses the writing of science fiction (advice for young hopefuls, sf poetry, rejection slips, editors); sf writers; the science in sf (including some well-chosen remarks on Star Wars, which some writers fervently support, others vehemently oppose); fantasy; magazines (with particular reference to Asimov's); and, finally, a more personal section. Here, Asimov reflects upon his own writing and characters (such as the famous Susan Calvin of the robot yarns) and, most interestingly, his well-known aphorism from the Foundation trilogy, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" (it may well prove more durable than his venerated Three Laws of Robotics). It is in this last section, though, that the limitations of the short format become apparent: the subject demands in-depth discussion. Tirelessly, Asimov dispenses precisely metered doses of information sweetened with old-fashioned liberalism—concern for individual rights, respect for the Constitution, an outlook that transcends the parochial—a combination that's hard to decline, even if the rewards are often regrettably fleeting. Read full book review >
FANTASTIC VOYAGE II by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Sept. 18, 1987

Not a sequel to the original Fantastic Voyage (a 1966 movie novelization), which Asimov chooses to ignore completely; the upshot isn't too much more than a sclerotically talky retread. In the 21st century, the superpowers coexist peacefully—so why do the Russians choose to kidnap frustrated brain researcher Albert Morrison (no one believes his advanced theories)? Well, genius scientist Shapirov, the inventor of miniaturization, lies in a coma, the victim of an experimental accident; the Russians need Morrison's expertise in order to tap the thoughts of the dying Shapirov (he was on the point of a dramatic breakthrough). The problem is that Morrison doesn't believe in miniaturization and, indeed, is terrified at the prospect. Still, after some judicious blackmail, he agrees to enter a specially-built submarine, along with its stereotyped crew, hearty Dezhnev, manipulative Boranova, Finno-Russian Kaliinin, and obsessive Konev: they will be shrunk to molecular size and injected into Shapirov's comatose brain. After various adventures—unsurprising stuff to fans of the first Voyage—they reemerge, the mission apparently a failure and Shapirov dead, with a mildly surprising twist ending still to come. Like much of Asimov's recent output: a novel-sized conversation, scientifically more credible than FVI but just as tepid plot-and-drama-wise. It slips down easily enough but leaves no lingering impression. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1987

These ten very different tales feature young magic-workers, and will appeal to a variety of readers. In traditional fashion, the collection begins and ends with its strongest stories: Bradbury's "April Witch," about a young girl with ESP who falls in love while looking through someone else's eyes, and Hearn's old "Boy Who Drew Cats," with its wonderfully gory final image. There's plenty of meat between the bread, though, especially in Henderson's classic "Stevie and the Dark" and Lee's poignant "Message from Charity." A pair of horror stories don't work too well, possibly because they're just too short; an otherwise expertly done heroic fantasy also seems too hasty, but three tongue-in-cheek episodes will provide some mild amusement. Good addition to a popular series of theme anthologies. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT SUNSHINE? by Isaac Asimov
NATURE
Released: June 6, 1987

The sun's violent glow powers nearly every movement on the Earth's surface, yet its origin is still incompletely understood. This is Asimov's message; and as in the other 29 books in his "How did we find out?" series, he takes readers on a historical tour of scientific research. In this case, the topic is: "How does the sun shine?"—and from Aristotle's theory of the Ether to Reines' neutrino detector, the author shows, in a nontechnical way, how successive ideas were suggested, studied, discarded or refined. A natural companion volume to Asimov's briefer What Makes the Sun Shine? (1971) or the plethora of other simple introductions to our nearest star. Occasional diagrams and pencil drawings; index. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: June 1, 1987

Pointers for established, novice and would-be writers by a very successful one and his wife. Their book attempts to be lighthearted while at the same time dealing with the classic problems faced by the scrivener—inspiration, writer's block and other assorted traumas and joys. The cartoons by Sidney Harris are the most amusing part of the book. Using quotes and drawing on a lifetime of experience (and in Mr. Asimov's case, great success), the Asimovs take a positive approach to what is often a difficult, frustrating and lonely job. They remind one of a coach urging his charges to stay loose, have fun, but play to the hilt and give it their all. There is shrewdness afoot here, but much simplicity too, so that what they have to say sometimes, might seem banal to doughty toilers in the literary vineyard. However, it's possible that the authors' determined practicality and bonhomie together with their helpful flints might resuscitate a fading scribbler or even encourage a neophyte. Everyone, writers or not, could do with a little positive thinking. They will find it here in abundance. Upbeat, verging on the hyper, this book may energize the sluggard to get to the typewriter. For the more jaded reader, it will seem offhand and superficial. Read full book review >
FAR AS HUMAN EYE COULD SEE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 6, 1987

Seventeen essays from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction form this latest Asimov anthology. What's neat about the group is that rather than present random reviews, the essays are connected serially, laid out nicely in four major areas: physical chemistry, biochemistry, geochemistry and astronomy. The themes represent an interesting reprise of 19th- and 20th-century science. Physical chemistry focuses on batteries and, naturally, on electricity and magnetism, first from the point of view of the Galvanis and Voltas, the Oersteds, Faradays and Henrys, down to the postwar transistor era and current work on fuel and solar cells. One can imagine 12-year-olds reading these chapters virtually as do-it-yourself recipes for running wires around iron cores or making their own voltaic piles. Biochemistry is a treat for nutritionists. Asimov concentrates on the history of the discovery of vitamins and trace elements necessary for life. He reviews the classic experiment of British surgeon James Lind, who fed oranges and lemons to sailors to prove that the fruits would prevent scurvy (but alas did not live to see his advice heeded), down to the 20th-century stories of beriberi, pellagra and pernicious anemia. Biochemist Asimov is excellent here as he explains how vitamins work and why some need a "coenzyme" to do the job. Geochemistry plays upon the theme of tunneling to the center of the earth. Asimov unravels the mysteries of mass, temperature, and magnetism and how discoveries of radioactivity and devices like the seismograph have built up the present picture of the earth as thin crust atop a mantle over inner solid and liquid cores. Part four, culminating in the title essay—are Asimovian speculations on stars, planets, and space, beginning with a fine historical essay on time measurement, and ending with thoughts on where the universe is headed. To reach that climax, Asimov introduces concepts of "the Void," interstellar molecules and dust, the notion of superstars (not to be confused with supernovae), and the unresolved astronomical problem of the "missing Mass." Asimov presents alternatives (his own, he confesses) that would make it possible for universes to form and reform even if the present mass is insufficient to prevent an endless expansion and recession of galaxies. Here Asimov the scientist and science-fiction writer meet in an artless, seamless way that marks the man as formidable and readable as ever. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT BLOOD? by Isaac Asimov
HEALTH
Released: Dec. 16, 1986

Similar to others in the "How Did We Find Out About _____ ?" series, this helpful introduction uses a historical approach to learning about science. The prolific Asimov makes the straight facts more intriguing by describing misconceptions and discoveries about blood from Hippocrates' day to the present. The progression of medical enlightenment unravels like a mystery readers learn about the workings of the heart, the circulatory system, and blood composition. Clear illustrations complement a logical presentation, and the pronunciation of difficult words is effectively placed within the text. Circulatory Systems by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein covers the same information in more depth, but libraries needing an extra title will find this a solid addition. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1986

Another romp, fifth in the series, involving Norby the time-twisting robot and his human friends, Jeff, Fargo, and Albany, by sci-fi icon Asimov and his wife Janet. This one has Norby and his friends transported back to the time of the French Revolution by a necklace that is a replica of one belonging to Marie Antionette. The necklace turns out to be failed technology of the Others, supra-beings of the far future; and before all is resolved, our friends have been in the Bastille, in Neanderthal times, and in a false, far-future time line triggered by their excursions. A bewildering plot, with people, robots, and necklaces racing through space and time. Nevertheless, cheerfulness, humor, and excitement abound. As usual, the Asimovs have crowded history, science, and a good yarn into a few short pages. Read full book review >
ROBOT DREAMS by Isaac Asimov
Released: Nov. 1, 1986

Another Asimov story collection, this one misleadingly titled—less than half the 21 stories, 1947-86, are about robots. However, the title piece is a new—albeit anachronistic and ephemeral—yarn featuring robot psychologist Susan Calvin. There are illustrations. The famous entries: "Little Lost Robot" (one of the best Susan Calvin yarns), "Breeds There a Man. . .?" (anti-war device has unforeseen consequences), "Strikebreaker" (asteroidal sewage plant), "The Martian Way" (ice miners in the rings of Saturn), three Multivac tales, "The Feeling of Power" (rediscovery of elementary calculation), "Spell My Name with an S" (galactic meddlers), "The Ugly Little Boy" (Neanderthal tragedy), and "The Billiard Ball" (murder by means of). And there's a fair variety of themes in the less well-known tales, from computerized cars, memory enhancement, disembodied beings, and chats with God to love-lorn computers, visiting aliens, and a pocket version of Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan. A useful supplement for libraries and individuals whose Asimov collections—can it be possible?—are thin. Read full book review >
FOUNDATION AND EARTH by Isaac Asimov
Released: Oct. 3, 1986

An overlong but imaginative entry in the revived Foundation series, with a talky opening, an intriguing middle, and an illogical fade-out. Councilman Golan Trevize, having opted for the formation of a galaxy-wide, totally empathic super-organism, Galaxia, is now having second thoughts—and his doubts focus on a possible threat from the long-lost planet Earth. So, supplied with clues by historian Janes Pelorat, and protected by the powerful Gaian woman, Bliss, Trevize begins his search. (The debate pro and con Galaxia continues, meanwhile, in tiresome detail.) In the novel's best section, they touch down on various planets, including the old Spacer world Solaria, where the hermaphroditic Solarians live in solipsistic splendor, totally isolated from each other on their vast robot-run estates, casually controlling energy by means of their enlarged brains. Finally, on Earth's Moon, Trevize encounters robot Daneel Olivaw, now 20,000 years old; Daneel, with his highly advanced brain and psychic powers, has secretly been guiding the development of Galaxia all along. And, in a total non sequitur, Trevize realizes that what he really fears—why Galaxia must be formed—is the threat of invasion by extra-galactic aliens. Dreadfully long-winded—would that the characters sometimes reply with a simple "yes" or "no"—and many longtime fans will prefer Daneel as a plain old robot-detective rather than a galactic super-brain. Yet, much here qualifies as vintage Asimov—Solaria has long been one of his finest creations—despite that disappointing, artificial finale. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1986

This featherweight non-book reproduces a series of advertising cards designed by French commercial artist Jean Marc Cote in 1899 to celebrate the new century and to offer lighthearted predictions about what life would be like "en l'an 2000." An introduction by Asimov discusses the perils and pleasures of such prognostication; each entry is also accompanied by an Asimov commentary. The cards themselves are amusing. In a schoolroom, a professor supervises a workman loading books into a machine: the students are wired into the machine and are "learning" the material through electrical impulses. Cote "foresaw" letters-by-phonograph, a "motor sledge" expedition to the South Pole, family excursions to the bottom of the sea (surely unnecessarily, Asimov informs us that you can't really ride sea-horses). Finally—under the caption "A Curiosity"—citizens in the year 2000 assemble in a theater for an exhibition of rarity, a horse. Asimov is, as always, a genial guide through this scientific and quasi-scientific information; but his emphasis on "this won't really happen" seems unnecessary, as does his extended commentary on material commissioned by a toy company and obviously intended as an amusing trifle, not as a serious prediction. Read full book review >
THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF ISAAC ASIMOV by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 15, 1986

Twenty-eight tales, 1951-80, chosen by Asimov himself; excluded are the robot yarns (The Complete Robot, 1982), and "Nightfall," his best-known story. But there's still no shortage of famous entries. In "The Dead Past," the invention of a time-scanner brings an end to personal privacy. "The Feeling of Power" describes an era of computers when people rediscover how to calculate using only paper and pencil. Supercomputer Multivac extrapolates the opinions of a single voter into the election results for the entire country ("Franchise"), and determines that dirty jokes have an extraterrestrial origin ("Jokester"). "Obituary" features a perfect murder, carried out at the insistence of the time-traveling victim. In the fine, touching "The Ugly Little Boy," unfeeling scientists experimenting with a time machine bring a Neanderthal boy into the present, only to abandon him when his presence is no longer convenient. And the somewhat less famous pieces range from horrible puns, limericks and longer jokes to meddling aliens, Jewish ancestors, dreams-as-entertainment, non-organic life-forms, matter transmitters, more Multivac, computerized schoolmarms, and Shakespeare. Some of the selections here have been anthologized dozens of times. All are more or less familiar and have appeared in various editions and guises over the years. Still, Asimovophiles will probably relish the cozy geniality of it all, and some curious browsers may be attracted too. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 15, 1986

Only seven of the stories here—there are 31 in all—have not appeared before in book form. From Tales of the Black Widowers, More Tales of the Black Widowers, Casebook of the Black Widowers, and Banquets of the Black Widowers come 15 specimens of the Black Widower club formula: chatty musings on a puzzle (often involving literary or historical trivia), featuring some genuinely clever twists as well as several groaners. Briefer, but usually lamer, are the similar Union Club symposia, three of which did not appear in The Union Club Mysteries: one of the new stories turns competently on a bit of linguistics; the other two are Asimov at his feeblest. The best of the remaining entries is "Nothing Might Happen," a previously uncollected 1973 story from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: despite a predictable final twist, there's wry appeal in the premise here—as the nephew of a wealthy writer tries to have his uncle killed, obliquely, by writing provocative, belligerent responses (in his uncle's name) to crazy-angry fan letters. The rest include two strained juveniles, the final sf/mystery outing for extra-terrologist Wendell Urth (a long-winded affair involving a "double and bilingual pun"), and a cryptogram based on atomic numbers. Even at his best, Asimov-the-mystery-writer is a minor, one-dimensional mass producer—primarily for fans of number-games, puns, and the like. And not all these stories are prime Asimov. Still: a solid, generous sampling—especially for collections that don't already include all those previous story compilations. Read full book review >
THE DANGERS OF INTELLIGENCE AND OTHER SCIENCE ESSAYS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: June 18, 1986

The last words in the title might better have read "and other columns"—for this 342nd "book" by Isaac Asimov is composed of 72 very brief reprinted columns from American Way, American Airlines' in-flight magazine. The range of topics is wide—from the Oort cloud to the discovery of microwaves; from the virtues of iron as a metal to the invention of the toe stirrup. The style, too, is perspicuous enough to ensure that Asimov would be your top choice—if you were a captive audience seven miles up in the wild blue yonder, desperate for distraction and bored by your 7,000th in-flight article on jet-lag. But the viability of this collection for earth-bound bibliophiles and popular science aficionados is quite questionable. The "chapters" average only 2-3 pages in length, fostering the kind of airy generality that teases instead of informs. While the production of ephemera is a perfectly respectable enterprise for a full-time writer/journalist such as Asimov, it is cynicism on the part of his publisher to offer such stuff to the book-buying public as worthy of permanent space on their shelves. Read full book review >
THE HUGO WINNERS by Isaac Asimov
Released: April 4, 1986

Following Volume IV (1985), more winners, 1980-82, in the shorter fiction categories; again, the stories here are all more or less famous. Some of these yarns would stand out in any company. Poul Anderson's masterly, razor-sharp "The Saturn Game" concerns explorers on Iapetus who meet disaster when they entrap themselves in their role-playing fantasy game. John Varley's splendid "The Pusher" has surfaced in several recent collections. And George R.R. Martin's gratifying, horrid "Sandkings" features exotic alien pets that escape to revenge themselves on their sadistic master. The good-to-middling remainder: Barry B. Longyear's "Enemy Mine" (basis of the recent movie) about a human and an alien who hate each other but need each other to survive; Gordon R. Dickson's "Lost Dorsai" (a man who loves soldiering but cannot kill) and "The Cloak and the Staff" (a collaborator with alien conquerors finds the will to resist); George R.R. Martin's "The Way of Cross and Dragon" (hunting heresies on distant worlds); "Grotto of the Dancing Deer," Clifford D. Simak's lonely-immortal variant; and Roger Zelazny's "Unicorn Variations," where the extinction of species on Earth allows mythical beasts to make an appearance. A collector's item. Read full book review >
ROBOTS AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 20, 1985

An addition to Asimov's series of robot-detective novels, and a more convincing effort than The Robot of Dawn (1983). Nearly two centuries after the death of Earth detective Elijah Baley, Settlers—short-lived, disease-ridden, dynamic pioneers from Earth—have begun to colonize the galaxy. By contrast, the long-established, long-lived, aristocratic, robot-dependant Spacers have started to decline. So, Spacer planet Aurora's head-cheese Kelden Amadiro, still smarting from his long-ago defeat by Baley, teams up with unpleasant, ambitious robotics whiz Levular Mandamus to plot Earth's destruction and thus halt Settler expansion. Meanwhile, Baley's old flame Gladia joins D.G., a Baley descendant from the Settler planet Baleyworld, to investigate some lethal goings-on on the recently-abandoned Spacer world, Solaria. Also, ostensibly accompanying Gladia but actually running the show, are robots Giskard (he secretly has the power to read and adjust emotions) and Daneel, the humaniform detective and Baley's former partner. As the plot lines intertwine, the human drama that ensues is decidedly tame and talky, from standard fulminating villains to tepid romancing. However, the real heroes here are Giskard and Daneel, as they grapple with the case and with the restrictions imposed on them by the built-in Three Laws of Robotics—and grope towards a solution that transcends everything. A satisfying plot, then, marred by perfunctory backdrops and fairly mundane human doings—but scintillating and stimulating whenever the robots occupy center stage. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Aug. 2, 1985

You need to know the probability of intelligent life evolving on a planet of the red sun Betelgeuse. But first you need to know how to pronounce Betelgeuse. Who you gonna call? Asimov, of course, the only contemporary author who measures his output in astronomical units. He has been writing a popular science column for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for over 25 years; this volume reprints columns from 1983-84. Asimov is now Lewis Thomas and—these are not quiet, meditative syntheses of science and philosophy, body and spirit and mind. Asimov is a crass though often engaging wholesaler of facts—in such weak entries here as his essay on the moons of the solar system, those facts are simply laid out—like the moons—in a line from here to Pluto. Elsewhere, however, the expository skills of a fine teacher are clearly evident, as in the essay on photosynthesis, a tour de force of lucid explanation and casual learnedness. The physics section is occasionally hard to track, but is mercifully free of those irritating analogies ("If the Universe were a football field and Earth was in the end zone. . .") that make "popular" science so widely and deservedly unpopular. Asimov is crystal clear on the slippery topic of general relativity and recent efforts to prove it experimentally. (Surprisingly, the first strong proof did not emerge until five years after Einstein's death.) This is a highly formulaic writer, of course, but the formula here—a brief anecdote followed by a related essay on some topic from applied or theoretical science—often yields an informative piece, particularly when the topic is biology, chemistry, or the history of science. Asimov says he enjoys this column more than any of his other regular writing assignments. In many of these essays, the pleasure shines through. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 18, 1985

Alert readers expect a certain amount of bombast from editors of "best of" anthologies; but, as Asimov remarks in his introduction (his emphasis): "I don't know any great scientists who are great science fiction writers." The by-line is similarly elastic, including "scientists" "who obtained the education to become such, but drifted away." It's not even an original idea for an anthology. And so to the contents: 21 stories, 1954-85, except for one turn-of-the-century antique, a sort of talky prototype of Borges' "The Library of Babel," from Kurd Lasswitz. The better, well-known entries include: Arthur C. Clarke's space race in ships propelled by solar sails, "The Wind from the Sun"; J.F. Bone's masterful tale of amoeba-like aliens (Martians?) encountering an enigmatic (NASA?) space probe; James V. McConnell's thin but original look at experimental psychology from the rat's viewpoint; "Love is the Plan the Plan is Death," James Tiptree Jr.'s powerful tale of loving, cannibalistic aliens struggling to cope with a deteriorating climate; and from Chad Oliver, a strong humans-really-come-from-outer-space yarn, "Transfusion." The remaining tales feature some fair ideas in often lifeless treatments: tiny, super-dense aliens; a space elevator; a cyborg spaceship; linguistic problems; involuntary population control; historical fantasies; witches; and hyperspace. A few goodies, then, but generally mediocre and disappointing. Read full book review >
THE EDGE OF TOMORROW by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: July 2, 1985

Asimov wears two hats, one as genial science popularizer and another as popular science-fiction writer, in this odd fact-and-fiction combination of 12 essays (1969-82, from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) and a dozen stories (1941-85, including one original). The idea is to encourage fiction readers to tackle the non-fiction, and vice versa. Under the general theme of "scientists," the essays ramble—in the usual amiable, modestly informative, sometimes trivializing Asimov style—through such topics as: Newton's classic experiment in splitting white light into the colors of the spectrum; Herschel's solid scientific legwork in discovering the planet Uranus; the hoary yam about Archimedes and his bath ("Eureka!"), and that geometer's delight, Euclid's (unprovable) Fifth Postulate. Alternating with the essays, the stories include some of Asimov's best, most famous, oft-anthologized works. "Nightfall" concerns a planet with several suns, where darkness falls only once in thousands of years. A Neanderthal child is brought into the present as a cynical publicity stunt in "The Ugly Little Boy." There's "Pate de Foie Gras," about a radioactive goose that lays real golden eggs. Super-computer Multivac becomes God in "The Last Question." And the invention of a time-scanner brings an end to personal privacy in "The Dead Past." So, with one feeble exception, this is familiar stuff, readily available elsewhere—though a few unwary readers may be fooled by the packaging gimmick. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: June 6, 1985

This volume is a departure from the customary Asimov approach to explaining-it-all—perhaps the doing of co-author Frenkel. First, the book is heavily focused on the business/economics of industrial robots (IRs). Then, it deals extensively with personalities, especially Joseph F. Engelberger, "Father of Industrial Robots" and founder of Unimation: a plain-speaking pioneer whose earthy remarks punctuate many chapters. On the other hand, there is less than usual how-it-works explanation; and since what's here is below par, that's just as well. (The reader risks becoming benumbed by, for example, a lengthy take-out on ways to operate a mechanical arm in three dimensions.) The Asimov touch is evident however, in the etymologies—Karel Capek's coining of the Czech word robota in his play R.U.R., the roots of words like automation—and the historical background: the literary and social history of robots from Hero of Alexandria to Frankenstein, from clockwork to feedback mechanisms to the present. There is a good discussion of persistent problems in developing sensors (visual, tactile); a smattering of theory on artificial intelligence; and a serious discussion of the impact of robotics on labor and society—flavored by Asimov's well-known Laws of Robotics (i.e., robots must obey human orders). The authors argue that the IR changes will be evolutionary, and should not cause massive layoffs of either blue or white collar workers. As state-of-the-art reportage on the current use of robots in materials handling, assembly, etc., the book provides a useful global picture, along with thoughtful analysis. For an array of robot topics, erratically handled, see Minsky, below. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 22, 1985

An honest-to-goodness new Asimov book: not a swatch of columns, an array of editings, or a one-volume explanation of everything. It's about novas and supernovas, the glamorous starbursts that have inspired not a few popular books over the decade. As usual, Asimov brings to his coverage chronological detail, a bare minimum of personalities, and a zeal to explain complexities to lay audiences. So we learn that novas are those wild explosions that result from the exchange of matter between ultraclose stars: one, a white dwarf normally on the road to oblivion; the other, a main sequence star moving up to red giant status but throwing off matter to enrich its neighbor in an accretion ring. Supernovas, on the other hand, fall into two types—the more interesting of which are the type IIs: massive stars that pass through white dwarfery on their way to becoming neutron stars (pulsars) and possibly even black holes. In the process, the supernovas spew out outer layers so heated and charged with energy as to produce the nuclei of massive elements, to seed the cosmic dust. Like others, Asimov says we must thank our lucky supernovas for endowing space with the particles that allow a second generation star, like our sun, to form with all the debris necessary to supply a planetary system with the wherewithal of life. Following his good exposition of the novae, indeed, Asimov takes up cosmic, earthly, and biological origins, evoking the useful fallout from supernovae in these processes. There's discussion of new millisecond pulsars not found elsewhere, and of the role of supernovas in triggering star formation, and providing strong sources of cosmic rays. True to Asimov form, there is also conjecture of probabilities should a supernova burst nearby. A skillful job. Read full book review >
THE HUGO WINNERS by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 12, 1985

Hugo awards are selected by popular vote at the annual World SF Convention; this mammoth tome, comprising 13 yarns and 561 pages, presents the shorter fiction winners for 1976-9—and they're a solid, nicely varied, enjoyable bunch, all more or less famous. Among the most familiar entries: Roger Zelazny's tense avenging-robot story, "Home is the Hangman"; Fritz Leiber's delightful alternate-universe notion, "Catch that Zeppelin!"—with Hitler as an airship salesman; Asimov's tale of a robot that becomes human, "The Bicentennial Man"; James Tiptree, Jr.'s biting picture of an all-female human future, "Houston, Houston, Do you Read?"; and Spider and Jeanne Robinson's ballet in zero gravity, "Stardance"—which later became a novel. The other writers on display here include Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Joe Haldeman, John Varley, and Poul Anderson—all with strong, characteristic work. So this is a surefire acquisition wherever the sf collections are thin—while many libraries and individual readers will have the best of these stories already on hand. Read full book review >
OPUS 300 by Isaac Asimov
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Dec. 10, 1984

As promised, Asimov's 300th book comes out just before his 65th birthday, in January. Like Opus 1O0 (1969) and Opus 200 (1979), this too is a collection: selected pieces from the preceding 99 works. Asimov coyly admits to some number-fudging: the count includes co-authorings and Asimov anthologies. (No less than 54 anthologies help make up the 300 works.) But what's to quibble? It takes time and talent to edit anthologies; besides, everybody expects "prolificity" of him. So this is a feast for fans—and also a varied sampling for newcomers; more pleasing in many ways than the encyclopedic Asimov's New Guide to Science (p. 834). That volume obligated Asimov to cover all fields; here he can pick and choose from favorite things. In recent years, that means the usual sciences—astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology—as well as the social sciences, history, the Bible, science fiction, and more. There are gems: on the deadness of the moon; on icebergs; on matter/antimatter collisions. There is an amusing sample of armchair sleuthing; a quite sensitive handling of "humaniform" robots (from the latest robot volume); even an essay never before published—on immortality, and why Asimov is against it. (Perhaps, he speculates, the editors didn't like the point of view.) These last years Asimov has joined the battle against creation science, so there are good pieces on evolution, along with the tedious annotations of Genesis. There are silly limericks and not-so-funny humor bits to contend with too. With official autobiography, and also running commentary—noting background and mood, saluting or mourning friends: the ruminative as well as the energetic Asimov, already on the road to Opus 400. Read full book review >
ASIMOV'S NEW GUIDE TO SCIENCE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1984

First it was The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960), revised in 1965 to become The New IMGTS. By 1972 "man" was gone, and the particular man was in—giving us Asimov's Guide to Science. Now, twelve years later, comes an update appearing shortly before the author's 65th birthday (January '85), "by which time he will be the author of 300 published works." Whatever one's reaction, Asimov is right in bringing out a new edition. Twelve years translates to orders of magnitude in some fields: neuroscience, astronomy, computer-robotics, particle physics. How does 1984 read in those areas? For a start, not so good on the nervous system: traditional anatomy, 19th- and early-20th-century physiology; no new biochemistry, disease findings, or theories on cognitive processes. Mostly pre-1965 material, in toto, giving surprising prominence to conditioning in human behavior. Astronomy? Here one expects strength; and there are indeed fat chapters, with gobs of data, tracing knowledge from ancient to modern times, up to recent space probes. Completing the physical sciences are chapters on the elements and on particles that spell out how these fields were organized, then disordered—and are now undergoing rebirth with new tables of particles or attempts at unifying field theories. Part I ends with a survey of physical science applications ranging from electricity, the internal combustion engine and television to reactors, fission, and fusion. Part II, on the biological sciences, takes microcosms as its base—and proceeds from organic molecules, proteins, and the cell (with sections on DNA and heredity) to larger structures: microorganisms (including cancer and the immune system), the body, species, and evolution. One must remember that Asimov earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and taught biochemistry to understand his concentration on food constituents—vitamins, minerals—and enzymes and hormones. Part II ends on the mind and behavior, computers and artificial intelligence. Asimov repeats his well-known rules of robotic behavior and waxes philosophical. He predicts an uncomfortable time as jobs are automated out of existence, but does not see a real threat. Computer-robots should march with us as friends and allies "—if we do not destroy ourselves before the march can begin." As a one-volume condensation of an Asimovian lifetime of science writing, something other than the sum of its parts—and as an information source, surely a bargain. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 28, 1984

A circumscribed and rather tentative collection of 17 tales, 1941-75. There are three standouts: Frederik Pohl's well-known "The Children of the Night," a devastating satire on the role of PR in politics; R. A. Lafferty's effervescent examination of the very strange "Polity and Customs of the Camiroi"; and a masterful, engrossing Wyman Guin story of a society divided into coexisting but mutually hostile telepathic/technological blocs. Elsewhere, old favorites reappear: Asimov's "Franchise," with super-computer Multivac electing a new president by interviewing one single representative American; Michael Shaara's view of 2066, when the job of president has grown too onerous for any one person to handle; Christopher Anvil's device to make negotiators forget words like "war" and "communism." And there are also robot politicians (John Jakes, more Asimov), angry political assassinations (Barry N. Malzberg), an amusing/satirical reactionary robot president (Ward Moore), a president who fakes an illness in order to promote his talented but unelectable vice president (Randall Garrett), and a secret, elite government-within-the-government (Sam Sackett). Filled out with mediocre contributions from Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, Stanley Schmidt, and Larry Eisenberg: topical yet often bland fare—good enough for politically-oriented diversion, too un-probing to please serious sf fans. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 7, 1984

Twelve more gimmick-mysteries for the high-I.Q. Black Widowers to puzzle over after dinner at their monthly meetings—with, as usual, the plausible solutions always provided by waiter Henry. The clues/tricks this time include letter-codes, number-games, references to Cicero and Milton, multi-lingual wordplay (French, Russian, Greek), plus—in one particularly strained item—a combination of astronomy and an Edgar Allan Poe poem. There's one story for Gilbert & Sullivan fans only (revolving around that leap-year "paradox" in Pirates of Penzance). And Asimov offers two small variations on the formula: for the first time a woman(!) is allowed to be the guest who proposes the puzzle, to the horror of traditionalist Manny Rubin; and for the first time the guest is an uninvited intruder—who, as it happens, offers the volume's most see-through conundrum. (Readers will be way ahead of Henry.) With some amusing repartee, a few clever notions, and those half-endearing Asimov afterwords: more of the talky, easygoing same for those who relished Tales (1974), More Tales (1976), and the Casebook (1980) of the Black Widowers. Read full book review >
Released: April 30, 1984

Another "best of" collection, with a particularly tenuous premise: twelve stories, 1839-1966—representing the "first appearance of an interesting idea" (though even here Asimov quibbles a bit). The famous yarns include Murray Leinster's 1946 tale about home computers, "A Logic Named Joe"; Fitz-James O'Brien's exploration of a microcosmic world in "The Diamond Lens" (another, less well-known O'Brien entry describes an invisible being); Larry Niven's "Neutron Star"; and Asimov's robot-catches-religion story, "Reason"—representing the first account of a solar power satellite. There are disappointing entries from great masters: Poe's "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (a comet strikes Earth) and Wells' "The Land Ironclads" (tanks in battle). But most of the remainder is impressive—from Don Wilcox's "multi-generation starship" to a 1952 Fritz Leiber clone tale to Richard Matheson on overpopulation (compulsory euthanasia for the aged/infirm) and Lester del Rey on animal superiority. (Intelligent dogs take over after humanity destroys itself.) Except for a foolish 1937 pulp piece about antimatter, then: an attention-worthy gathering—even if the arbitrariness of the assemblage irritates. Read full book review >
100 GREAT FANTASY SHORT SHORT STORIES by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: March 9, 1984

Teeny-weeny tales—so teeny-weeny that the table of contents is longer than any of the entries here. Also, in true fantasy short-short fashion, these tidbits (1940-84) tend to dwell on familiar themes: deals with the devil, Judgement Day, wizards, Aztecs, unicorns, dragons, bottled genies and fairies offering three wishes, voodoo, feeble fairy tales, and horrible puns. And, despite the short-short's essential reliance on surprise for impact, many are dreadfully predictable. There are, inevitably, a few moments of shock or amusement here and there, not to mention the sprinkling of famous names (Lovecraft, Andre Maurois, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Donald A. Wollheim). But the overall effect is numbing rather than stimulating: one of the Asimov factory's less workable ideas for an anthology. Read full book review >
THE ROBOTS OF DAWN by Isaac Asimov
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Oct. 21, 1983

After a 26-year absence: another full-length appearance for the dogged sleuth Elijah Baley and his humanlike robot-sidekick, Daneel. (The Caves of Steel, 1954; The Naked Sun, 1957.) This time, Earthman Baley is summoned to the manicured, unexciting Spacer world Aurora, where a Daneel-lookalike robot, Jander, has been mysteriously brain-killed. Only robotics wizard Hah Fastolfe has the expertise to manage such a feat—but Falstolfe built Daneel and Jander, and denies all knowledge of the crime. All this fuss over a dead robot? Well, the real issue is: Fastolfe's political faction hopes to renew the drive to colonize new worlds, with short-lived, despised Earth people as the pioneers; the opposition plans to use Daneel-type robots, which would result in a succession of dull, Aurora-like planets in cultural stagnation. So, to win, the opposition must discredit Fastolfe and force him to yield his secret robot designs. Baley, as usual, stumbles around in the dark, making wild accusations in a tiresome effort to develop data; he also gets re-involved with old flame Gladia of Solaria. And he eventually resolves the dispute. . .although there's a final surprise involving robot Giskard, who often upstages Daneel. This long-distance sequel, then, bears a strong surface similarity to those classics of the Fifties. Unfortunately, however, it lacks their fire and inventiveness—bogging down in talky, sometimes implausible sleuthing, with no real villains or life-and-death issues. Still: all Asimovites will want to give the new Baley a try, especially after the recent bestseller-comeback for the Foundation series. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 13, 1983

Factual, speculative, and mythical ideas about origins—concerning (in four separate parts) the universe, the solar system, the Earth, and humankind—via a peculiar, confusing mix of materials: four scriptural selections, four straightforward science pieces, 17 fantasy/sf stories from 1933-81, a poem, and a recent Asimov essay refuting Creationism. Part I, for instance—the origin of the universe—starts off with Genesis, proceeds to describe the physics of the Big Bang, adds stories about gods, creations, and cosmological phenomena, and winds up with the philosophical ambiguities of the Rg-Veda. Inconsistencies soon appear. Only Judeo-Christian and Hindu creation myths are included; Carl Sagan's look at the solar system (from Broca's Brain) avoids the question of its origin; and—most prominently—there is no scientific account of human evolution. Some pieces nonetheless stand out: the excerpt from Steven Weinberg's admirable The First Three Minutes, in the particle physics department; Brian Aldiss' valiant attempt ("Non-Isotrophic") to wed theology and cosmology with fiction; two golden oldies—Eric Frank Russell's Adam-and-Eve yarn, "First Person Singular," and Asimov's Neanderthal child, "The Ugly Little Boy"; plus lesser efforts from van Vogt, Clarke, Simak, and Wells. A disjointed, artificial assemblage—that still might find favor in a few origin-pondering classrooms, as well as with ardent Asimovians. Read full book review >
THE UNION CLUB MYSTERIES by Isaac Asimov
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 12, 1983

More for fans of Asimov word/number fiddles than mystery-lovers: 30 mini-stories, all written for Gallery ("what is commonly known as a 'girlie' magazine") and all featuring an old storyteller named Griswold—an ex-spy/sleuth who tells his fellow Union Club cronies anecdotes with puzzle-solutions. The gimmicks, many of them tired beyond the call of duty, involve letter/number codes, puns, etymology, science trivia, literary/musical allusions, and such—familiar Asimov territory. None of the exploits is remotely believable or suspenseful. The attempts at humor are frail at best. So, except for a solid flicker of deduction now and again, there's minimal appeal here for detective-story fans—and aficionados of Asimovian games will find better, less padded collections elsewhere. Read full book review >
THE MEASURE OF THE UNIVERSE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 1, 1983

Asimov-watchers know his fascination with measurements. They know, too, that he'll always provide some down-home comparison to make a millimetre meaningful. This volume can be said to represent the apotheosis of Asimov as Ruler of Weights and Measures. He has chosen to celebrate the Systeme International d'Unites, known to all metric users as the "SI version." In his compulsive way, Asimov takes the reader up and down assorted ladders of length, area, volume, of mass and density, temperature, time, pressure, and more. He meticulously explains exponential notation at the outset, and goes on to explain the origins of rods, furlongs, acres, and suchlike used in the English system (obsolete, of course, outside England and America). Will this exercise win new friends for litres and metres? (The SI spelling.) Will it persuade Congress or the constituency outside science? Probably not. It will serve as a fine reference for schools, however, and might ease the burden of math and science teachers with its inspired examples: "The population of Rumania would also have a total mass of about 1 megatonne"; "A ray of light would, in a decisecond [0.1 second], travel 30 megametres. This is three-fourths of the distance around the Earth at the equator." There is also a hidden agenda: as Asimov pursues the nuances of space or time he can track the age and extent of the universe, the evolution of species, the dimensions of everything from cells to stars; he can explain mass vs. weight, superpressure, superdensities, superconductivity. . . adding an occasional macabre fillip: "5.27 minutes is about the time it takes for a human being to die of asphyxiation." Readers can best savor the full measure of the book, so to speak, in tasty bits and pieces. Read full book review >
Released: March 18, 1983

Lightweight Asimovia: 21 yarns, two from the 1950s, the rest 1976-81. The two vintage-quality offerings here both involve time travel twists: a man obsessed with the lost Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Thespis sends his mind back to the 1871 premiere, and returns rejoicing over the music—only to find a shocking change in himself; and, in the title piece, a jealous professor changes the past to bring about a Moral Majority religious dictatorship, to which he denounces his undeservedly successful, liberal-minded colleagues. Among the rest: the well-known 1953 "Belief," with a levitating scientist branded a fraud; a simulated moon flight that drives its astronauts mad; a space colony whose inhabitants have had their taste-buds perverted by bland chemicals; a drug that improves memory, but not intelligence; alien traders who, arriving in the Pleistocene, delightedly exchange the bow-and-arrow principle for cave paintings. And also on the agenda are some wispy non-sf items, from horrible puns to computerized speechwriting and a chat with God, A few standouts, then, with much that is YA-ishly stereotypical and mediocre: a representative assortment from a great but notoriously unselective talent. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 30, 1983

An over-eclectic assemblage of 29 yarns, one from 1894, the rest 1932-76, running to a hefty 550-plus pages—and arranged more or less chronologically in the usual fairly meaningless categories. The famous tales include an overabundance of Asimov; "Moxon's Master," Ambrose Bierce's chessplaying automaton that murders its creator; "Fulfillment," A. E. van Vogt's vast, intelligent computer contending with an earlier version of itself; Harlan Ellison's ultimate in computer horror, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream"; Fredric Brown's classic short-short, "Answer" (a supercomputer is asked, "Is there a God?"); and others from Walter M. Miller, Jr., Gordon Dickson, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Shara. Also noteworthy: a very early John Wyndham yarn about a Martian robot baffled by Earthly anti-machine paranoia; Murray Leinster invents home computers—in 1946; Harry Harrison's robots continue to fight a meaningless war long after the humans have made peace; and Robert Silverberg's ironic tale of computer-enhanced music. Two others stand out, but neither is about robots or computers: J. F. Bone's well-known "Triggerman" (the finger on the nuclear button), plus a splendid alien-contact yarn from Gene Wolfe. And the rest come in between standard and soggy. A shapeless and rather parochial collection (notable absentees include Aldiss, Simak, and Lem)—but there's no shortage of high-quality, if often familiar, material. Read full book review >
FOUNDATION'S EDGE by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Oct. 22, 1982

After 29 years, Asimov has finally been prodded into continuing his famous Foundation saga: this splendid effort—faithful to the spirit of the original trilogy, while stylistically more expansive and mature—may well be the best yet. The Seldon Plan, designed to create a stable glactic Second Empire, is now half complete. But on the physical-science-based First Foundation, naive, intuitive councilman Golan Trevize notices that the Selden Plan is working a little too well: he realizes that the supposedly destroyed, mental-science-based Second Foundation still exists! So woman mayor Harla Branno secretly orders Trevize to seek out the Second Foundation. And meanwhile, arrogant genius Speaker Storr Gendibal of the Second Foundation, also suspicious of the too-perfect Plan, deduces the existence of an unknown group of mind-controllers: he follows Trevize to forbidden planet Gaia, where shortly Branno and a battle fleet also arrive. The explanation of all this? Well, Gaia, a planetary consciousness comprising humans, animals, plants, and inorganic matter, has engineered the confrontation to force Trevize (he has the knack of making correct decisions) to decide the fate of the galaxy—which involves transcending the efficient but ultimately sterile Selden Plan. Furthermore, behind this windup, there's another surprise (involving—you guessed it—robots) and some absorbing stage-setting for other sequels. After a slowish start, then, the rather talky narrative here develops into grippingly effective drama—with oodles of twisty-turny plot, an engaging cast, and some enjoyably mellow humor (Asimov whimsically manages to work in references to all his previous novels). A grandmasterly performance. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 12, 1982

Forget the pretentious "dictionary" label: this admittedly mammoth, 50-piece collection—with its contrived categories ("knights," "judicial system," "women," etc.) and haft-witted definitions ("children—persons between infancy and puberty; the offspring of human beings")—is just another gab-bag, despite the noisy packaging. Furtermore, 34 of the yarns are from the 1940s and '50s, with all that implies in terms of pulpish writing, flawed or flimsy premises, and juvenile, cliff-hanging plots. Among the famous entries: Cordwainer Smith's hyperspace pinball, "The Game of Rat and Dragon"; Arthur Clarke's Venusians puzzling over a Walt Disney cartoon, "History Lesson"; Anne McCaffrey's original cyborg-spaceship tale, "The Ship That Sang"; and H. G. Wells' horrifying deep-sea dive, "In the Abyss." There's plenty of humor, including a Richard Matheson tale about a crawling, sentient Los Angeles taking over the world, and one of Piers Anthony's interstellar dentist yarns (funny, but guaranteed to induce toothache in the reader). Plus: touching love stories from Theodore Sturgeon and Robert F. Young; a blend of spaghetti western and time travel from Bob Shaw; a half-animal, half-vegetable alien in distress from C. D. Simak; sharp feminism from Suzette Haden Elgin; and several space operas of the "who was that masked man?" variety. Entertaining, often YA-ish, certainly browse-worthy tales—but, overall, mutton dressed as lamb. Read full book review >
EXPLORING THE EARTH AND THE COSMOS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: May 28, 1982

The title, though accurate, does not catch the flavor of this latest Asimov—which reveals his fascination with limits and man's "restless desire" to push beyond. As preamble, Asimov reviews human physical limitations: horizons defined by human eyes, legs, and so on. Then, in true Baconian scientific spirit, he celebrates the experiments, methods, and measurements that have extended human horizons in space, time, matter, and energy. The result is a bird's-eye view of history and invention, science and industry. Spatial horizons make up the bulk of the work, what with Asimov discoursing on the ancient Mediterranean world, Marco Polo, the age of exploration, the conquest of the poles, the eras of ballooning, flight, and space—with asides on oceanography and mountaineering. Time horizons have to do with the ever-finer splicings of time (did you know that "second" simply means the second division of an hour?) and the clever timepieces that made precision possible—inevitably leading to questions of the age of the earth, the universe, and living creatures, and the conundrums of relativity and time travel. The horizons of matter are graded from the mini to the mighty in living and non-living matter, with sections on weight, mass, density, and pressure. In horizons of energy, the subjects are heat, temperature, and luminosity; predictably, Asimov raises cosmological questions on the fate of the universe, and describes the blackness of black holes and the brightness of quasars. He's said many of these things before, of course; but they are condensed and tied together here in highly satisfactory fashion, with the earthy wit (black holes as "cosmic subways") and the usual scattering of Guinness record-type tidbits. Vintage Asimov that will please fans—and also a lively introduction to science for teens or pre-teens. Read full book review >
SPECULATIONS by Isaac Asimov
Released: April 28, 1982

Like the editors' Who Done It? (1980), this sf collection gives no bylines for its 17 stories; instead readers are invited to deduce authorship (either on stylistic grounds or by using an easy code). Joanna Russ, in her angry feminist mode, exposes male conceits in an 1880s period piece involving a member of a telepathic sisterhood obliged to masquerade as a man—to withering, brilliant effect. Other superior offerings: Zenna Henderson's bittersweet fantasy about old folk temporarily peeling off their years like a coat; Phyllis Gotlieb's luminous tale of indentured mothers giving birth to variant humans designed for survival on other worlds; Joe L. Hensley's predictable but touching yarn of music-making alien castaways; and Roger Lovin's uneven but affecting human-alien love story. Less incisive: Alan Dean Foster on super-surfers; some typically arcane humor from R. A. Lafferty; Jacqueline Lichtenberg on the effects of alien music; an Alice Laurance & William K. Carlson story about warring aliens learning to communicate; a Bill Pronzini & Barry Malzberg alien-blob that talks in literary quotations; Scott Baker's tale of a neglected child who murders his foul parents. And there are a few inspid variations on time travel, Shakespearean forgeries, the Second Coming, and machine priests. Still, it's an agreeable, eclectic assemblage overall—with that tremendous, blistering Russ effort towering above the rest. Read full book review >
THE SCIENCE FICTION WEIGHT-LOSS BOOK by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 22, 1982

At first glance this might appear an implausible anthology idea—but the upshot is a deliciously varied and diverting set of 15 yarns, from H. G. Wells to the present, examining obesity in all its ghastly guises. The famous entries: Wells' "The Truth About Pyecraft"; "The Man Who Ate the World," one of Frederik Pohl's celebrated stories about a chronically over-productive world in which poverty means endless, grinding consumption; "Abercrombie Station," Jack Vance's space station where the grossly overweight float free of gravity, opprobrium, and social restraint; and Stephen King's "Quitters, Inc.," which tells how to give up smoking and lose weight—or else. Some of the less well-known but equally yummy tales just might put you off your victuals permanently: a hilariously sickening eating contest (T. Coraghessan Boyle); a robot family chef determined to starve its flabby charges (Robert Silverberg); a ladies' club whose members fatten up their husbands for the dinner table (John Anthony West); a despised fat girl who consigns her enemies to a world of lollipop trees and chocolate rivers (William Tenn); a painter whose foody murals are subliminally enhanced by restaurateurs to whip patrons into a frenzy of feeding (Scott Sanders); and finger-lickin' goodies from Orson Scott Card, R. A. Lafferty, and others. Simply scrumptious—however familiar some items on the menu. Read full book review >
THE COMPLETE ROBOT by Isaac Asimov
Released: April 9, 1982

Virtually an anthology of anthologies: all 31 of Asimov's robot yarns, 1939-76, only four of which—recent, YA-ish filler material—have not appeared in other collections. Based, of course, on his famous Three Laws of Robotics, Asimov's mechanicals come in every variety: there's Multivac the super-computer; robot dogs, birds, autos, and walking bombs; robots immobile and robots humanoid. Asimov's first robot tale, "Robbie," is here, along with all the yarns about those Mutt & Jeff robot field testers, Powell and Donovan. Plus: all the stories featuring robo-psychologist Susan Calvin, one of Asimov's more memorable creations; a tale starring Lije Bailey and his robot partner Daneel, detectives from the novels The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun; and, finally, the award-winning robot-becomes-human yarn, "The Bicentennial Man." To be sure, many of the older efforts look a bit bedraggled today, though the best of them ("Reason," "Liar!," "Little Lost Robot," etc.) have weathered pretty well; and the newer stories tend to be weaker if more thoughtful. But even if the overall quality here can't match that of its exemplar, I, Robot, there's quantity and variety enough to please Asimov fans and robot fanciers—who can now assure themselves that they've missed nothing. Read full book review >
LAUGHING SPACE by Isaac Asimov
Released: March 26, 1982

Sf funnies, Asimov style: a monster compendium of 51 cartoons, 18 poems, and 57 stories ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. In the latter category are such famous stories as Alan Nelson's "Silenzia" (an Air Wick that swallows noise instead of smells); Lion Miller's "The Available Data on the Worp Reaction," in which a congenital idiot makes an antigravity machine out of junk; Simak's "Lulu" (spaceship falls in love with her crew); Richard Matheson's "The Splendid Source" (where do dirty jokes come from?); Bester's "Something Up There Likes Me," about an Orbiting Biological Observatory playing god; Hal Draper's "Ms Fnd in a Lbry" (problems of information retrieval); and an excerpt from Leiber's The Silver Eggheads, with machine novelists getting their comeuppance. Others are superficially amusing but with rather chilling implications, such as Norman Kagan's quantum theory of multiple universes or Kevin O'Donnell's censorship-by-computer tale. And on the debit side, there's an excess of pieces whose sole justification is a concluding horrible pun (an Asimov obsession), sniggery attacks on critics (ditto), and yarns where Asimov himself appears in one guise or another. Still, some of the light verses (L. Sprague de Camp, Ogden Nash, Gerald Jonas) might raise a smile, as might the cartoons of Hart, Lorenz, Schulz, and Gahan Wilson; and famous names are sprinkled throughout. So just about anyone will find something to chuckle over here—even if most readers will prefer to browse. . . and choose more selectively than Asimov has. Read full book review >
Released: March 22, 1982

Neither of the locked-room masters—John Dickson Carr and Clayton Rawson—is represented in this collection of twelve stories; for classics, the editors turn instead to three of the most over-familiar items imaginable (Poe's "Rue Morgue," Conan Doyle's "Speckled Band," and Futrelle's "Cell 13"). Still, there's a trio of agreeable rarities here. From the Thirties: MacKinlay Kantor's "The Light at Three O'Clock" (body disappears from bloody hotel-room) and Cornell Woolrich's "Murder at the Automat"—neither especially clever in plot, but both written with infectious, streetwise zest. And Barry Perowne's "The Blind Spot" is a suave diversion, though it involves a locked-room puzzle that's never revealed (the brainstorm of a drunk thriller-playwright. . . who forgets his inspiration when he sobers up). The rest? A generally humdrum assortment: a Lester Leith tale from Erle Stanley Gardner, Robert Arthur's in-jokey "The 51st Sealed Room," William March's irritating "The Bird House," a creaky pseudo-time-machine effort by Jack Wodhams, an impossible-magic-act puzzle by Bill Pronzini & Michael Kurland, and Edward D. Hoch's solid "The Leopold Locked Room." All in all, then: a spotty collection that's inferior in most respects—including introductory material—to Hoch's own much more generous All But Impossible anthology (1981). Read full book review >
X STANDS FOR UNKNOWN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 10, 1982

Another collection of columns from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: 17 pieces, 1982-83—in the usual amiable, faintly soporific Asimov mold. His first topic is electromagnetic radiation—from Newton's discovery of the visible spectrum, through Maxwell's field equations, to cosmic rays (which are actually particles, not radiation). Next: silicon, an element closely related to carbon, and why there are no silicon lifeforms (the main reason is that silicon compounds are insoluble in water)—although, Asimov notes, computers based on silicon chips may one day challenge this assumption. In the section on astronomy: Halley's comet, due to reappear in 1986, and its historical reputation for foretelling dire events; the idea of the geostationary orbit, invented by Arthur C. Clarke; novas and supernovas; the slow realization, over the last few centuries, that Earth is not the center of the universe or, indeed, of any cosmic importance at all. Also on the agenda: the Fibonacci numerical series and the "golden section" of the ancients; Biblical cosmology; an examination of irrationality-in-general, and irrationality in science. Mildly informative, rather complacent, altogether bland: an average outing overall. Read full book review >
COUNTING THE EONS by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Jan. 1, 1982

A further collection of essays (1980-81) from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: 16 informative pieces (plus one Miltonian flight of fancy) which Asimov, in a genial and urbane preface, hopes will help counteract the anti-science and narrow-mindedness fostered by the Moral Majority and the Creationists. His first subject is pressure: planetary atmospheres, the behavior of pressurized gases, and the odd ways highly compressed ice changes its crystal structure (ice VII, for example, melts at 100°C). Inevitably, there's a question-and-answer session on robots. Next come some ideas on those ever-fascinating subjects, how and why the dinosaurs became extinct (probably, the impact of a huge meteorite did them in). Moving farther afield, Asimov examines the dim but speedy Barnard's Star, and how wobbles in its motion may indicate the presence of Jupiter-type planets. On physics and cosmology, he journeys from the very small to the very large: i.e., from leptons, quarks, and the hypothesis of proton decay—via the constraints imposed by relativity—to the birth and death of the universe. . . and the related problem of whether the universe is "open" (doomed to expand forever) or, conceivably, "dosed" (eventually to contract and be reborn). Lastly, there's a pointless and rather absurd quest for science fictional elements in Paradise Lost. Mild introductory anecdotes, uncritical but pleasantly digestible explanations: a decided improvement over Asimov's last, ill-judged F & SF compendium, The Sun Shines Bright (1981). Read full book review >
CHANGE! by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 14, 1981

Some Asimov ephemera: 71 cozy, unexceptionable speculations, reprinted from American Way (the in-flight magazine of American Airlines), all brief and correspondingly shallow—though some are linked in series for slightly more effect. Asimov starts with earthbound phenomena: the computer (and its multifarious roles), underground abodes, sea monsters, genetic engineering, robots, alternative energy sources, telepathy and thought-control, mining the sea, etc. Then, moving into space, he scans the potential uses—in terms of knowledge and raw materials—or just-about-everything from meteors, the moons of Jupiter, and black holes to space-borne diseases (the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe theory is demolished with a few well-chosen words), orbiting telescopes, and O'Neill's space colonies. It's all more restrained and reasonable in tone than some recent Asimov offerings; and though none of the news will be new to science buffs, novices will find it undemanding and variously eye-opening. Read full book review >
THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 9, 1981

An Asimov miscellany: 17 erratic pieces reprinted from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1979-80, on over-familiar topics ranging from astronomy and physics to medieval weaponry, biology, and human nature. Some of the essays are passable enough, if superficial: sunspots and the "Maunder minimum"; solar neutrinos and Davis' experiments; the English longbow; Leo Szilard, neutrons, and nuclear bombs; Cyril Burt and scientific self-delusion. Others are unfocused and largely inane (moon, tides, and angular momentum; clones as sources of surgical spare parts)—or Asimov at his rambling and self-indulgent worst: a retort to a "itpicking critic," an (already dated) update on the planets, discussions on urban population growth and on human nature. A very mixed, often noisy bunch, with little appeal to any but ardent Asimov admirers. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT SOLAR POWER? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1981

These latest additions to Asimov's science-history series don't explain their scientific subjects with any flair or special care. Rather, his historical approach sees him, in the volcano book, ticking off major eruptions from Thera in Cretan times to Mt. St. Helens in 1980; and, in the solar book, describing gadgets and devices from an experimental paraboloid mirror to focus sunlight, devised in 230 B.C. This latter survey, which leads up to solar cells, is better integrated with explanations than is the volcano history, but still cursory; and as for future possibilities of solar power, Asimov ignores all small-scale and local uses of wind, tide, and so on, and discusses only the "hundreds of billions of dollars" project of lining up enormous areas of solar cells in space. Both books contain the odd interesting item, but Solar Power has at best a skimpy utility and Volcanoes less. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT VOLCANOES? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1981

These latest additions to Asimov's science-history series don't explain their scientific subjects with any flair or special care. Rather, his historical approach sees him, in the volcano book, ticking off major eruptions from Thera in Cretan times to Mt. St. Helens in 1980; and, in the solar book, describing gadgets and devices from an experimental paraboloid mirror to focus sunlight, devised in 230 B.C. This latter survey, which leads up to solar cells, is better integrated with explanations than is the volcano history, but still cursory; and as for future possibilities of solar power, Asimov ignores all small-scale and local uses of wind, tide, and so on, and discusses only the "hundreds of billions of dollars" project of lining up enormous areas of solar cells in space. Both books contain the odd interesting item, but Solar Power has at best a skimpy utility and Volcanoes less. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 8, 1981

A generous collection of "short-shorts"—crime stories whose brevity (2000 words or less) is often their major attraction; most of the plot twists here are familiar, but there's no time for the belaboring or padding that afflict so many of the longer mystery-magazine stories. So even if this anthology doesn't include any of the great mini-mysteries—those by Edmund Crispin, for example (cf. Fen Country, 1980)—it does offer lots of competent tales and a few real winners. Best of all: Jack Ritchie's "Shatter Proof," an elegant showdown between hired killer and victim which may remind you of the witty byplay in Sleuth. Also notable: Elsin Ann Graffam's "A Night Out With the Boys" (which can be read as a wicked little companion piece to Leonard Michaels' The Men's Club) and her more conventional "House Call"—a nice poisoned-coffee number with a Christie-ish chill. And three of the other standouts use the naturally compact exchange-of-letters format: an amusing creeper by Pronzini & Malzberg; a neat outwit-the-cops anecdote by Lawrence Treat & Charles M. Plotz; and John Lutz's dandy "Pure Rotten," a swift cross between The Bad Seed and The Ransom of Red Chief. The rest run the usual gamut, heavy on love triangles and wife-murders, with sturdy multiple entries from Henry Slesar, Edward D. Hoch, James Holding, and Elaine Slater. One misses the lighter British touch here, perhaps (and the one Michael Gilbert piece is disappointing), but mystery readers who like a light five-minute read just before bed (or between bus stops) will find this a solid source of mild mini-pleasures. Read full book review >
ASIMOV ON SCIENCE FICTION by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 17, 1981

Believe it or not, this 55-piece collection of writings on sf is a first for the prolific, erratic, unself-critical Asimov. Most of the items are from the late 1970s (the two 1962 introductions to volumes of Soviet sf are painfully out-of-date); they include 22 editorials from his Science Fiction Magazine, pieces from Newsday, from encyclopedias, sf fanzines, TV Guide, Natural History (as well as three not previously published); the content is correspondingly varied and variable. In the first section, "SF in General," Asimov takes five stabs at defining sf (the same examples crop up) and still comes up empty-handed ("surely not all sf can be viewed as travel tales"); "The Predictions of SF" contains one essay with some bite (how sf can foresee and help solve problems), and a second that's no more than a list of future possibilities. "The Writing of SF" is all editorials—mostly routine exhortations to budding writers ("under no circumstances should you describe Titan as a satellite of Jupiter"); "SF Fans"—editorials too—might be of some interest to Trekkies and other perennial convention-goers. "The History of SF" has its anecdotes, as does "SF Writers"—on Campbell and his wife Peg, H. L. Gold, Gernsback, Weinbaum. There's also a blurb-style discussion of Bradbury, and a mention of Asimov's mutual-admiration society with Arthur Clarke. "SF Reviews" features Asimov's only serious attempt at criticism: he tackles 1984 from an sf point of view (but why assume it's sf? Orwell didn't) and comes disastrously unstuck. On firmer ground, he gleefully chews up and spits out "Battlestar Galactica" and other "Star Wars" imitations; and wheels out Byron, Coleridge, and Sterne to attack critics in general. Bringing up the rear, "SF and I" more or less describes itself. What it all adds up to is hard to say: cognoscenti will find it repetitive, shallow, and banal; intelligent general readers will be repelled by Asimov's opinionated verbosity and facile attempts at humor. But dutiful disciples of the Master will at least give it a once-over. Read full book review >
VENUS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 13, 1981

As he has done in Saturn . . . and Mars . . ., Asimov uses the description of a single astronomical object to relate much basic astronomy in a direct, easily understood manner. The text presents a significant amount of the content of an introductory astronomy and planetary physics course clearly, and without mathematics. The wealth of figures and tables complements and clarifies the descriptions of the relative sizes of the planets when viewed from different distances, the orbital characteristics of planets and satellites, and the appearance of objects as viewed by an observer located on another planet. Most of the astronomical history and observations that constitute the story of Venus have been described before. However, Asimov uses new data, particularly from Pioneer Venus (launched in 1978), to show that astronomy is an alive scientific field, with many theories to be tested and observations to be explained. The ploy of seeing the night sky as a Sumerian astronomer did, and following the development from astronomical observation to theory, works well in leading beginners from their own casual observations of the skies to an understanding of the elementary theories. The book's subtitle is initially confusing; however, the confusion ends when Asimov takes up the description of Mercury, asteroids, and comets—other near neighbors of the sun—in the last four chapters. As a bonus, readers lulled by the regularity of terrestrial phenomena might modify their mundane geocentric world-view; the realization that there are other, comparatively bizarre phenomena (e.g., the playful, hesitant sunrises that can occur on Mercury's surface) may surprise many readers, and start them wondering about the universe. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: March 4, 1981

For whom can this book be written? A fundamentalist would dismiss Asimov's rational debunking as to-be-expected. Students interested in the Bible can find far richer sources of commentary among Biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists. Asimov fans, maybe? Only True Believers in the Master could follow him through this verse-by-verse annotation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis—382 extended footnotes in all. Yes, Asimov lets us know that we are dealing with both a priestly (P) source and the Jahweh (J) source, and that the two interweave and contradict each other in Genesis. And he lets us know about the Sumerians and the Akkadians, the Babylonians and the Gilgamesh epic. But far too often he says things like this (about the flood): "Fifteen cubits is about twenty-two feet, and this is laughably insufficient to cover the mountains." He tells us that "Peleg died at the age of 239; that is 2007 B.C. Noah was still alive at the time, being 940 years old." He tells us (on the J-source story of the creation of woman): "The formation of the woman out of the rib bears a distant resemblance to what we now think of as 'cloning.' Of course, what God is described as doing in the Bible has a miraculous quality that cannot be legitimately compared to a mere human operation." So much for fact and style. Indeed, the book seems at times a self-parody. There is Asimov the Zealous, explaining—and explaining away—each verse; there is Asimov the Talmudic scholar, saying on-the-one-hand-it-might-be-this. . . or, then-again-it-might-be-that. . . . There is Asimov the numerologist, contemplating days and weights and measures. And always there is Asimov the scientist, using any old Biblical allusion as an excuse for a brief excursion on entropy, or stellar evolution, or cloning. But of enlightened entertainment there is none. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1980

The historical approach that marks this Asimov series doesn't give much shape or substance to his introduction to Antarctica—at least if it's Antarctica you want to find out about. Mostly this is a roll call of explorers from the time of Henry the Navigator, each one going a little further than the last one down the coast of Africa—or, later, each one discovering one more island or peninsula in the search for the Southern continent. (For all of this, extra maps might be more useful than the explorer portraits we get.) Before getting down to Amundsen and Scott, we've found out who first stood on the Antarctic continent (American seal hunter John Davis in 1821) and who first did so knowingly and inside the Antarctic circle (Norwegian whaler Leonard Kristenson in 1895). Asimov's last short chapter catalogues life forms in the Antarctic waters and ends with the peculiar hatching habits of the emperor penguin. Peripheral.? Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 27, 1980

One hundred miniature sf short stories, most of them too gimmicky to induce more than a shrug—but a few old pros do provide some mini-pleasure. Asimov's own "True Love" is the first-person tale of a program in a Multivac-complex—a program that gets away from its programmer (who's seeking the ideal woman) and begins seeking the ideal girl for itself. Harlan Ellison provides two audacious stories that reduce Big Themes to sprightly one-liners. Arthur C. Clarke's "Take a Deep Breath"—about a man without a spacesuit who can save his life only by passing through the vacuum between two space vehicles—offers his customary technological authority and precision. And who can resist Joanna Russ' nonstory "Useful Phrases for the Tourist"—the alien tourist, that is: "Waitress, this meal is still alive". . . "Are you edible? I am not edible". . . "That is my ear". . . "I am toxic". . . Not for serious sf folk, and no substantial nutrition for anybody—but a serviceable enough bedside anthology for those who get a yen for just a taste of something silly or tricky before going to sleep. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 25, 1980

The second volume of Asimov's blockbuster autobiography (begun with In Memory Yet Green, 1979) picks him up at age 34, teaching biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine and under fire as a sci-fi sensation, and leaves him, at 58, the Compleat Science Writer, dubbed by George Gaylord Simpson "a natural wonder and a natural resource." That accolade particularly pleased Asimov because it signaled recognition for a work in pure Asimovian style—the 1960 Wellsprings of Life—by the scientific community; in contrast, the also-lauded Intelligent Man's Guide to Science was and is abjured by Asimov because of heavy-handed cutting and rewriting by an editor. And that is not the only time we learn that Asimov will brook no blue-penciling, for the chapters here, with their brief numbered parts, are primarily accounts of what author Asimov was currently up to: who are the writers, editors, and publishers he's seeing; what rankles and what pleases, what brings fame or blame; and, not least, what he's earning (until the early 1960s, when he tops $70 thousand a year and draws the curtain). To be sure, wife Gertrude and the children swell a scene or two, and there are wry tales of suburban life and Jewish fatherhood. But writing is what the book is about, and to that extent it is more interesting and less self-indulgent than its predecessor. In a telling anecdote, Asimov acknowledges the insight of daughter Robyn who in little-girl fashion once asked what he would do if he had to choose between her and writing (and did not fail to note the slight hesitation in his voice, as he gave the inevitable reply). There are some interesting glimpses into how Asimov works—by plumbing the literature, we are told, never by interviews (a "waste of time"). And we learn of his compulsive need for concurrent projects: "There must be no endings. Several balls must always be in the air." In time marriage #1 dissolves, not without sadness and guilt, and marriage to Janet, the psychiatrist and intellectual soul-mate of many years, eventually takes place. In 1957, Asimov, overweight and overcommitted, suffers a coronary, which is described with typical objectivity and earns the reader's compassion. Asimov, ever admirable if exasperating, ends the book on the rebound, pounds lighter, and enthusiastic over projects to come—including (you guessed it) a fulfillment of the book's last line: "To be continued." Read full book review >
HOW DO WE FIND OUT ABOUT OIL? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 14, 1980

Unlike most of the earlier books in this series, this is not so much about the acquisition of knowledge as about the increasing role of oil in human affairs. But it's instructive nonetheless to approach today's varied uses of oil via an explanation of the formation of oil—and thereby to understand the difference between petroleum products with different-size hydrocarbon molecules. Otherwise the text describes early uses of oil (pitch to make ships watertight, and later to burn in lamps); the widespread burning of "coal gas," of kerosene derived from "oil shale," and finally of kerosene "refined" from petroleum; the new importance of oil as a fuel; and the present supply situation and impending shortage. Topic by topic, the text packs a great deal of information into a few pages; the illustrations, however, are grim. Uninviting but useful for its large view. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT BLACK HOLES? by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Dec. 1, 1979

In the latest of his chronological approaches to understanding science, Asimov spares us the observations of the ancients and begins in 1844 when "A German astronomer, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, discovered a star he couldn't see." From this first glimmer of a "dark companion" to Sirius up to the sophisticated contributions of Stephen Hawking, Asimov traces a direct, unclouded course through the heady universe of white dwarfs and red giants, supernovae, pulsars, and the rest. Assuming no prior knowledge, he easily assimilates atomic structure and stellar evolution into the same simple, ongoing explanations. More narrowly focused than Berger's Quasars, Pulsars, and Black Holes in Space (1977), this lacks the cosmic excitement of Branley's Black Holes, White Dwarfs, and Superstars (1976), but by the same token it's less of a trip for the unambitious reader. Read full book review >
THE 13 CRIMES OF SCIENCE FICTION by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 16, 1979

Though a good deal better than Malzberg-and-Pronzini's Dark Sins, Dark Dreams (1978), this crime/sf anthology makes you wonder whether maybe the idea itself is jinxed. Part of the trouble here is that the editors have split up the literature of crime into 13 categories (locked room, police procedural, etc.), shoving a sf story into each one with varying degrees of justification. Things get off to a mediocre start with one of the late Tom Reamy's thinner efforts (Chandleresque vehicle with horror ending), end gloriously with William Tenn's "Time in Advance" (why not let people serve murder sentences before the crime, at a 50% discount?), and strike a pretty high level in between. Charles De Vet and Katherine MacLean ably depict an infiltrator's attempt to arrange friendly contact between the human race and an alien society with a baffling code of honor. Philip K. Dick's "War Game" is a neat Trojan-horse tale involving a couple of deadly toys. And "Mouthpiece," by Edward Wellen, brilliantly combines a reworking of the Dutch Schultz case with a computer-program-come-to-life premise (and then commits one of the dumbest endings in recent memory). Other fine contributions include Simak's "How-2," Larry Niven's "Arm," and Jack Vance's elegant "Coup de Grace." Some marvelous material, but a strained anthology. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 31, 1979

An old-fashioned anthology of old-fashioned virtues: there's not much in the way of stylistic fireworks or conspicuously labeled profundity here, but rather a clear projection of the relationship between material and treatment that distinguishes the science-fiction form. Asimov's introductory essays sum up what is known to date about the important bodies of our solar system—planets, asteroids, comets—while the twelve stories mostly date from 1955-1965 and embody then-reasonable notions about the same things. Asimov's own "Waterclap" (about competition for funds between a deep-sea project and a lunar colony) is a bit later (1970), but is representative in its efficient writing, economical use of scientific premises, and only slightly qualified optimism about the adventure of space. "Barnacle Bull" by the pseudonymous Winston P. Saunders (Poul Anderson) is a good illustration of Golden Age Jocular at its most pleasant; an early Robert Sheckley story about a Venusian prospector strikes an agreeable note without too many of his usual hijinks; and among deserving contributions by the likes of James Blish, Alexei Panshin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Fritz Leiber, Terry Carr's "Hop-Friend" (in which a friendly Martian turns out to be not quite what he seems) still stands out as one of the most mordant science-fiction stories ever written. An eminently well-designed collection. Read full book review >
A CHOICE OF CATASTROPHES by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1979

Taking a cue from "encounters," Asimov categorizes catastrophes leading to the destruction of human life into five classes. "First class" catastrophes are changes affecting the universe, inimical to life anywhere. Class two are events threatening our solar system; Class three, those threatening the earth itself; Class four, those that would destroy the human race; and Class five, those that would wipe out civilization, leaving a few survivors to lead "nasty, brutish, short-lived existences." Such an embarrassment of poornesses allows the massive Asimovian index file to adduce theory, evidence, and probabilities for disasters ranging from black-hole approaches to Andromeda strains. A Class one catastrophe could occur, for example, because the universe is running down, according to the second law of thermodynamics, leading to ultimate "heat-death." Earlier, however, catastrophes could occur either by the universe expanding indefinitely (the open universe theory) or by gravitational collapse to the cosmic egg (closed or oscillating universe theory). At the other end of the spectrum, Class five annihilation of civilization could come about through the well-known routes of overpopulation, pollution, limited resources, or war. But Asimov is no Cassandra. In the first three classes, indeed, the highest probabilities are given to a collapsing universe (which would take billions of years); to the sun's evolving to a blazing red giant (seven billion years remaining); to the earth's suffering a new ice age or, alternatively, a melting and flooding (in several thousand years)—lots of time to Do Something About It. What must be dealt with now is the threat of thermonuclear war, a Class four catastrophe, and the multiple Class five problems. Here, again, Asimov trusts in science and technology. As ever, this is clearcut exposition, leading the reader expertly down paths of entropy or recombinant DNA; only the optimism seems strained, with too much belief in sweet reason, and insufficient evidence as to how it might prevail. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 26, 1979

Let's see. . . if you took all the books written by Isaac Asimov and placed them end to end, the line would reach from Broadway and Fourteenth Street to the orbit of maybe Jupiter. . . . Anyway, this is one of the best. Asimov organizes with determination rather than elegance. Oddly, the most obvious aspect of this subject (the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration) is the most routinely handled. It's the maze of interconnected physical facts about the Poles that presents the greatest difficulties, and here Asimov is in his element. The climate of the Poles? It can't be understood without reference to the terrestrial shape, orbit, rotation, inclination of axis, atmosphere, and oceans. The Pole Star? It hasn't been the Pole Star forever, because of the precession of the equinoxes. Polar ice and glaciers? The Ice Ages? That brings in the atmosphere again and the problem of how its water content is affected by geographical features, causing different precipitation patterns—hence different glacial histories—at the North and South Poles. The aurora? That involves the earth's chemical composition, the still unsolved riddle of its magnetism, and the interaction of the solar wind with the ionosphere. Asimov is painstaking, clear, thorough (though it must be noted that at the end of a long discussion of everything imaginable about the aurora, he still hasn't gotten around to why it's visible) and as infectiously enthusiastic as a small child. Read full book review >
THE ROAD TO INFINITY by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 14, 1979

Asimov begins with a lovely lecture on logarithms, of all things, an enchanting bit about the obsolescence of the slide rule and the usefulness of exponential additions and subtractions to the growing needs of a calculating astronomy and physics. The premise that we will go on with this kind of numerical lore from one sort of infinity to another is continued in the next several essays—describing the search for absolute zero and the chilling of gases down to a point very close to the complete cessation of molecular activity. This last excursion leads in turn to essays on earthly exploration and the quest for the ends of the earth—east and west and north and south—culminating in the conquest of the South Pole. But, alas, the lore of limits then changes into more typical Asimovian jaunts into space and the planets, conjectures on moons, asteroids, and meteorites, with a particular focus on the moons of Mars and the possible existence of a binary partner of our sun. Standard facts and figures, these; deductions and speculations which do not scintillate. Even the final essays on life Out There are familiar, via Asimov's recent Extraterrestrial Civilizations (p. 606), while a wind-up on the difference between life and death seems a typical rationalist approach defining life as organization and death as entropy. Still, it's worth the price for those fans who didn't see the pieces individually in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction-and there's the bonus of an index to all 238 Asimov essays which have appeared between those covers. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT OUR HUMAN ROOTS? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 28, 1979

From belief in Adam and Eve and a 6,000-year-old universe, Asimov traces the discoveries that have helped us piece together the history of man's origins. False leads, true finds, theories rejected and resurrected, and an outright fraud (Piltdown Man) are all part of the story, which Asimov tells with matter-of-fact dispatch if not distinction. (Wool's drawings, however, give the book a cheap, dreary, textbookish look.) Read full book review >
EXTRATERRESTRIAL CIVILIZATIONS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: June 1, 1979

About two-thirds through Asimov's bio-odyssey comes his thirteenth calculated figure: "The number of planets in our Galaxy on which a technological civilization is now in being equals 530,000." What has gone before has been an inexorable march of always scrutable logic leading him to conclude that life-advanced technological life—must be based on the carbon atom and the existence of "volatiles" (hydrogen, helium, neon, argon, water, methane, hydrogen sulfide); in short, on Earth-like conditions. To be sure, there may be some dolphin-like intelligences swimming in the oceans of some of the massive outer planets, but being streamlined, without appendages, they are unlikely to have the props of civilization. Elsewhere there may be bacteria or other lowly forms. The recent revelations of hydrocarbons and even more complex carbon molecules in interstellar dust seem only to confirm the universal chemistry of life. Given the probabilities, what next? How do we explore, send or receive signals—or should we? Here Asimov's rich knowledge of science fiction and fact lets him survey all the reasoned and wild-eyed speculations and dreams. And here his style takes on even more of a litany form of statement-and-response: a one-sentence paragraph supposing passage through a black hole, for example, is followed immediately by a rebuttal: "Yet. . . ." In the end Asimov feels that beginning with nearby space settlements may be the way, and by a stepping-stone approach over generations—reaching the limits of the solar system. If these settlements started coasting, picking up speed as they fly by the outer planets, they could leave the solar system forever, perhaps to find other "free-worlds." Short of seeding space, Asimov favors our feeble attempts to send messages—as in the Carl Sagas-Frank Drake records incorporated in the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes. At home, the possibility of building a large network of radio telescopes tuned to the most likely Sun-like stars might be sufficiently demanding technically and sufficiently informative to be worth the cost, not to mention providing a diversion from the arms race. And suppose a signal was picked up. Might it not provide "the crucial feather's weight that may swing the balance toward survival and away from destruction"? Asimovian optimism that's hard to resist. Read full book review >
OPUS 200 by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: March 1, 1979

No cookbooks, as yet—but among Asimov's first 199 works there's one of almost every other conceivable kind, an achievement celebrated in this cheerful rag-bag of Asimoviana. Here he is, discussing the orbit of Halley's Comet, telling us that the "reeking tube" (i.e., smoking gun) of Kipling's "Recessional" was even then being superseded by "various smokeless powders," discoursing on the "lesson of universalism" in the Book of Ruth, indulging his passion for historical exposition ("Orleans was the Stalingrad of the Hundred Years' War"). There is, in fact, a snippet from just about every Asimov line of endeavor, from physics for eight-year-olds to the "Black Widowers" mystery series. What is one to make of this human book factory? His propellants appear to be simple exhibitionism and a passion for explaining anything to anybody. He is undoubtedly the most lucid scientific popularizer of his day, a tireless if sometimes puerile humorist, an invincibly obtuse literary annotator, a capital limerick-writer, a science-fiction author of distinctly prosaic gifts out of which, by sheer intelligent hard work, he has wrung some surpassingly good stories. (The best of the famous "robotics" stories, "The Bicentennial Man," appears here in full.) Given the Good Doctor's lifelong case of hyperactive typewriter, it's not surprising that a great deal of this stuff is awful; what is remarkable is how much of it is excellent. Read full book review >
SATURN AND BEYOND by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 13, 1979

As usual in his science books, whatever the series, Asimov tells us not only what is known about his subject but also "how we found out"—and how the different measurements are calculated. This is for youngsters not satisfied with the obvious information that a planet farther from the sun will get less light and heat; by way of offering it Asimov explains, for example, how the distance of a planet from the sun is measured by the apparent width of the sun as seen from that planet. (Later, we get the apparent size of Saturn as seen from each of its satellites.) As in his previous planet books, tables abound. (Table 10 gives "apparent width of the sun seen from the six planets" from Mercury to Saturn, and a later explanation of how distant planets could grow to be enormous involves a table of "Substances Making up the Solar System"—gases, ices, rocks, and metals. Mass, volume, density, orbital eccentricity, periods of revolution, and so on are given not only for the planets but for their satellites as well. And the further out Asimov gets, the greater emphasis he puts on the process of discovery—of which there is likely more to come. Just as irregularities in Uranus' orbit predicted Neptune before it was discovered, later observations of the same orbit indicate another, larger planet on beyond Pluto. Read full book review >
CASEBOOK OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS by Isaac Asimov
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Jan. 4, 1979

The third collection of Asimov's "Black Widowers" stories from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine—each tale consisting of 90% talk as the yakky Widowers discuss a crime puzzle over their fancy club dinners; as Asimov admits, "the mysteries, as mysteries, can be described, discussed, and solved in about a quarter of the space I devote to each." And the solutions to the puzzles usually involve some gimmicky twist: a bit of astronomy, the confusion between Cyrillic and Western alphabets, the fact that there's a Cross of Lorraine semi-concealed in the Exxon logo. So these are stories for a very limited audience—those with a taste for miniature game-playing, eager (but not genuinely erudite) dinner conversation, and Asimov's incorrigible verbal playfulness. Read full book review >
LIFE AND TIME by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 17, 1978

Read a collection of Asimov essays (these mostly culled from magazines as varied as Penthouse and Popular Mechanics) and you can count on finding a statistical gem. Our favorite in this bunch is the description of one cubic kilometer of water: if it were poured onto a "Manhattan imagined to be bare level land it did not run off, it would cover the entire island to a depth of 17.5 meters." This introduces a cautionary essay on the water resources of the planet which comes midway through a text organized according to the theme of life past, present, and future—hence the title. The organizing principle is clear at the outset with some less than vintage pieces on evolution, green plants, and the brain plus a good one on the definition of life. Moving rapidly on, we come to essays on the moon and the discovery of argon, salt, memory, genes, and finally a group on the future. These include one on technology and communication (an apotheosis of the computer), on the legal aspects of space colonization and, fittingly, a final piece on catastrophes and how the world may end. Despite the admixture of cockeyed optimism and dour warnings—the collection tells a lot about life and tells it well Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT EARTHQUAKES? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 30, 1978

As in his other How Did We Find Out books, Asimov begins with the beliefs of primitives and ancients; later come summaries of other theories that "didn't work out" either, plus a synopsis of landmarks in the development and application of the seismograph. As earthquakes can't be considered today without reference to plate tectonics, Asimov starts that story with Wegener's continental drift theory, touches on the evidence from the seafloor, and—with a diagram showing where the plates line up today—concludes that most earthquakes take place on the cracks between them. With a stretched-out discussion of whether people should "leave" (evacuate) on the mere possibility of a quake, this is one of the flimsier entries in Asimov's history-oriented series. Readers will come away from Fodor's Earth in Motion (p. 638, J-154), about plate tectonics, with a better understanding of earthquakes than they get here; for a fuller all-around discussion of the subject, see Lauber's Earthquakes (1972). Read full book review >
ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 8, 1978

Forty-three animals that "are (or might be) mentioned" in the Bible are pictured in Berelson's decorative cinnamon-colored drawings and described by Asimov in a short paragraph each. Asimov may tell something of the animal's distribution or history, describe some typical behavior, or perhaps focus on the characteristic which inspired a biblical comparison. ("Hosea comments on the solitary habits of the Nubian wild ass when he compares it to the Israelites who had gone into exile like 'a wild ass alone by himself.") Biblical references (or their absence) are usually mentioned—Jeremiah asked ironically whether the leopard would change its spots; David named his successor by having Solomon ride on his mule; sheep, Asimov tells us, are mentioned 742 times in the Bible—and Asimov frequently comments on the difficulties and uncertainties of translation: the bubal, a species of hartebeest, "may be what is meant by the biblical word yahmur"; many translators believe that the passage about foxes in Lamentations really refers to jackals. An attractive incidental, which does not overlap with Dorothy Lathrop's retelling of the stories in her Animals of the Bible. Read full book review >
ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 8, 1978

Forty-three animals that "are (or might be) mentioned" in the Bible are pictured in Berelson's decorative cinnamon-colored drawings and described by Asimov in a short paragraph each. Asimov may tell something of the animal's distribution or history, describe some typical behavior, or perhaps focus on the characteristic which inspired a biblical comparison. ("Hosea comments on the solitary habits of the Nubian wild ass when he compares it to the Israelites who had gone into exile like 'a wild ass alone by himself.") Biblical references (or their absence) are usually mentioned—Jeremiah asked ironically whether the leopard would change its spots; David named his successor by having Solomon ride on his mule; sheep, Asimov tells us, are mentioned 742 times in the Bible—and Asimov frequently comments on the difficulties and uncertainties of translation: the bubal, a species of hartebeest, "may be what is meant by the biblical word yahmur"; many translators believe that the passage about foxes in Lamentations really refers to jackals. An attractive incidental, which does not overlap with Dorothy Lathrop's retelling of the stories in her Animals of the Bible. Read full book review >
QUASAR, QUASAR, BURNING BRIGHT by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 7, 1978

Another Asimov Anthology, this one of pieces that appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (Fact pieces are the cachet of some of the more distinguished sci fi mags.) Several essays, timed to the Bicentennial and featuring the author as historian, are interesting examples of Asimovian logic applied to urban problems (he is a true New-York lover), to the Civil War, to the general theme of history as reflecting changes in technology. All are reasonable, with occasional too-facile-by-half conjectures corrected by scholars whose minor criticisms are appended. Several of the scientific essays fall into groups: the opening ones dealing with speculations on the nature of trans-uranium elements and a second set treating, with spanking success, of ice ages. One by one, Asimov describes the perturbations in Earth movement that account for the seasons and the various disequilibriums which have led to ice ages past and hold the potential for future ones. The concluding sections take up themes pertaining to the solar system and the cosmos. Here we find the title essay, an account of the mapping of the heavens from naked-eye numberings of stars in the days of Hipparchus to the latest estimates of the luminosity of such ultra-distant phenomena as quasar 3C279. At its peak, the quasar's brilliance is estimated to be 100,000,000,000,000 times that of the sun. Leave it to Asimov to supply such figures, along with familiar comparisons and ingenious analogies, which together make the revelations of science wondrous and never tedious. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 9, 1978

What happens when an overachiever with almost perfect recall is let loose on autobiography? You get length, for a start. Documenting birth through age 34 enables Asimov to dwell lovingly on the minutiae stored in the temporal lobes, aided by diaries compulsively chronicling events (especially birthdays), habitats, typewriters or telephones acquired. You get excess. The writing persists in the look-at-me-I'm-cute/precocious/fat/erratically brilliant/flirtatious/honest style that marks Asimov introductions. You get cliches. The text contains lines like "we settled down in New York City's borough of Brooklyn where I was to spend my formative years," or "But it was off with the old and on with the new." The story itself, however, has a certain New York nostalgia appeal, Poor Jewish boy grows up in Brooklyn, Russian immigrant mom and pop run a candy store, work, work, work, eat, eat, eat, be the best. And of course Isaac was the best: skipped liberally in the lower grades, he went on to pimply-faced, skinny adolescence, rejection by the quota system from Columbia College (and later, by medical schools), always reading, doing things for himself, by himself: an erudite but totally sheltered existence. The familiar pattern of the first-born son pleasing a stern and demanding father (but there is affection) and a protective mother. There follow the Sad-Sack army days, the bliss of marriage, the beginning triumphs writing for the pulps, and finally the Ph.D. in chemistry, plus, at volume's end, a respectable assistant professorship at Boston University and renown as one of the luminaries of sci-fi's Golden Age. Of particular interest is Asimov's inside story of the evolution of that literary form, and the editors and agents who helped shape it. At half the length and with half the schmaltz, this 200th Asimov title would have been distinctly more memorable. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 23, 1978

. . . or All Around the Town with Encyclopedia Brown. New York City institutions substitute for Idaville backyards in these five mystery/puzzles (four of them reprinted from Boy's Life and elsewhere) and Asimov's smart, stalwart kid is named Larry, but he's as quick as Sobol's to solve his detective father's cases—finding the key word Dad needs to break a criminal code in the Times crossword puzzle; locating the museum's stolen coins by positing a far-fetched confusion between Santa Claus (Kris Kringle) and Christkindl (the creche in a nearby church); and—as any dinosaur freak will foresee when the jewel thief dying in the Natural History museum whispers "Try Sarah Tops"—turning up a missing diamond in the Triceratops skeleton. Clicking away perpetually and refusing all rewards ("I was only doing my duty"), Larry saves the Soviet UN offices from a threatened bombing by remembering that their Christmas day is our January 7, and—though he hates to put the finger on anyone—clears a classmate suspected of sneaking test questions by directing the principal to the real culprit, a female A student. Brisk—if you feel that the Apple flavoring warrants the new line. Read full book review >
MARS, THE RED PLANET by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 26, 1977

Like Jupiter (1973) and Alpha Centauri (1976) this presents information about Mars, and how Mars was used as a reference in plotting the solar system, in a solid astronomical context. Explaining such phenomena as planetary orbits, mass, and rotation (and, just as important, how they were established), Asimov goes on to the mapping of Mars, the controversies about its mysterious canals, the discovery and study of its two satellites, the findings of Mariner probes pertaining to Martian atmosphere and surface, and the later Viking experiments revealing soil "which has either some very interesting chemistry going on in it or some very interesting biology." The new information alone, complete with closeup photos, ensures that this will supersede existing titles, and Asimov enlivens the discussion by considering yet unanswered questions: why are the Martian volcanoes so large? is Mars now in a permanent Ice Age? Superior. Read full book review >
THE BEGINNING AND THE END by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 14, 1977

Another Asimov Anthology—in case you missed those articles in Playboy, TV Guide, or your favorite in-flight airline magazine. The crop includes prefatory and concluding remarks mostly having to do with the fact that Asimov was asked to write the article, enjoyed doing it, and got paid for it. The themes cover familiar Asimov territory—chemistry, physics, energy, the solar system, cosmology, futurism—with the articles subdivided according to past, present, and future. One innovation is Asimov on future weather. Best is an essay on looking at the sides for neophytes unequipped with instruments who just want to find their way around a few well-known skymarks. Also the title essay, a good exposition of the theories of the origin and end of the universe in which Asimov comes up with an ingenious formulation of absolute beginning out of nothingness and absolute sinking back into nothingness. The rest is medium to good, and slightly repetitious. (He is, after all, writing on similar themes for different journals.) Aside from the general information content the book might show would-be writers how a pro popularizes science for a wide market. Read full book review >
THE HUGO WINNERS by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 1, 1977

Winners in the short-story, novella, and novelette categories from 1971 through 1975. The most striking efforts are Ursula K. LeGuin's thoughtful novella of the rape of a forest planet and James Tiptree's angry, magnificent tale of a deformed girl hooked up to a beautiful waldo. Other impressive stories from LeGuin, Harlan Ellison, and R. A. Lafferty; good solid contributions from Larry Niven, George R. R. Martin, and Poul Anderson. The most moving award is that shared by Frederik Poul and the long-dead C. M. Kornbluth for a harrowing (and perhaps, on Kornbluth's part, autobiographical) short story of a father making a terrible decision about an emotionally disturbed child. Wonderful collection—but there are liabilities. Asimov has never provided noisier, more pointless introductions. And, if you think awards are any guarantee of excellence, look at Fritz Leiber's "Ship of Shadows" (inadvertently omitted from Volume 2) with its marvelous situation and lazy writing, or his disgracefully ragged sword-and-sorcery effort. Or Sturgeon's mawkish, exiguous love story, "Slow Sculpture," full of syrupy cliches in worldly-wise clothing. The collection is a must, but not always a monument to the merits of all concerned. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT OUTER SPACE? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 15, 1977

Space flight, not what's out there, is the subject of Asimov's latest historically ordered explanation, which begins with the story of Daedalus and proceeds rapidly to the Montgolfiers (who, noting that hot air rose, built the first balloons) and the Wrights (who first put a powered motor on a glider). Such general earmarks are followed, as technology marches on, by more basic but just as easy presentations of the problems involved: How can you make something move through a vacuum? How can you throw a ball so hard it doesn't fall back? How can you avoid being crushed by the velocity required for the escape? The rocket principle is explained via an analogy to balls being thrown off a platter that is sliding on ice—and then it's pretty much back to a non-technical history, skimming through Goddard, Von Braun, and the US-Soviet competition which has resulted in the satellites, probes, manned flights, and Skylab that are finally helping us to find out about outer space. An often sketched chronology, painlessly retraced. Read full book review >
THE COLLAPSING UNIVERSE by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 1, 1977

High marks for Asimov as he leads us down the astronomical garden path from particles and forces to black holes—the ultimate be-all or end-all of a collapsing (but maybe not) universe. The path is logically traced through the composition of planets and the evolution of stars through red giants and white and black dwarfs. From here we go to explore the more recent exotic flora—neutron stars, pulsars, quasars. Finally the gate is open to the world of the black holes, consisting of a mass so compressed by gravitational force as to overcome nuclear forces and escape velocity so that photons cannot radiate out (hence the hole's blackness). Then it's on to speculations that bespeak Asimov the sci-fier no less than the expositor as he discusses mini- or maxi-holes, "wormholes," white holes, and so forth. There are typical Asimov homely touches (he explains major concepts in terms of books on tables or earth-moon relations); there are dashes of ego and such idiosyncrasies as giving full names, dates, and national origins of scientists mentioned. These familiar trademarks can be attributed to that zeal which says "I know and want to explain." Certainly this is a good exemplification, exuberant and really quite exciting as it demystifies those longish all-too-often incomprehensible newspaper accounts. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 10, 1977

A hundred shiny little items with all the variety and dimension of a miniature automobile collection salvaged from the breakfast cereal. True, science fiction has always reserved a special niche for the short short story or outrageous gag. But after about ten in a row your eyes start to glaze over. Among the better mini-scenarios here: Edward Wellen's vignette of St. Nick in the land of Big Brother ("Sanity Clause"), Alfred Bester's last representative of Homo Megalomaniacus ("The Die-Hard"), Hayford Peirce's "Mail Supremacy" with its brilliant confirmation of a long-suspected inverse relationship between time and distance in the ways of the Post Office. Maggie Nadler astringently imagines a profitable link between technology and voyeurism; James E. Gunn suggests the mudpie origins of the universe; Larry Niven gives us an Earthside biological probe set down on a not-very-well-supervised Martian children's playground. But all but the brightest of the bright ideas rapidly take on the effect of light bulbs above cartoon panels. And much of the writing has an assembly-line sameness that would vanish in the execution of a larger design but becomes almost unbearable in this format. A pretty well-designed collection for reference or desultory browsing, not for consecutive reading. Read full book review >
ALPHA CENTAURI by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Dec. 8, 1976

Asimov gives so patient and detailed a survey of the mapping of the heavens, the naming of stars, and (especially) the different ways of measuring their distance, size, and luminosity that Alpha Centauri becomes less the subject than a focusing point for a general astronomy lesson on the order of his younger "How Did We Find Out. . ." series. (Contributions of Ptolemy, Newton, and Doppler are only a few of those surveyed in passing, and there are numerous tables, including "Eccentricities of Binary Systems" and "Transverse Velocity of Some Stars.") We do learn though that Alpha Centauri, an "unremarkable star" like our sun, is actually two individual stars—or three, with the dim (eleventh magnitude) third component that qualifies it as a "ternary" star. Speculating on "life among the stars," Asimov concludes that among the possibly habitable ones the Alpha Centauri system is not only by far the closest but also the most probable—but getting there "won't be easy." As the one-way trip would take more than 4.4 years at the speed of light and 7,400 years at ten times the speed of our current, fastest rockets, it will be a while before even Asimov can come up with a Land and Peoples of Alpha Centauri. Read full book review >
MORE TALES OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

Twelve more stories (see Tales of the Black Widowers, 1974) in what Asimov likes to consider his Chestertonian vein—the misplaced heirlooms, baffling safe combinations, and conditions of eccentric bequests chewed over at the monthly banquets of the Black Widowers club and invariably, imperturbably solved by ex officio member Henry the waiter. Asimov can hardly be said to have mastered this elegant puzzle-in-a-bottle form, but he obviously loves it. Read full book review >
Released: May 7, 1976

Asimov at his thinnest, which is pretty thin. The victim, Giles Devore, is an enfant terrible novelist of exaggerated reputation and unlimited egomania as well as repulsive sexual proclivities, found dead in the shower by his former mentor Darius Just after a joint autographing session with a brash savant named Asimov whom Doubleday has hired to do a book called Murder at the ABA. Those with justifiable grievances against the late unlamented include Giles' about-tobe-ex-wife and about-to-be-ex-publishers, plus a couple of well-stacked convention and hotel PR representatives. Only for the most incurable Asimov addicts. Read full book review >
TO THE ENDS OF THE UNIVERSE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 30, 1976

An updated edition of Asimov's nine-year-old introduction which spans "about 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles" from earth and the planets outward to exploding galaxies and quasars. Read full book review >
ASIMOV ON PHYSICS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1976

Of making many books there is no end, saith the Preacher, and he never even met Isaac Asimov. Reading Asimov, however, is anything but a weariness of the flesh. He must be simply one of the best scientific popularizers who ever hitched his typewriter to a cyclotron. The accelerators at Brookhaven can hardly generate particles faster than Asimov can generate explanations of them—glibly predigested explanations perhaps, but serving a very real need. These seventeen articles (reruns from Asimov's successful science series in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) have been edited into a remarkably cohesive elementary account of wave propagation, gravitational attraction, temperature and kinetic energy, entropy, and various subatomic postscripts to Planck and Heisenberg. The peculiar Asimovian tone, which sounds like one brash adolescent talking to another, may be getting on your nerves by the last muon. But after all the man doesn't pretend to write anything but mass-produced popular science—and he can't be beat at it. Read full book review >
FAMILIAR POEMS, ANNOTATED by Isaac Asimov
Released: Jan. 7, 1976

Well, there can't be too many worlds left for the old pansophist to conquer, short of Great Recipes from Isaac Asimov—and maybe it's a tactical error to mention that. Asimov the literary annotator is something like Joe Namath the actor. Other critics may approach poems in terms of metrical subtleties and image-clusters, but Asimov eschews that kind of thing "for the very good reason that I don't know how to do it." What he does know how to do is put salt on the tail of stray facts: Keats' stout Cortez gazing from the peak in Darien (so named before "Panama City became the most important city of the region"), or the importance of the Hertzsprung-Russell main sequence of stellar development to Frost's "Fire and Ice." The Asimovian treatment, applied with vigor to a few dozen warhorses from "Barbara Frietchie" and "Paul Revere's Ride" to "Ozymandias" and Milton's sonnet on the Piedmont massacre, is unforgettable. It produces a lot of cheerfully useless glosses, some harmlessly entertaining facts (e.g., the number of stars and stripes on the original Fort McHenry flag of "The Star, Spangled Banner"), and at least one gloriously edifying set of notes—to the Major General's song from The Pirates of Penzance. Awful anthology, irrepressible Asimov—quite a combination. Let's see. . . "I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,/ In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous. . . .? Read full book review >
THE HEAVENLY HOST by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 25, 1975

"The little Wheel sparkled with rapid white flashes and there was the sound of laughter in Jonathan's head." So the idea of other-worldly beings who communicate by flashes of color might strike sparks even if the message—Jonathan's proof that the Wheels are intelligent which saves their planet from unscrupulous land developers—is monochromatically silly. As little Wheel finally demonstrates his understanding to Jonathan's elders by staging a display of Christmas lights, this slight tale functions best as a sort of sci-fi greeting card. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT ENERGY? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 24, 1975

Beginning with a not very rigorous definition of work, Asimov goes on to discuss kinetic and potential energy and is at his best when retracing the reasoning of scientists like Count Rumford, who figured out the relationship between heat and energy while wondering why cannon-boring made the metals so hot; Julius Mayer who posited the conservation of energy; and Joule and Helmholtz who figured out how to demonstrate the theory experimentally. The trail leads up through Clausius' postulation of entropy and the first discoveries in nuclear energy. Such generalized concepts as "energy evening out" may require a leap of faith at this level, but like. . . Electricity (1973), this is an area where a clear, non-mathematical explanation should pay its way. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 13, 1975

. . . And on to the rings of Saturn? On the face of it the topic seems made for Asimov, and he certainly achieves a solid workmanlike treatment. But since how-and-why rather than who-did-what-when is where his heart lies, he doesn't breathe a great deal of life into the chronological organization the subject demands. Once past a summary of early astronomy and that first serendipitous 16th century combination of lenses, he settles down with relish to the technical aspects. The early telescopes did not instantly unlock the universe. Calculation of actual distances bad to await improvements in the accurate measurement of time, and the science of optics was still limited by uncertainties about the behavior of light and the imperfect state of the lens-maker's art. As late as the 18th century, Newton himself, unaware of the spectrographic properties of different kinds of glass, maintained that chromatic aberration (the partial prismatic effect of light passing through refracting lenses, resulting in colored rings around the image) could not be corrected. Asimov follows the development of reflecting telescopes (which brought a welcome reduction in the length of the instruments), the parallactic measurement of the nearest stars, and the improvement of both reflecting and refracting telescopes until the earth's atmosphere itself became the greatest technical hindrance to accurate observation. The last great innovations—photography and spectrography—were succeeded by discoveries beyond the visible spectrum which have established the primacy of the radio receiver over the eye. Optical telescopes remain more able to scan wide areas of sky, but at present radio telescopes give much better resolution. An interesting subject worked out with smooth efficiency, if not the ultimate Asimovian energy. Read full book review >
BUY JUPITER AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Sept. 5, 1975

We are apparently destined to see the entire Asimov oeuvre recycled between hard covers in our lifetime. This volume takes us from Later Early Asimov (1950) to the Very Recent (1973), proving that he has never outgrown that callow passion for trivial punch lines and wise-ass effects—which work brilliantly about once out of every ten tries. The title story (extraterrestrial Mad. Ave. types) and "Rain, Rain, Go Away" (a what's-with-the-family-next-door variant) click; most of the other 22 are pretty thin. Read full book review >
SCIENCE PAST SCIENCE FUTURE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: July 11, 1975

Asimov, who may be Renaissance Man or half the Sperry UNIVAC catalogue in drag, processes data with the joyous abandon of a goat processing tin cans. This collection of miscellaneous magazine pieces has the unmistakable Asimovian ring—cheerful, impatient, incurably glib but unaccountably engaging. Whether explaining the development of transistors or loosing a stream of facile generalizations about American history, speculating on how women might be biologically redesigned to reduce MCP exploitation or dismantling the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, he conveys an indefinable sense of joie de savoir. How many books has the guy written, anyhow? Well, there's an essay titled "How to Write 160 Books Without Really Trying." Actually, it was originally 100 books, but that was in 1969. By publication date, who knows? Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT COMETS? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: May 28, 1975

Again Asimov takes readers through the thought processes of the ancients (here seen puzzling out the unpredictable behavior of the "aster kometes" or "hairy star" that seems to bring earthly disaster in its wake) and traces the collective process of "finding out" about comets from Aristotelian misconception through instrument-aided observation. Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Kepler, Borelli, Newton and Halley all have their say, each one supplementing and/or correcting, the last, and other lesser known astronomers take it from there, working out comets' orbits and schedules, their connection with meteors, and the role of solar wind in their formation. Not as solid or involving as How Did We Find Out the Earth Is Round (KR, 1973), but a steady progression of discoveries that readers will have no trouble catching by the tail. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: April 25, 1975

Electoral politics and the military events of the Civil War are the main threads of Asimov's narrative and he moves briskly through a tortuously complex era. But though Asimov strives for neutrality throughout, his choice of subject matter gives this history an establishment cast—the Seminole War, for example, becomes merely an incident in Spanish-American relations, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is hardly more than a footnote to military victory. And there is certainly little indication here that this was the age of canals and railroads. Cultural history, though it slips in sideways now and then, is barely covered. Asimov does appreciate the ironies of foreign policy—during these years the United States often considered itself the standard bearer for world revolution while Russia defended traditional regimes. And the unfussy outline of presidential policies and the solidification of our two-party tradition (which clarifies the importance of one-issue parties like the Anti-Masons) makes this a useful overview and a good point of departure for more specialized studies. Read full book review >
OF MATTERS GREAT AND SMALL by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 11, 1975

This collection of essays from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction finds the eight-armed, four-typewritered Asimov venturing into the remotest crevices of light in the observable Universe and revealing that its diameter is 25,000 million light-years and will remain so until we invent an instrument that measures speeds faster than light. He also corrects Shakespeare's Caesar, who said, "I am as constant as the northern star." When Caesar lived "there wasn't any North Star/" — Asimov's explanation is rather complicated but seems correct. Subjects covered include the stars, solar system, life, matter, energy, and numbers. He discusses the chemical inevitability of life on Earth, evolution, a short story he sold in which he predicted Everest would never be scaled because it was an observation post for Abominable Snowmen who were actually Martians (the story hit the stands five months after Everest had been climbed — "Not one of my more luminous accomplishments!"), his abstention from alcohol, his thoughts on why the U.S. allowed its energy crisis to build, the largest prime number ever conceived, and much more. Each article is introduced with an amusing autobiographical anecdote. Ingratiating and mind-stretching when not boggling. Read full book review >
ASIMOV ON CHEMISTRY by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 22, 1974

A recycling of Asimov's articles on chemistry originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The essays range from space-fillers (on the similarity of scientific jargon rhythms to Gaelic) to reconstructions of discoveries (oxygen, and the inert gases) that contain the suspense of excitement of a first-class mystery. Asimov is particularly good on the often-neglected but supremely important role of the cultural, social and intellectual milieu which is often the determining factor in shaping raw data (the geometrical-minded Greeks differentiated atoms on the basis of shape; English chemists of the mechanical Newtonian school classified them according to mass), and the importance of incorrect but useful hypotheses (e.g., a substance called "phlogiston" which was thought to be the element of fire) in advancing the path of knowledge. There are also fascinating tidbits on both the great and the obscure researchers, in addition to better explanations of phenomena such as "catalysts," than can be found in most standard chemistry texts. Read full book review >
EARTH by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 18, 1974

Asimov's approach to population education is to lead readers step by painstaking step through a series of demographic figures showing world population in toro and per square kilometer. . . comparative density and present and projected growth rates in different parts of the world. . .how man has multiplied since the time of pre-human hominids and how long it will take to reach various estimated maximums. . .how "jumps" in available energy lead to population explosions and how we will soon use up our fossil fuels, landing a newly nonindustrial world with a population it can't support. . .finally, how "we simply will not avoid disaster within a few decades if population keeps going up and up." What to do? Asimov hopes to avoid the "natural way" of population control — that is, an increase in the death rate — by educating the nonindustrial world to limit its birth rate (though you can't stop people from "mating," something we suspect Asimov regrets) and the developed countries to "give up some of their wealth and share some of their energy." Well, if there's nothing but straws to dutch we night as well grab them, and Asimov's argument is worth trying on those cerebrally-oriented kids who are most easily convinced by figures and reason. Read full book review >
THE BEST OF ISAAC ASIMOV by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 27, 1974

Twelve stories by one of SF's masters, starting with a 1939 saga of a cleverly engineered escape from a wrecked spaceship running out of air in the asteroid belt and ending with a 1972 detective story in which an expert on robot psychology deduces which of two mechanical servants is telling the truth. In between there's the classic "Nightfall" about a world at the galactic center whose suns set only once every thousand years; a tale of mining for ice in the rings of Saturn; a low-key nightmare about a device for viewing the past that puts an end to privacy; one of detective Wendell Urth's extraterrestial tours de force; and more. Asimov at his best is as good as they come. Read full book review >
TALES OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: June 14, 1974

These appealing five-finger exercises all involve meetings of a misogynistic secret society, the Black Widowers, who foregather monthly at a restaurant to eat good food and to quiz a single nonmember guest on his profession, interests and vagaries. Mirabile dictu the quizzing always elicits a riddle — the source of the mysterious banging noises plaguing a writer, the location of hidden bonds or how a clairvoyant does her trick, for example — to which the club can turn its collective puzzle-solving talents; however, it's always Henry the waiter who provides the solution. As insubstantial as cotton candy and as sweet. Read full book review >
ASIMOV'S ANNOTATED PARADISE LOST by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 26, 1974

A layman's access to Milton's rich epic — drawing from the Bible, Greek and Latin literature (the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid), etc. Read full book review >
BEFORE THE GOLDEN AGE by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: April 19, 1974

The period that SF devotees call golden began in 1938 when John Campbell took over as editor of Astounding and technological precision became a feature of the field. But the pre-Campbell '30's are proven far from arid in this massive collection of tales that delighted the young Asimov behind the counter of the family candy store. Here are several species of apocalypse, including the planets as eggs that crack open to hatch strange creatures, as well as men who shrink until they find themselves inhabiting a subatomic universe or who expand until they break through into larger worlds than this one. Plus Martians who make people into pets and carnivorous plants that make them into mincemeat, as well as one of SF's first benevolent aliens and various other figments and fantasies. Asimov's autobiographical introductory notes communicate a pleasure in these extravagant tales that only the most churlish fan could wholly fail to share. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT GERMS? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 8, 1974

The latest in Asimov's lightweight science history series covers the well-worn path from Leeuwenhoek's observations with his primitive lenses to the discovery of the tobacco mosaic virus. The gradual disproving of the theory of spontaneous generation and the contributions to germ theory of Jenner, Pasteur, Lister, Koch and Ehrlich are surveyed, but without adding either data or clarity to existing material at this level. And — a minor point but indicative of the level of care and precision — the explanation of Behring's work on antitoxins could give the impression that all disease bacteria operate via toxins. Marginal. Read full book review >
THE BIRTH OF THE UNITED STATES: 1763-1816 by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: March 27, 1974

Chronologically and methodologically this carries on the narrative begun in The Shaping of North America (KR, 1973) by condensing into one volume the political and military highlights of the Revolution, the Constitution, the war in the west, the Federalist-Anti-Federalist struggles, foreign policy and other problems of the new nation. Like other Asimov histories, The Birth of the United States is comprehensive, thorough, and immediately suggests itself as a utilitarian one volume text and reference. However, Asimov fastens on only one discernible theme — the country's establishment of its national security through military actions which culminated in the War of 1812. Equally important issues, such as constitutional debates, Hamilton's financial policies, and the Jay Treaty, are adequately summarized but hardly developed. Furthermore virtually no attention is paid to the social conditions under which ordinary citizens lived, only the most famous personalities and anecdotes (Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, etc.) are scrutinized, and insight and commentary is held to a minimum. Asimov parallels but only incidentally supplements the material found in most high school level American history texts, though his clear and orderly recapitulation will make this a handy alternative to the standard required reading. Read full book review >
NEBULA AWARD STORIES EIGHT by Isaac Asimov
Released: Nov. 14, 1973

The latest Nebula Award collection deserves an award itself. Clarke finds wonder in the old man confronts-Jupiter theme; Rotsler creates a new science fictional art form; Joanna Russ writes powerfully of a society of women whose fully human way of life is threatened by male incursions; Ellison spins a delicate fantasy of salvation; Anderson translates the Orpheus myth into a future idiom; Gene Wolfe provides a complex and subtle variation on the ubiquitous subject of clones; and Silverberg invites us to the end(s) of the world. First-rate. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT DINOSAURS? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 18, 1973

This is the fourth volume in Asimov's "How Did We Find Out. . ." series which aims at reader participation in the process of discovery, but there is nothing in his lackluster survey of fossil finds and dinosaur features to stimulate any kind of mental activity. The first half of the book, which doesn't mention dinosaurs, skims through some landmarks in natural history from the 1500's on (Gesner — "the first man to draw pictures of fossils," Bonnet's disaster theory to reconcile fossils with the Bible, Linnaeus' system of classification, Darwin's theory of evolution) and might have better been entitled "How We Found Out the Earth Wasn't Created in Six Days." The pages on dinosaurs themselves, after the usual mention of Mary Anning who found the first ichthyosaur and plesiosaur remains, is simply a rundown on the size, names, build and eating habits of a few of the better known species — and as such surely superfluous. Read full book review >
PLEASE EXPLAIN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 10, 1973

One-page answers to 100 questions as diverse as "What is the solar wind" and "What is the speed of thought," but many of them — such as "What is a quark. . . or a black hole. . . or a pulsar" already answered in the author's Words of Science and More Words of Science. Read full book review >
HOW DID WE FIND OUT ABOUT NUMBERS? by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 7, 1973

Numerals, not numbers, are the subject of this survey of how man gradually developed handier words and symbols to express "how many." The first two chapters, on the need to improve upon the awkward "a day and another day and another day and another day and another day," the discovery of counting on fingers, and the cumbersome length of early Egyptian notations for large numbers, belabor the very elementary points, whereas a chapter on numbers and alphabets seems entirely beside the point; other sections on the development of Egyptian and Roman systems and the adaptation of the superior Hindu system with its symbol for "nothing" are set forth in an easy conversational style and clarifying as far as they go, but they don't go as far as other introductory surveys which include material on binary and other possibly number systems. Asimov doesn't even attempt to get readers thinking mathematically or to stimulate them, as he did in How Did We Find Out' the Earth is Round? (KR, p. 118), to rediscover with the ancients. Read full book review >
TODAY AND TOMORROW AND. . . . by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 13, 1973

Is the duckbilled platypus your thing? Does talk of faster-than-light travel in the cosmos and women's lib on earth and in space turn you on? Are you interested in learning how to help prevent the end of the world without abandoning civilization? Answer "yes" to any of these questions — or if you just want to learn more about science and its relationship to man — and you will enjoy this collection of Isaac Asimov's latest scientific essays, mostly reprints of articles published in magazines such as Look, International Wildlife, Smithsonian, and the Saturday Evening Post during the period 1969-72. Many of the pieces have been updated by the addition of "after-words" which serve the dual purpose of integrating the diverse essays into one more or less unified volume. Well prepared in the author's serendipitous style, this volume reads easily and is entertaining, appealing to readers interested in the natural world and the interactions of science and society. Read full book review >
JUPITER, THE LARGEST PLANET by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 11, 1973

A comprehensive report on the largest planet (and "the largest true planet possible"), including considerable background on the history, methods and findings of solar system astronomy and copious comparative tables on the size, orbits, position, etc. of all the planets. Asimov explains Jupiter's unusual brightness and shape, considers the planet's satellites and their part in discoveries about Jupiter, moons in general, and even of the speed of light. Jupiter's gravitational influence on the sun and on other planets and its effect on the asteroids and comets is surveyed and the author ends with views of Jupiter and its atmosphere as seen by a possible space traveler of the future, then an exploration of puzzles still to be solved — some perhaps by the Pioneer 10 probe slated to fly by Jupiter on December 3 of this year. There is much raw data here for student reports, and for more serious readers a solid astronomical context as well. Read full book review >
THE SHAPING OF NORTH AMERICA by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 28, 1973

Isaac Asimov once again demonstrates his breathtaking capacity for cramming in more facts per page than any of the competition. This sweeping survey of the "shaping" of North America by Europeans moves from the voyages of the Vikings (and the likelihood of possible predecessors) to 1763 and includes not only the most famous explorers and lasting colonies but a host of minor voyages, abortive settlements (like the Huguenot establishment in the Carolinas which was wiped out by the Spaniards) and thumbnail histories of each of the American colonies — the invention of the log cabin in New Sweden, the naming of the Bronx after Jonas Bronck, Gorges and Mason's establishment in Maine and New Hampshire in 1622, Bacon's Rebellion and King Philip's War. Of course, considering the pace, there's not much time to enlarge on any of these events or to consider social and cultural developments. Since most collections are well stocked with alternatives to Mr. Asimov's voracious consumption of historical data on this period, The Shaping of North America will probably be less serviceable than his previous round-ups on The Near East, Canaan, England, France, etc. Read full book review >
THE SHAPING OF FRANCE by Isaac Asimov
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 25, 1972

Another of Asimov's grand historical overviews, this is a fluent synthesis of the political, social and intellectual mainstreams from the accession of the first Capetian to the end of the Hundred Years' War. Asimov is particularly good on the evolving technology and prevailing ethics of medieval warfare, and the French tendency to bestow colorful epithets on their rulers makes his commonsense characterizations that much livelier. Unfortunately, however, there are neither sources nor bibliography — nor any internal references to or citations from primary materials or other historians — omissions which seriously limit the volume's usefulness as text or reference, and Asimov's rather mechanical tendency to include everything — from a thumbnail sketch of the plot of Aucassin and Nicolette to the pros and cons of every genealogical dispute — induces at times a kind of dizzying disorientation. As such pre-processed histories go, this is a competent enough job, but we doubt that many youngsters will go the whole route from cover to cover. Read full book review >
THE EARLY ASIMOV by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 15, 1972

The title is only half the story. This is the interstitial early Asimov — less politely, what wasn't good enough to reprint elsewhere. It's a nostalgic journey through the pulps of the '40's with all Asimov's themes from positronic robots to mathematical psychology to galactic empire putting in an appearance, laced with fond reminiscences of editor John Campbell who presided over SF's golden age and with exhaustive reports on each story clown to the last penny it brought in the marketplace. Read full book review >
ABC'S OF ECOLOGY by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 5, 1972

This is the fourth of Asimov's ABC books and like the others it suffers from the inaptness of the concept itself. With alphabetical rather than logical order dictating the arrangement, such incongruous pairings as bark beetle and biome, carbon monoxide and conservation, game refuge and garbage, are inevitable. So too are such arcane x's as xerophyle and xylophage following the self-evident weather (defined as "the changing conditions of the air. . . . It can be windy, rainy, snowy, foggy, cold or hot.") As for the paragraphs' contents, what is a child to make of the announcement that "A is for additive, a material added for improvement. . . . Sometimes additives can harm the body"? Then there is the statement on detergent, that "if too much gets into lakes and rivers, it can change the balance of nature," with no hint of how this happens, and three entries later a paragraph on eutrophication, with no mention of detergent. The book is printed on recycled paper and we can assume too that it's compiled from scraps of recycled data out of Dr. A's copious files. Read full book review >
THE STORY OF RUTH by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1972

Isaac Asimov presents the story of Ruth as a plea for brotherhood, written originally as a dissent from Ezra's prohibition of mixed marriages (it contends that King David himself was descended from a non Jew). His admirably clear introduction describes the situation in Jerusalem after the return from Babylonia (when Ruth was written) and the hostility toward Moabites which dates from Balaam's curses on the army of Moses, while painstaking commentary — explaining the custom of levitate marriage, the charitable practice of allowing gleaners to follow the harvest, and the probable motivations of all concerned — alternates with the verses of Ruth as translated for the New English Bible. Indeed, everything is spelled out in so much detail that the flow of the narrative is lost; this is not, then, a way of meeting the virtues of Ruth for the first time, but a teaching tool which answers all possible questions after the fact. Read full book review >
THE GODS THEMSELVES by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: May 5, 1972

Asimov's first full-length science fiction novel in 15 years features an impossible glut of protons, called "Plutonium-186," starter for a two-way energy-flow project between Earth and a parallel universe. Avant Establishment-bucking beings on both sides try to warn of the danger but on the colony Moon scientists draw the logical conclusions. Asimov's following will enjoy the innovative clutter of math, physics, and those oozy para-Universe "Soft Ones," but articulated speculations proceed at a long, slow crawl. Read full book review >
MORE WORDS OF SCIENCE by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: April 26, 1972

Partly to keep up with the vocabulary explosion that has occurred since Asimov's Words of Science (1959), a sequel with the same alphabetical arrangement and rather discursive style, with no more reference or basic educational value than its predecessor but the same irresistible browsability. The new words range from the obvious astronaut and laser to chillers like clone and the disreputable polywater. There are old words newly come to household status (ecology, eutrophication, greenhouse effect), a few pushovers to boost your confidence (photosynthesis, robot, jet plane), some you've heard and really should know (black hole, red shift, holography) — and if you've kept up so far how about bremsstrahlung, carbonaceous chondrites, scotophobin, vasopressin? The mix makes no sense at all but you'll upset your circadian rhythm and cut into your rem sleep turning just one more page and then another to the final zinjanthropus and zpg. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: March 10, 1972

Asimov's revision of the 1964 edition now offers 1195 biographies of "great scientists from ancient times to the present." About 200 are new; others are extensively updated; all are accessible. Read full book review >
ABC's OF THE EARTH by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 22, 1971

Another ill-conceived anomaly by the makers of ABC's of Space (1969) and ABC's of the Ocean (1970). For every letter of the alphabet there is an upper case and a lower case word related to geology but not in any way related to the preceding or following entries. Thus Kame and kettle (both made by glaciers) are separated from the more important "G" entry by the H, I and J words, and even "Earthquake" and "Fault" are split by "erosion." The scale of the concepts too is constantly changing: "C" goes from "Cave" to "continent." (And why does Cave get the capital letter?) Each word is followed by a brief definition-description, but though some of the discussions and accompanying diagrams are clarifying (gravity, for one), the selection of entries is arbitrary if not capricious (why xenon, a gas that makes up one ten-millionth of the air, except that it starts with x?), and there are not enough of them to make the book a reliable glossary. Similarly, some of the photographs are impressive, even striking, but no particular advantage is gained in bringing them together. Considering that children old enough for the contents don't want an ABC, it's hard to imagine any point to this wholly gratuitous earth catalog. Read full book review >
THE LAND OF CANNAN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 26, 1971

Intermittently interesting, chiefly in its accounts of familiar heroes (Saul against the Philistines, King David, Alexander the Great and that very late Canaanite, Hannibal) and its refreshingly provocative treatment of the Bible as legend and history and of the early influences on Christianity, The Land Of Canaan is burdened (like the author's Constantinople, 1970) with a time span of almost twenty centuries, a plethora of military details surrounding government overthrows (with only infrequent hints of socioeconomic and cultural conditions), and a distressing lack of topical development. As a reference source, however, the book is of value; its singular concentration on the Mediterranean's "fertile crescent" — now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel — is unique at this level. But for exciting readable history Asimov must limit his scope and adjust his focus. Read full book review >
ISAAC ASIMOV'S TREASURY OF HUMOR by Isaac Asimov
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 9, 1971

Unplugged Isaac's at the typewriter again, this time playing for laughs, guffaws, cackles, squeals, wheezes, whatever he can get. His treasury includes over 600 funny (and most are funny) stories, jokes, limericks, puns — all grouped into eleven general interest categories, like 'Jewish,' 'Marriage,' 'Bawdy,' and 'Put-down'; in addition there's a subject index which ranges from 'Absent-mindedness' to 'Zoo,' with 'Men's rooms' somewhere in between. But what mainly distinguishes this from standard laugh-and-giggle fare are Asimov's helpful adjurations on the nature of humor (e.g., "the one necessary ingredient in every successful joke is a sudden alteration in point of view") and his tips to beginners, which include "don't bowdlerize unless you must," and to punsters, "cultivate a thick skin and a philosophic attitude." Isactly. Read full book review >
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 16, 1971

. . . ? ! ? Well, to undreamed of places where miracles dwell in two-by-fours and visionary equations. To point the way, Asimov has compiled seventeen exemplary examples where myth and science merge — he even proves that a goose could lay the golden egg, scientifically speaking. Or could it? His question and answer sessions at the end of each piece leave it up to the junior layman; a natural audience to decide whether Neanderthal Man might have died of an inferiority complex a la Lester del Rey's "The Day is Done" or whether Robert A. Heinlein's "And He Built a Crooked House" would logically lead to a third dimension. High school science teachers on ALERT! Please. Read full book review >
ABC'S OF THE OCEAN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 26, 1970

The ABC's are for Aquanaut, Buoy, and Continental Shelf, or if you prefer lower case letters, for aquaculture, bore, and current. This is an illustrated dictionary of oceanography (with two entries for each letter) having the same format as Asimov's ABC's of Space (1969). Limitations are imposed by this format: there is little coherence in moving from topic to topic and some topics are included only because of the paucity of relevant words starting with particular letters. Such is the case with entries like quadrature, xiphius, or yowling. One also wonders why this particular lexicon was chosen — why, for example, we have buoy and bore rather than bathysphere and breakwater. The book is more advanced in level and scope than Goldin's The Bottom of the Sea (1966); in these respects it is closer to The First Book of the Ocean (1961) by the Epsteins, which generally presents more explanatory material while Asimov's information is more up to date. A peripheral book of definitions and descriptions, attractively put together and well illustrated. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 19, 1970

Forgotten, believes Dr. Asimov, in the sense of being slighted, even slandered, by Western historians — but this conscientious recapitulation of Byzantine history is defeated by an excess of detail, a want of emphasis and topical development: ultimately, one remembers not what the Empire stood for but the difficulty of keeping it standing. That Constantinople simply stood, especially against the Arab surge, Dr. Asimov sees as more critical for Christian Europe than the Battle of Tours: he posits wholesale conversion to Islam as the outcome of Moslem penetration in the seventh century. The religious schisms and doctrinal controversies that figured so largely in Byzantine history are attended to carefully here, and that, beside the record per se — the fortunes of the Empire clarified by maps, each ruler rigorously profiled — is the chief attraction of the book. By comparison, Jacobs' American Heritage panorama (1969, p. 786, J-308) is more dynamic and focal, Chubb's The Byzantines more fluid and colorful; you can turn to this for greater precision but you can't count on anyone's reading it through. Table of dates and genealogies appended. Read full book review >
ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 16, 1970

What on earth is Isaac Asimov—teller of outer-stellar tales, popular science explicator, etc.—doing with Shakespeare? Indeed what he should not. Although purportedly confining himself to "historical, legendary and mythological background," these are capricious annotations of the bard's near-total output. Re Brutus: "Not only is he vain and envious, but he is rather stupid too. . . ." Who but a popinjay would fall for Cassius' planted fan letters! Then there's Hamlet whose real gripe was that his crown had been intercepted and whose "extreme" remarks about Uncle and King and extravagant mutterings about Hyperions and satyrs were "scarcely objective. . . nothing we see of Claudius directly matches Hamlet's low opinion." Did you know that the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night was undoubtedly homosexual? And that Venus' approach to the reluctant Adonis was solely a device for gay tributes to the Earl of Southampton? Mr. Asimov knows, as well as he is certain from his research that 16th century Puritans (re Malvolio) were "self-consciously virtuous men who were equally conscious of the vices of those who disagreed with them." "A fine volley of words. . ./ and quickly shot off" (Two Gentlemen from Verona)—the top of the head. Read full book review >
THE STARS IN THEIR COURSES by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 12, 1970

This non-technical, misnamed study is not about the movement and make-up of the stars. It is rather a series of essays that appeared first in consecutive issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and because Mr. Asimov's interests range all over the universe, so does this book. Included are sections and chapters on Newton's laws; "weighing" the earth (read the book to see why the quotation marks are needed); the periodic table; astrology and Velikovsky (which and whom he effectively demolishes); the dangers of overpopulation; a defense of science and the space effort; the need for world cooperation; and much else. Aside from a discussion of tachyons — hypothetical, faster-than-light particles — and perhaps the suggestion that the invention of poison gas started the tarnishing of science's halo, there is little in subject matter that is new here. The style is highly informal: "Does it matter that the close match of weight and mass to which we are accustomed on the surface of the earth fails elsewhere? Sure it does." Does it matter that these essays were written by Isaac Asimov and not someone else? Sure it does. Read full book review >
TWENTIETH CENTURY DISCOVERY by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 6, 1969

More pleasant post-prandial coffee-talk from the lecture notes of everyman's Professor of Popular Science. This time Mr. Asimov gallops with his usual verve through remarkably tidy round-ups of discoveries in the fields of cellular biology, physics, astronomy, space travel and entomology—all fairly simple presentations for the layman. Mr. Asimov enjoys posing impossible questions and plunking down the incredible answers while moving through an impressive number of discoveries. ("We must ask ourselves"; "Suppose"; "Consider the question. . . ") The scientist or serious student might quail at Asimov's simplifications through the decades and centuries; nonetheless for the uninitiate or those who like their science neat if not necessarily complete, this is very-easy-readable summary. Read full book review >
THE DARK AGES by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 30, 1968

Not the entire Middle Ages but those justly called dark and what came before, from the first southward barbarian drift to the nadir of disintegration between 900 and 950 — a stunning consolidation of obscure strands that is lit by humanistic and scholarly perspective. It has to be primarily a chronicle of battles, massacres, successions, usurpations, among people who remain only as place-names (an aspect Mr. Asimov as etymologist makes much of); it is also an education. For example, why do they seem to vanish? Because encroaching aristocracies "were without firm roots among the people. . . they could easily be defeated and replaced by another warrior caste. . . the kingdoms are simply the names we give (them) and don't represent the real population at all." The reader is frequently caught up by a significant observation: on the start of the Middle Ages (Gregory's theology); on the extremism of the Visigoths (their late conversion from Arian to Catholic Christianity); on the descent into feudalism (a response to Norse raids, later rationalized as a system). And so on to the turning point, a curious concatenation: the moldboard plow (and the horse collar), the armored knight, the rescue of ancient learning. No other juvenile compares in scope and depth, and few adult books synthesize so simply and clearly. Read full book review >
SCIENCE, NUMBERS, AND I by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: May 10, 1968

The assiduous Mr. Asimov, in addition to his science fiction chillies, juveniles, and popular science books, admits to live count 'em five other books of science essays previously featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and this latest again contains a beaker full of science tidbits, restating of present controversies, flights of fancy, autobiographical anecdotes, and numerical parlor games. Of varying degrees of difficulty (Asimov's first chapter concerning the Law of Conservatism presupposes some knowledge of mathematical and chemical interactions) this smattering of educated guess-and-by-golly's reminds one of the amusing and informative dinner talk of a loquacious scientist. The more adventurous will enjoy Asimov's explication of a "time" theory, concerning cosmogony, with divisions of the "cosmic egg" moving backwards and forwards in time, therefore unable to interact. Speculation un-pure perhaps, un-simple, but entertaining and sure to please Asimov's following. More of the same from Asimov's busy grotto. Read full book review >
TO THE ENDS OF THE UNIVERSE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 15, 1967

This fascinating and complete account of the nature of the universe from thee earth and solar systems to distant quasars could be one of the better Asimov books for the juvenile audience. Easily more readable and entertaining than Adler's The stars (which is one of the few books comparable in scope and level), it is quite up to date including discoveries until 1965, the more recent being integrated into theories of the universe which appeared in the early 1900's. The junior high audience will find a wealth of information effectively presented. Read full book review >
THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: March 1, 1967

The Table of Contents, a tabulation of ruling lines and rulers, is the tip-off: like its predecessor, The Roman Republic (1966, 515, J-175), this is detailed political history, reign by reign, in this case, with occasional sorties into literature, philosophy and science. Like its predecessor, too, it suffers from galloping factualitis, with one major exception: the extended treatment of Judaism and early Christianity as intertwined with Roman history. Indeed, the very pragmatic explanation of the successes of Christianity—"It seems to have something to please everyone"—may disturb some fundamentalists. The text characterizes each emperor, identifies his associates and opponents, notes his difficulties and achievements, and tries to correct historical error, to connect trends and terminology to the present. As the Empire progressed (?), life expectancy of the rulers became shorter, and "the business of the Empire (became) the defense of the Empire"; the characters flash by fighting their battles, and depart, leaving little but footnotes behind them. Despite its positive points, most youngsters will find this unrewardingly tedious and would be better served by a more selective approach. Read full book review >
TOMORROW'S CHILDREN by Isaac Asimov
Released: Oct. 21, 1966

Today's young adults should certainly respond to Tomorrow's Children. There are lots of little characters in this collection of eighteen stories. Robert Sheckley's lad becomes involved in a vocational dispute with his parents who are determined to make a proper Wizard out of him; he is determined to become The Accountant. Lewis Padgett demonstrates what happens When the Bough Breaks and a couple are pushed past the point of patience with their super-child. Zenna Henderson is at her shining best with Gilead from her The People series, and Jerome Bixby fathers a shocking little horror named Anthony in It's a Good Life. Ray Bradbury gets at the heart of the thoughtlessness and conscious cruelty of childhood in his All Summer in a Day and editor Asimov rounds off these efforts with his own superb The Ugly Little Boy who just happens to be a Neanderthal. The Go-Go generation will stop long enough to read this one. Read full book review >
FANTASTIC VOYAGE by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: March 21, 1966

Take five people, put them in a submarine and shrink the whole kit and caboodle to the approximate size of a molecule. Inject said sub into the bloodstream and do not shake. Thus you have a fantastic voyage as the tiny ship and crew set out to destroy a bloodclot that is damaging the brain of the world's most valuable scientist. And, as if white corpuscles were not enough, there is also skullduggery aboard ship. Biology buffs in particular will be swept along and for the fan in general, it's blood curdling. Asimov is a shot in the arm. Read full book review >
THE REST OF THE ROBOTS by Isaac Asimov
Released: Nov. 20, 1964

Isaac Asimov might sniff (albeit approvingly) at the robots on display at World's Fair, but who could have a better right than the father of the new breed of science fiction robots: the man who developed the science of Robotics with its famous free laws. This anthology contains (with the exception of the I Robot series) the bulk of his stories regarding Robotics. In brief introductions he describes the conception (anti-Frankenstein) and development of his pseudo-science. Combining inexrable logic with sympathetic humaneness, Asimov manages to endow his characters human or "R") with engaging personal characteristics while maintaining an intricate plot-line. Fascinating- a must for collectors. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Nov. 20, 1964

Reference-reading book which gives short biographical sketches of some 000 scientists from the earliest times to the present, evaluates their contributions, and also relates their work to the development of the various sciences all over the world. Read full book review >
ADDING A DIMENSION by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: June 5, 1964

Another group of Asimov essays on scientific subjects gathered this time from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The first seven on mathematical topics are highly personal, imaginative, and often intriguing, but perhaps too specialized for a general reader. The others: 3 on aspects of physics, 2 on chemistry, 2 on biology, 2 on astronomy are all of interest to the science buff and the Asimov fan, even though they are not the best Asimov. The last essay, an attempt to list the ten greatest scientists of all time, poses a challenging problem to which the author ought to devote a whole book. Read full book review >
QUICK AND EASY MATH by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 1, 1964

The prolific author of science fiction and scientific nonfiction for the lay and young reader, biochemist Isaac Asimov goes outside his special field here. The book will not appeal to, nor be helpful to, those students who have not mastered the basic mathematical skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division although an occasional paragraph may clarify the terminology and steps involved in the various procedures. In chapters on the four basic operations, as well as a chapter each on decimals and fractions, Mr. Asimov promulgates the practice of converting hard problems and time-consuming methods into easier problems with simplified steps, claiming that such action will save time and result in fewer mistakes. His attempt to base short-cut methods on general mathematical principles, rather than to give a long list of rules, seems to bog down in the lengthy exemplification often necessary to demonstrate a particular point. While he suggests that his algebraic explanations are not essential, their use helps to clarify the discussion assuming that the reader has some grasp of algebra. This is not a self-help book for the mathematically deficient, nor a set of puzzles for the genius. The rare seventh grader, many ninth and tenth graders, and an occasional older enthusiast will find this material useful. School, Young Adult, and popular math collections should find this a reasonably readable addition to their shelves. Read full book review >
A SHORT HISTORY OF BIOLOGY by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: March 13, 1964

One can hardly believe that the history of biology can be encompassed in brief chapters, and indeed this is a once over lightly performance...but by an expert. Thus, everything is in place and though everything and everyone cannot be included, the major trends, principles, discoveries and discoverers are spotlighted and quickly elucidated. The following chapters covered ancient biology; medieval biology; the birth of modern biology; classifying life; evolution; beginning of genetics; the fall of vitalism; the war against disease; the nervous system; blood; metabolism; molecular biology, protein; molecular biology, nucleic acid. A good, authoritative, easy-to-read tool for junior and senior high school collections and for anyone wanting a quick introductory survey. Read full book review >
THE KITE THAT WON THE REVOLUTION by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 19, 1963

It was Benjamin Franklin's kite, to be sure. The argument goes this way: because Franklin explored the mysteries of newly discovered electricity to its natural sources, the American colonies stepped into the world of science; subsequently, Franklin was in a position to pull the proper strings as our representative abroad and to persuade the French to back our Revolution. Thus, the kite won the Revolution. The route through the story becomes rather involved as reader attention is shifted from first steps in science to the significance of the Revolution and the establishment of representative democracy in relation to the Age of Reason. The author's erudition is present as is usual. The approach, while original, has the overall effect of bits and pieces, rather than an integrated whole. Read full book review >
VIEW FROM A HEIGHT by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 6, 1963

Seventeen crackerjack essays again give witness to the clarity and pleasure with which Asimov writes on favorite topics in biology, physics, chemistry, and astronomy for the reader with a modicum of knowledge and interest in science subjects. These varied pieces are full of intriguing commentary on such as size, compactness, and complexity of organic organization in nature; other kinds of possible life in the universe; behavior of gases; isotopes; micro-division of time; entropy; hotness; physical structure of the earth; aspects of the planets; etc. Fascinating speculative descriptions will delight the imagination with their recision and good-humor. These are excellent examples of the modern scientific essay which very few writers today can equal in style, form, and content. Read full book review >
I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 16, 1963

A new edition of the by now classic collection of affiliated stories which has already established its deserved longevity. Read full book review >
THE HUMAN BODY by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 28, 1963

Limb by limb, organ by organ, occasionally cell by cell, Asimov describes man in terms of his chemical and structural nature. Throughout, technical terminology is followed by an informal phonetic breakdown and etymological identification. There is an unusually lucid and sympathetic discussion of the circumstances of human procreation. A companion volume on the brain, nervous system and sensory organs is promised. For those hypochondriacal theme writers who always pick some anatomical obscurity, Asimov goes from impacted wisdom teeth to ingrown toenails. Read full book review >
WORDS FROM THE EXODUS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Feb. 25, 1963

It is hard to imagine this book being used by itself but it makes a perfect companion volume for the young reader attempting the Bible on his own. It follows the same approach as the author's Words In Genesis and covers the books of the Exodus. Asimov unerringly plucks out the odd, the difficult, the "lost-in-translation" words and makes the discovery of their meaning as exciting as the events they are used to describe. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Jan. 9, 1963

The incomparable Asimov again! Here is the ideal reference book for anyone interested in finding out quickly and as accurately as present knowledge admits about major aspects of the bio-chemical functioning of our hormones, pancreas, thyroid, adrenal cortex, gonads, nerves, nervous system, cerebrum, brain stem, spinal chord, senses, cars, eyes, reflexes; and the processes of learning, reasoning, and memory— major aspects of the mind. The above listing of the chapter headings (for the most part) indicates clearly that it is not only the brain that is described here. Actually, this is the second or companion volume to Asimov's earlier book The Human Body, which described the individual organs of the body. This book focuses on the organization and integration of bodily functions under the guidance and command of the hormones and the brain. Not a book to read through, but one for consultation and study. Though much valuable information is here for the high school student, some of the biochemistry is a bit too advanced for those with only basic knowledge of biology and chemistry. There are pronunciation guides for specialized terminology and the text is illustrated by the fine drawings of Anthony Ravielli. Certainly necessary for any library having the previous volume, and vital to any collection with even a minor interest in human biology. Read full book review >
THE SEARCH FOR THE ELEMENTS by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 12, 1962

Isaac Asimov's inquiry into the age-old research for the components of the Universe is a worthy addition to the distinguished titles in the Science and Discovery series. Thales of Miletus began the quest in ancient Greece when he decided that four elements- earth, water, air and fire- made up the Universe. With the decline of magic, alchemy and cs gave way to the scientific revolution and the discoveries of Galileo and Robert Boyle. During the "age of phlogiston", important information came to the fore phosphorous, , nicked and platinum came into use. And with Cavendish's work, new gases were discovered and named. Lavoister is considered the father of chemistry however. His list of 33 elements was later refined as electricity was put to work in the field. Carrying the story through modern times, as the atom is split and man made elements created, Dr. Asimov recaptures the drama of science as well as specific contributions in the field of chemistry. Read full book review >
THE HUGO WINNERS by Isaac Asimov
Released: Sept. 7, 1962

This collects nine of the winners of the SF awards, from 1939 to 1961, and, with Asimov's introduction to the volume and notes for the writers and their inclusions, is an easy-to-take entertainment. Clarke's The Star and Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon make another appearance here; there's Walter Miller's Darfsteller, Eric Russell's Allamagoosa. Murray Leinstar's Exploration Team, Avram Davidson's Or All the Seas With Oysters, Clifford Simak's The Big Front Yard, Robert Bloch's The Hell-bound Train and Poul Anderson's The Longest Voyager. Novelettes and short stories in a good combination. Read full book review >
THE HUMAN BODY by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Feb. 28, 1962

"In writing a book about the human body there is the great advantage that all the readers know what a human body is." Who but Isaac Asimov would begin a serious textbook in such a jovial way? Sketching first the biological order of the evolutionary process until he reaches its apogee, man, he establishes the place of homo sapens in Nature's scheme. Then, limb by limb, organ by organ, occasionally cell by cell, he describes man internally and externally in terms of his chemical and structural nature. Throughout, technical terminology is followed by an informal phonetic breakdown and etymological identification. By contrasting man's posture with that of various animals, Asimov clearly and explains the origin of various aches, pains, and susceptibilities such as slipped lines, fallen and attributing these to the difference between bipedality and . Impacted wisdom teeth, hiccups and other common afflictions are also explained. There is an unusually lucid and sympathetic discussion of the circumstances of human procreation. Asimov is now working on a companion volume on the brain, nervous system, and sensory organs, treated only in passing here. This widely-read science fiction author (I Robot, of Steel The Martian Way, and many others), is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine. This is his ninth book on biological subjects; he also writes on mathematics and philology. Read full book review >
WORDS FROM THE MYTHS by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Feb. 27, 1961

Isaac Asimov has organized a large portion of Greek mythology around a specific theme, the effect of mythological words and phrases on our language. Derivations of hundreds of words in daily use are surrounded by enchanting stories that will fascinate the young reader. The first several chapters deal with the Greek Gods, the Titans and their conquerors the Olympians, and the Demigods and Monsters. The Heroes, offspring of gods and humans, and the general mythological treatment of men, follow. The myth, interesting in itself, is used as reference to illustrate a particular word or concept in English. A concluding index helps unravel a skein of information. This is a generally enlivening approach to mythology. Read full book review >
THE DOUBLE PLANET by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 30, 1960

There is probably no writer today who is so successful in translating scientific facts and terms into language the average reader, with even a dim interest in the subject, can read. Here he traces for early teens the story of how the secrets of our own planet in relation to the Moon were probed. He goes back to the Greeks, bringing their inquiries down to the great contribution made by Ptolemy; goes on to the Arabs- and then the Western Europeans, with Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Magellan. Try to go back to the assumptions that the earth was fixed and forward to the contributions made by today's space science, and you'll realize what a span of intellectual development Mr. Asimov has achieved. He has high pointed his story with names of men who contributed largely to this growth: Galileo, Newton, Cavendish; and with significant advances and turning points relating to what is under the earth, what is outside the earth's crust, what outer space signifies to better comprehension of our role in the system. With the Soviet achievement in photographing the other side of the Moon, this sort of information is vital to every inquiring mind. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 10, 1960

A brilliantly successful and heroic effort to present to the educated layman all the major developments and trends in modern science in understandable terms. Probably only Isaac Asimov could have done this. His instinct for lucid explanation makes him one of America's greatest scientist-expositors, for all ages. With an uncanny sense of proportion (he knows what to leave out as well as what to include), he has written a magnificent survey of the history of science, which weaves into a whole the significant contributions of some 500 master investigators in every field. His dependably felcitous style is carefully controlled because of the scope, which would have terrified a lesser man. But the real secret of his success- his superb sense of organization- is more evident here than in his other books. In only 16 chapters he presents his story of the questions man has asked about the Universe, the World, Life. He reveals scientists' investigations of the secrets of Life in seven chapters:- The Molecule, The Proteins, The Cell, Micro-organisms, The Human Body, The Species and The Human Mind. Carefully integrated sub-headings relate the supporting evidence relevant to his explanations. His discussions of Aspects of the Universe and the Inorganic World follow the same highly integrated pattern. Throughout, the text offers a fabulous array of historical facts, the latest ideas, the newest discoveries in every area of science. Its more than 1000 pages and hundreds of photographs and original drawings can provide any reader, with a minimal interest in science, real illumination, leads for further investigation and inspiration. There is an introduction by George W. Beadle. This belongs in every school, college and public library and will make a good gift item for the science-minded person. Special appendix on Mathematics in Science. Read full book review >
BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENCE by Isaac Asimov
Released: Nov. 1, 1960

In the lucid and information packed style that has rendered the author outstanding in the juvenile science field, Isaac Asimov describes twenty-six men and the moments at which they reversed the course of scientific thought. From Archimedes to Robert Hutchings Goddard, these men accomplished a major breakthrough by establishing original and hitherto unrevealed laws. And from these laws the course of science assumed a dramatically new direction. Embracing every area of science, this is a readable text which should interest even the most reluctant student, and is therefore recommended to school libraries. Read full book review >
THE WELLSPRINGS OF LIFE by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 27, 1960

This is an up to date survey touching on every aspect of science's attack upon the question, "What is Life?" Written by one of the masters of scientific writing for the layman, it is a model of logical arrangement and natural integration of information that can stand as an example for all writers trying to "explain" scientific process and ideas. Its ease of comprehension is remarkable, yet the author's clarity is not dependent upon oversimplification. He has divided the complex story into four parts, and proceeding from the most familiar to the least, on an historical basis, he tells first of the development of species, then the cell, the molecule, and finally discusses the origin of Life. Interweaving facts from taxonomy, evolution, genetics, bacteriology, biochemistry, etc., he is always clear, never hesitating to define if necessary or detour to explain. Here the reader is told of the newest boundaries in the search, from what kind of life exists on Mars to the surprising facts about nucleic acid. An important book for all libraries having the slightest interest in providing the best in scientific explanation to the general reader—adult or teen age. Read full book review >
THE KINGDOM OF THE SUN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: May 16, 1960

The solar system has long been a subject of primary fascination both for poets and scientists. In this lucid text which traces the development and importance of man's discoveries regarding the nature of this system, Isaac Asimov maintains an admirable balance between fact and romance. An exciting exploration into astronomy which answers many vital questions and encourages a further investigation of astronomical subjects. Read full book review >
REALM OF NUMBERS by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 22, 1959

Once more Isaac Asimov takes the venom out of abstract study, presenting the theory of numbers on which mathematics are based in a lucid and entertaining manner. Numbers, their meaning and evolution, alternatives to our number system, their application in multiplication, addition, subtraction, division, decimals, fractions are discussed, not as formidable laws, but as a meaningful system, evolving logically from a coherent basis. Diagramatic illustrations by Robert Belmore support this text which for the intellectually curious student, long baffled by the apparent dogmatism of arithmetic by rote, should prove an inviting welcome into the realm of mathematical investigation. Read full book review >
THE LIVING RIVER by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 1959

The paramount importance of the blood is vividly illustrated in the terse text by Isaac Asimov, prolific writer of books for the layman on scientific subjects. With his usual gift for entertaining as he edifies, Isaac Asimov analyzes the chemical components of the blood and shows its relationship to other manifestations in the universe. He then points out the genetic considerations which determine blood characteristics, various diseases, specifically related to morbid blood traits, and the healthy function of the blood. A book which gives much insight into the physical nature of the body and to the prospects of science in dealing with it therapeutically. Read full book review >
WORDS OF SCIENCE by Isaac Asimov
Released: Aug. 25, 1959

An excellent encyclopedia of scientific terms, the articles in this alphabetically arranged text are written with that same verve, lucidity, and concentration of knowledge which characterize Isaac Asimov's other books. Illustrated in black and white by William Barss, Words of Science defines everything from "Absolute Zero" to "Zero". No term, animal, mineral, gas, or abstract escapes definition, and with more than 1500 terms considered, each paragraph manages to contain much interesting material on historical usage and derivation. An imperative book for the student of science and one written with such clarity that any reader possessed of intellectual curiosity or love of language will enjoy turning- and returning- to its pages. Read full book review >
THE CLOCK WE LIVE ON by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: April 21, 1959

The enormously complicated subject of "time" which extends itself into the natural and philosophical sciences is explored and to a large extent made coherent by author-scientist Isaac Asimov. In investigating the various means by which man has attempted to tell time, the devices they have used, and the concepts they have held, The Clock We Live On of necessity includes the subjects of astronomy, mathematics, geography, physics, and philosophy. A meaningful analysis, marked by erudition and lucidity. Read full book review >
THE WORLD OF NITROGEN by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 15, 1958

Following solidly in the tracks of his previous book, The World of Carbon Dr. Asimov, Professor of biochemistry and science-fiction novelist comes to grips in The World of Nitrogen with a vital and intensely interesting aspect of organic life. Underlying his clear text is the welcome assumption that a student of high school age need not be coddled or patronized. His is a meaty book which dares to make demands of his reader in the assurance that there are no placebos for understanding. In his organization of the subject he specifically analyzes nitrogen both in its chemical and general manifestations. There will be sections here which will strain the indifferent student although much of Dr. Asimov's references apply to familiar objects which operate in a frame of reference accessible to the non-technical mind. Vividly written, this is a book which demands and deserves the active participation of the reader, a participation which will be rewarded by a solid sense of understanding of our life and death processes, and of preventative and curative medicine. Read full book review >
ONLY A TRILLION by Isaac Asimov
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 5, 1957

A chemical holiday— and only professionals should go along. The humor comes off- preposterously enough for anyone- but the technical terms are forbidding despite explication, the research and scientific problems are recondite, and the basic theme calls for a highly developed scientific zaniness. The theme is the number- the precise astronomical number- of subatomic particles to be found.... well- wherever Asimov happens to launch his search. The passion for numbers extends to the number of periodicals, papers, conventions held by scientists; the number of possible variations in human nature; the number of steps it takes to walk from New York to Boston. But mostly it's the number of uranium atoms in the average acre of land- or astatine-215 if one mined all of North and South America, atom by atom, to a depth of ten miles. (Answer- about a trillion) More than one conundrum- for connoisseurs. Read full book review >
EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Oct. 3, 1957

17 selections (mostly short stories, some poems) by a hand well practiced in the art of science prestidigitation. A voter of one, avoiding a contract with a demon by space and time, a super-elf, the refusal of outer space friendship, "Kilroy was here"- in the past, a robot changes a woman, the day of resurrection, humor as a test by extraterrestrials, Shakespeare flunks a current course of his works..... Persuasive. Read full book review >
BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE UNIVERSE by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: May 10, 1957

The Chemicals of Life and Inside the Atom were Mr. Asimov's first ventures into non-fiction for the teen ages after his firm establishment as an s-f writer. This third volume maintains the balance of accuracy and simplicity which marked the other two and presents a fascinating chapter by chapter explanation of the elements, as one learns about them in a high school chemistry course, only in condensed and very readable form. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, helium, carbon, silicon, the halogens and so on- by weight, family, relative prevalence, social importance and special characteristics- up to yttrium and uranium- all are explained and accounted for. Though the book suggests nothing of method and gives its facts away free, without payment exacted by lab work, it makes a definitely satisfying review and may serve as a stimulus to students who are having a hard time with their class work. Read full book review >
INSIDE THE ATOM by Isaac Asimov
NON-FICTION
Released: May 11, 1956

To add to the many recent surveys of atoms and their function (see Atoms Today and Tomorrow by Margaret Hyde, The Tenth Wonder by Carleton Pearl, etc.) this is another efficient study which, with Asimov's name, should have its drawing power. In well organized form the chapters discuss atomic content in nature, the arrangement of: atoms and basic sub-atomic particles, elements and their isotopes, instability, atomic span of life, the bombardment of nuclei and the changes it brings about, and lastly, atomic energy and its dangers and its hopeful possibilities for mankind. Plenty to chew on here, all very well explained by a man whose business is science. Read full book review >
THE NAKED SUN by Isaac Asimov
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Jan. 24, 1956

A murder on Solaria returns Elijah Baley, human, and R. Daneel Olivaw, robot, to partnership in crime hunting. Solarian life and times present difficulties to both, for human spacers are bound to a remorseless robotic society and the interpretation of their traditions and customs becomes Baley's first job. He learns to conquer his agoraphobia, he smashes through Solarian taboos — and he returns to Earth with valuable information for the future. As in Caves of Steel (1954), purposeful projection. Read full book review >
THE END OF ETERNITY by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Aug. 25, 1955

Time theories set the story of Technician Harlan's journeys upwhen and down-when until he meets Noys Lambent who cracks his observer's objectivity. She causes him to plot a crime against Eternity to keep her with him which brings him up against the secret of his training and his part in the time pattern. It is she who goes with him to Primitive times — and persuades him against neurotic world governance for the future of Earth. Combinations and permutations by the dozen. Read full book review >
THE MARTIAN WAY AND OTHER STORIES by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: June 1, 1955

Four stories by an SF specialist should be welcomed by the space-hardened for they develop the colonizing of new worlds, the possibility of friendliness between alien cultures and the coexistence of unfamiliar peoples. The title story deals with the Martian community's need for water; Youth wins gentleness from Arcturians; The Deep has below surface dwellers penetrating others' minds for survival; Sucker Bait proves a mnemonic wizard a hero when he saves an expedition from a killer planet. Snappy. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1954

This is a sound introduction to bio-chemistry, that infant science that is making a revolution in our understanding of how our bodies function. This book deals with those "chemicals that control the workings of living tissue" — the catalysts that make other chemicals function. Many of the questions are still unsolved, but the future answers will be built on the knowledge of those "chemicals of life" described here. While the presentation has somewhat the flavor of text book material, it is text book in the modern sense of direct, undramatized factual data. The audience interested in the subject- and their number is growing wants it that way. Read full book review >
SECOND FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: June 25, 1953

Foundation (1951) and Foundation and Empire (1952) are the predecessors of this tale of galaxy security based on conflicting searches for the Second Foundation, established and hidden by the master psycho-historian, Hari Seldon. The Mule, wrecker of part of Seldon's plan, and members of the First Foundation are at odds; the Mule is disposed of and the First Foundation believes itself the victor. But the Second Foundation carries on, devising impromptu methods to maintain its superiority. The blue yonder, and not so wild. Read full book review >
THE CURRENTS OF SPACE by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Dec. 29, 1952

An earthman's mind is turned off and its slow return, on the planet Florinda, sets in motion the activities of Townman Myrlyn Terens, the espionage systems of Sark and Trantor, and the conclaves of the Squires. For Rik turns out to be the spatio-analyst the Interstellar Bureau is hunting and his widening memory the key to galactial conspiracies and future destruction. Way off in the wild blue yonder — for the faithful. Read full book review >
FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Aug. 30, 1951

First of a three-book series covering the world of remote tomorrows, the effectiveness of this first volume is curtailed by its attempt to cover more than a century in time with its many generations of characters. Psychohistorian Seldon senses the coming crash of the galactic empire, prepares a chosen corps of his best students to colonize a remote planet where war cannot impede his work. The story of this colony's survival and eventual command of the broken empire sustains the narrative which is- this time-better science than fiction. Read full book review >
THE STARS, LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Jan. 1, 1951

The U.S. Constitution whoofs across a thousand years of time and a million light years of space to bring peace and freedom to the Kingdom of the Horsehead Nebula and prove itself the Universe's strongest weapon. It provides, too, a happy ending to the love of Biron Farril of Widemos and Artemisia of Rhodia. Top writing, with a welcome interpersion of humor often rare in the field. Read full book review >
PEBBLE IN THE SKY by Isaac Asimov
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Released: Jan. 1, 1950

A preview of the pattern in the Gallactian era — when Earthmen — and their planet are despised and untouchable. Projected into the future is retired tailor, Schartz, of Chicago, by a freak combination of nuclear physics and he becomes the subject of clandestine experimentation by scientist Shekt. Unwillingly he also becomes party to a plan to save the Galaxy empire from annihilation because of his newly instilled ability to learn to know others' thoughts. He is instrumental in breaking down Dr. Bel Arvardan, high ranking Sirian, to join with Earthmen in defeating the plot to wreck the cosmic government, and to love an Earth girl. A science fiction which reflects current bias and prejudice, this has all the up to date trimmings. Read full book review >
NONFICTION

An excellent definition of race and its various connotations and meanings this should be read by every teen ager, with a general science Freshman High School grounding, especially those whose thinking in this direction is confused or uncertain. Beginning with our superstitions, the authors talk first about some of the things which are untrue about races. Logically, they explain the natural if mistaken propensity to consider one's own group as superior and the difference between this and scientific proof. Moving then to concrete examples there are full discussions of external and internal differences between individuals and groups and how we can, to a certain extent, type them. Genetic characteristics are a fair indication of race but are still not as exact as blood type frequencies. Fair warning is given in the last chapter as to possible roads to destruction but the way to human betterment through understanding and our still infinitesimal knowledge of genetics, is equally clear. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION

Characterized as a book on "planetology," this volume is based on a research study by Stephen Dole done for the RAND corporation and is an admirably thorough analysis — and a technical one — of all the physically significant environmental characteristics necessary to sustain life as we know it on planete other than earth. Thus, statistics tell us that there must be some 600 million habitable planets in our galaxy, of which some 50 are habitable ones within 100 light years, and that Alpha Centauri, the star system nearest us, has one chance in 9.3 in having a habitable planet available. An attempt has been made to broaden the appeal of the study, but it remains essentially valuable for the science-oriented person with a strong interest in the theoretic possibilities of humanoid extraterrestrial life. A specialized book in astronomy. Read full book review >