So apparently January second is the day the prolific author Isaac Asimov chose to celebrate his birthday, according to this post from Tor.com. With talk of a television series based on the books, I suppose this is a good year to offer up a birthday post (plus I need to make up for how scarce my blog posts have been since starting my new job…). Like Asimov’s Robot books, the Foundation series includes some later sequels, bridging the gap between the Golden Age science fiction (of which the original books are arguably the culmination) and the post-New Wave sci-fi of the 80s and 90s. These later works are more representative of late Asimov than either the New Wave of sci-fi (that is particularly clear–his humanism certainly shows, but it is a more naive humanism compared to the more post-modern/post-structuralist feel of the likes of LeGuin and Delany) or the combination of hard SF and space opera found in much post-Star Wars sci-fi, and I find that many people enjoy his original books more than his later ones. I devoured them all as a teenager, and seem to be on a once-a-decade reread schedule at this point.
I’m not sure whether the late greats Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke are still the first encounters most sci-fi nerds have with the genre, but for Junior High me in the early 90s they certainly were–well, OK, I’d encountered Star Wars before that, and from there read and reread the more science-fictional of the Choose your own Adventure books (a few of which certainly showed heavy influence from the Golden Age sci-fi of Asimov and Clarke), and back in 3rd grade I’d already started my own (alas, never finished) science fiction epic, but it was with my reading of Asimov’s classics like Foundation, and not-as-classic works like Nemesis, along with Clarke’s Space Odyssey and Rama books, that I finally waded into the main stream of the anglophone sci-fi tradition.
I don’t have time to make an illustration of my own, and don’t have any of my Asimov books to take a picture of since I am at my grandparents’ cabin right now, but at that cabin we do have a wall of National Geographics, including the 1976 American Bicentennial issue, which features a roundtable of Futurists like Buckminster Fuller and Isaac Asimov, as well as a short-story by Asimov (illustrated by Pierre Mion) about a reporter’s visit to a solar-power space station at the L5 lagrange point in the vicinity of the moon in 2026. The story involves a lot of standard hard-SF tropes, from the rotating space station to harvesting the moon for resources, and certainly this particular conception of a space station both looks back to vizualizations in 2001, von Braun’s work, and much earlier, as well as forward to games like Halo. I’m just including a couple pics here because I don’t want the folks at Nat Geo to get upset at me, but if you are an enthusiast for these sorts of things, I recommend finding a copy! It’s a fun short story, and it’s always intriguing to see what people have predicted for the future. Well, depressing sometimes too–the space station we have is awesome, but also not really comparable to these grand cities, and the futurists didn’t really anticipate things like 9/11, US government sponsored torture (let alone a world where many Americans are in favor of said torture), or any of the other crises facing us. But at times it is more important for the futurist to give us a positive vision, naive or not, a vision of us at our best, near as we can imagine it. We may never “be” Star Trek, and there may be aspects of that vision of the future that we could still criticize, but it does make social and ethical dimensions as central to the concept of “progress” as technological advancement (even more so). For another bicentennial-period fictionalized vision of the future, check out Arthur C. Clarke’s lesser-known novel Imperial Earth, which is quality hard-SF with an intriguing look at a colony on Titan, at life on earth in two centuries, as well as ending with… well, I guess I don’t want to spoil it. 🙂 To return to Asimov, we could consider this fictional tour of a city in space to be a sort of prequel to his late novel Nemesis, which features a solar system full of even huger and more sophisticated space-stations–one of which disappears one day, and starts off a novel’s worth of intrigue and exploration. Features a nerdy, lonely teenage girl as protagonist, at a time when that was still relatively rare in hard SF (maybe it still is–I think such protagonists are more likely to show up in other corners of the speculative fiction universe, esp. in YA fic…).