Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The Unblind Workings of Chance": Only A Trillion

This article first appeared in: the Apr-57 issue of Astounding , according to According to Asimov, he wrote it in July, 1956. It was published in an anthology in 1957, Only A Trillion.

The opening paragraph:

The question for discussion is exactly how much luck was involved in the development, on Earth, of life from non-living substances, and, as a corollary, what chance there is of finding life on any other Earth-like planet.

Final paragraphs:

But let's see, is there life on Mars?

Despite all the odds against it, despite the poorness of the planet, the answer seems to be: possibly, yes. At least, the green areas on Mars seem to signify some kind of vegetation. The vegetation might be very primitive and undiversified, nothing like the teeming life of Earth, but it would be life.

And if Mars can do it, it is my belief that any Earth-like planet can do it.

Religious folk will say that, statistically speaking, life couldn't have been created because there's just no way atoms would combine, by chance, in enough ways to create life. Asimov points out that it's perfectly possible, because there are only a few ways that atoms do combine, because of there chemical properties. Some combinations are more probable than others.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Isaac Asimov: Threats to Humanity

There's plenty of videos of Isaac Asimov at YouTube. For my Kindle subscribers, I'm afraid you'll just have to go there on your computer and watch them.. the Kindle doesn't play videos. (I only do this occasionally!)

He filmed this on January 14, 1989, and is talking about Global warming and other things.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Websites devoted to Isaac Asimov
The place to find information on Asimov. All his essay titles and where and when published, reviews (brief ones) of his short stories and novels....a site that would qualify to be called Encyclopedia Asimova except for some reason they didn't think of it.

Their FAQ section is particularly recommended:

Fantsatic Fiction:

DR ISAAC ASIMOV TALKS WITH SLAWEK WOJTOWICZ (presented in 4 languages, Polish, Spanish, French and English):

Multivax (The Last Question story and The Last Question graphic novel)

Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Isaac Asimov Bibliography, pt 1

Books about Isaac Asimov - in whole or in part

Isaac Asimov: A Checklist of Works Published in the United States, March 1939-May 1972
by Marjorie M. Miller, Kent State University Press, 1972

The Asimov Science Fiction Bibliography
compiled by M. B. Tepper, Chinese Ducked Press, 1970

Isaac Asimov: an Annotated Bibliography of the Asimov Collection at Boston University
by Scott E. Green, Greenwood Press, 1995

Isaac Asimov, Reader's Guide 40
by Donald M. Hassler, 1991

Asimov Analyzed
In Search of Wonder: "Asimov and Empire"
--Critiques of SF authors and their ouvre
by Damon Knight, Advent Publishers, 1967, pp. 90-94

The Universe Makers: "The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire"
critiques of authors and their creations
by Donald A. Wollheim, Harper & Row, 1971

Words and Their Masters: "Isaac Asimov"
by Israel Shenker, Doubleday, 1974, pp. 253-255

Asimov Analyzed
by Neil Goble, Mirage, 1972

The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov
by Joseph F. Patrouch, Jr., Doubleday, 1974

Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and Other Works: Notes, Including Life of the Author, an Overview of Asimov's Science Fiction, Categories of Science Fiction, Analyses of the Works
by L. David Allen consulting editor, James L. Roberts, Cliffs Notes, 1977

Isaac Asimov, the Foundations of Science Fiction
by James Gunn, Oxford University Press, 1982

Isaac Asimov, the Foundations of Science Fiction (Revised and Updated Edition)
by James Gunn, Scarecrow Press, 1996

Seekers of Tomorrow: "Isaac Asimov"
--Biographies of notable science fiction authors. One chapter on Asimov
by Sam Moskowitz, World, 1966, pp. 249-265

Isaac Asimov
edited by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, Taplinger Pub. Co., 1977

Speaking of Science Fiction: The Paul Walker Interviews
Interviews with Science Fiction writers, one with Isaac Asimov
by Paul Walker, Luna Publications, 1978

Dream Makers: Interviews by Charles Platt, "Isaac Asimov"
by Charles Platt, Berkley, 1980

Isaac Asimov
by Jean Fiedler and Jim Mele. Ungar, c1982

Isaac Asimov - Scientist and Storyteller
by Ellen Erlanger, Lerner Publications Co., c1986

Isaac Asimov
by Donald M. Hassler, Starmont House, 1989

Isaac Asimov
by William F. Touponce, Twayne Publishers, 1991

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More on Damon Knight

Damon Knight and Isaac Asimov were both members of the Futurians, a group of science fiction fans and writers since the 1940s. However, they didn't like each other (and indeed, the Futurians were not really a group for long.)

Damon Knight also wrote science fiction criticism (criticism, rather than reviews, although truth to tell I can't tell the difference between the two). His collected reviews were published in a book called In Search of Wonder.

It's kind of funny, Knight critiques Asimov's work:

"But as a writer oftwice-told tales, I think Asimov is as dull as anybody. That's why I've been waiting, long and impatiently, for The Caves of Steel, because I wanted to praise Asimov, and because, if I reviewed Pebble in the Sky, The Stars Like Dust, Foundation and Empire, The Currents of Space or Second Fundation, I couldn't.

In other words, Knight dismisses Asimov's Foundation trilogy as not worth bothering about, but praises The Caves of Steel, and even The End of Eternity.

If you take a look at Asimov and Damon Knight's ouvre at Amazon, the work of both is still avialable, but if you check for the best selling Isaac Asimov, it is, and probably always will be, The Foundation Trilogy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Damon Knight, an introduction

Most people today have not heard of Damon Knight. He was a science fiction author and critic. If you have not heard his name, you have probably seen one TV episode that was based on his writing.... The Twilight Zone's "To Serve Man".

(If you don't know the story... aliens have landed on earth. They are peaceful. To prove this, they present scientists with a book, only the title of which can be read, "To Serve Man." They assume this means that the aliens want to serve man, as servants. A group of people agree to travel to the alien's home planet. As one of the scientits (played by Lloyd Bochner) is to get on the ship, his secretary comes running up. They've finally translated the rest of the book. "It's a cookbook!"

Bochner tries to get off the ship, but too late.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about "To Serve Man"
It first appeared in the November 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction and has been reprinted a number of times, including in Frontiers in Space (1955), Far Out (1961) and The Best of Damon Knight (1976). The title is a play on the phrase, "to serve", which has the dual meanings "to assist" and "to provide as a meal".

And about Damon Knight:
Damon Francis Knight (September 19, 1922–April 15, 2002) was an American science fiction author, editor, critic and fan. His forte was short stories and he is widely acknowledged as having been a master of the genre.

Knight's first professional sale was a cartoon drawing to a science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. His first story, "Resilience", was published in 1941: an editorial error made this story's ending incomprehensible, although the story was later reprinted elsewhere as Knight originally wrote it. He was a recipient of the Hugo Award, founder of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), cofounder of the National Fantasy Fan Federation, cofounder of the Milford Writer's Workshop, and cofounder of the Clarion Writers Workshop. Knight lived in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife Kate Wilhelm, also a science fiction writer.

At the time of his first story, he was living in New York, and was a member of the Futurians. One of his short stories describes paranormal disruption of a science fiction fan group, and contains cameo appearances of various Futurians under thinly-disguised names: for instance, H. Beam Piper is identified as "H. Dreyne Fifer".

In a series of reviews for various magazines, he became famous as a science fiction critic, a career which began when he wrote in 1945 that A. E. van Vogt "is not a giant as often maintained. He's only a pygmy using a giant typewriter." After nine years, he ceased reviewing when a magazine refused to publish one review exactly as he wrote it. These reviews were later collected in In Search of Wonder.

Damon worked as an editor for Chilton Books in 1965. He read Dune World in Analog magazine and was responsible for tracking down Frank Herbert to publish Dune. Twenty other publishing companies had turned it down before the Chilton offer. Ironically this brilliant insight probably led to his dismissal from Chilton a year later because of high publication cost and poor initial book sales.

The SFWA's Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement was renamed in his honor. Formerly known as the Grand Master Award, Knight received that honor in 1994.

To the general public, he is best known as the author of "To Serve Man", which was adapted for The Twilight Zone. He is also known for the term "second-order idiot plot," a story set in a society that only functions because everyone or almost everyone in it is an idiot.

One of Knight's best-known stories, "The Country of the Kind" (reprinted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One) describes a future utopia in which everyone is peaceful, kindly and honest ... except for a single individual who is compelled to be destructive and abusive; his mental illness (and artistic temperament) is contrasted with savage irony to their bland but apparently contented conformity. Another particularly interesting piece is "Rule Golden", in which an alien spreads a chemical that makes everyone receive as much pain as they give unto others. The consequences of what this would do to governments in general, and America's role in the world, are discussed in some detail.

[edit] Partial bibliography
Main article: Bibliography of Damon Knight
[edit] Novels
Hell's Pavement (1955)
VOR (with James Blish) (1958)
A for Anything (1959)
Masters of Evolution (1959)
The People Maker (1959)
The Sun Saboteurs (1961)
Beyond the Barrier (1964)
Mind Switch (1965)
Off Centre (1965)
The Rithian Terror (1965)
The Earth Quarter (1970)
World without Children (1970)
The World and Thorinn (1980)
The Man in the Tree (1984)
CV (1985)
The Observers (1988)
Double Meaning (1991)
God's Nose (1991)
Why Do Birds (1992)
Humpty Dumpty: An Oval (1996)
[edit] Short stories and other writings
"Not with a Bang" (1949)
"To Serve Man" (1950)
"Ask Me Anything" (1951)
"Cabin Boy" (1951)
"Natural State" (1951)
"The Analogues" (1952)
"Beachcomber" (1952)
"Ticket to Anywhere" (1952)
"Anachron" (1953)
"Babel II" (1953)
"Four in One" (1953)
"Special Delivery" (1953)
"Rule Golden" (1954)
"The Country of the Kind" (1955)
"Dulcie and Decorum" (1955)
"You're Another" (1955)
"Extempore" (1956)
"The Last Word" (1956)
"Stranger Station" (1956)
"The Dying Man" (1957)
"The Enemy" (1958)
"An Eye for a What?" (1957)
"Be My Guest" (1958)
"Eripmav" (1958)
"Idiot Stick" (1958)
"Thing of Beauty" (1958)
"The Handler" (1960)
"Time Enough" (1960)
A Century of Science Fiction (1962) (editor)
The Big Pat Boom (1963)
God's Nose (1964)
Maid to Measure (1964)
"Shall the Dust Praise Thee?" (1967)
Masks (1968)
I See You (1976)
The Futurians (1977, memoir/history)
Creating Short Fiction (1981) (advice on writing short stories)
Forever (1981)
O (1983)
Strangers on Paradise (1986)
Not a Creature (1993)
Fortyday (1994)
Life Edit (1996)
Double Meaning
In the Beginning
In Search of Wonder (collected reviews and critical pieces)
Turning Points (editor/contributor: critical anthology)
Orbot (editor)
"The Big Pat Boom" appears in "The Seventh Galaxy Reader" (ed by Frederik Pohl)

What Isaac Asimov had to say about Damon Knight is probably unprintable. We'll explain why tomorrow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

January 31, 1950

On this Tuesday in Isaac Asimov history, the Morning Herald of Hagerstown Michigan, mentions Isaac Asimov's book, Pebble in the Sky, on its page 7, which appears to be the start of the Variety section.

An Advice to the Lovelorn, by Beatrix Fairfax, "famous authority on love and marriage" is given pride of place in the top left-hand corner.

Below that, Washington County Library: Books for the Week
"Many new books of fiction have been added this week to the shelves of Washington County Free Library. Among them are:
A Few Flowers for Shiner, by Richard Llewelyn.
A Search for the King, by Gore Vidal
Frances, by Katherine Hubbell
Swiftwater, by Paul Annixter
Mary O'Grady, by Mary Lavin
Pebble in the Sky, by Isaac Asimov.

Each title is then given a very, very brief description. For Pebble in the Sky: "An ingenious tale of the far-distant future.

Other books listed, after Asimov, and with no description given, are:
Cordella, by Winston Graham
White King, by Samuel B. Harrison
Flying SAucer, by Bernard Newman
Weep for My Brother, by Clifford Dowdey
Faraway Heaven, by Lida Larrimore
Slay Ride, by Frank Kane
Melody Unheard, by Frances Shelley Wees
The Unrelenting, by Constance W. Dodge

The article also mentions the new non-fiction offerings. The first three are given descriptions, the rest, just their titles.

My Three Years in Moscow, by Walter Bedell Smith (ambassador to Russia from 1946 to 1949)
The Ironing Board, by Christopher Morley (essays)
Renewing the Mind, by Roger Hazelton. "An important and interesting study of the relation between faith and reason."
Giant Brains, by Edmund Callis Berkley (no description given, which is too bad!)
Successful Hostess, by by Elizabeth Stuart Hedgecock
Government and Business, by Ford P. Hall
Quality Control Methods, by Clifford W. Kennedy
Meat and Meat Foods, by Lloyd B. Jensen
What Everyone Should Know About the Law, by Milton Ben Franklin

Other news of interest on the page:
"Nations first congresswoman seeks secret of world peace"
Jeanette Rankin, the nation's first Congresswoman, who voted against America entering both World Wars, is now in India seeking a plan for world peace.

What is the plot of Pebble in the Sky? Here's what Wikipedia has to say(SPOILERS BELOW)

While walking down the street in Chicago, Joseph Schwartz, a retired tailor, is the unwitting victim of a nearby nuclear laboratory accident, by means of which he is instantaneously transported tens of thousands of years into the future (50,000 years, by one character's estimate, a figure later retconned by future Asimov works as a "mistake"). He finds himself in a place he does not recognize, and due to apparent changes in the spoken language that far into the future, he is unable to communicate with anyone. He wanders into a farm, and is taken in by the couple that lives there. They mistake him for a mentally deficient person, and they secretly offer him as a subject for an experimental procedure to increase his mental abilities. The procedure, which has killed several subjects, works in his case, and he finds that he can quickly learn to speak the current lingua franca. He also slowly realizes that the procedure has given him strong telepathic abilities, including the ability to project his thoughts to the point of killing or injuring a person.

The Earth, at this time, is seen by the rest of the Galactic Empire as a rebellious planet — it has, in fact, rebelled three times in the past — and the inhabitants are widely frowned upon and discriminated against. Earth also has several large radioactive areas, although the cause is never really described. Because the radioactivity makes large areas of Earth uninhabitable, it is a very poor planet, and anyone who is unable to work is legally required to be euthanized. The people of the Earth must also be executed when they reach the age of just sixty, a procedure known as "The Sixty," with a very few exceptions; mainly for people who have made significant contributions to society. That is a problem for Schwartz, who is now sixty-two years old.

The Earth is part of the Galactic Empire, with a resident Procurator, who lives in a domed town in the high Himalayas and a Galactic military garrison, but in practice it is ruled by a group of Earth-centered "religious fanatics" who believe in the ultimate superiorty of Earthlings. They have created a new, deadly supervirus that they plan to use to kill or subjugate the rest of the Empire, and to avenge themselves for the way their planet has been treated by the galaxy at large. Among other things, this virus has the ability to kill by radiation poisoning.

Joseph Schwartz, along with Affret Shekt, the scientist who developed the new device that boosted Schwartz's mental powers, his daughter Pola Shekt, and a visiting archaeologist Bel Arvardan, are captured by the rebels, but they escape with the help of Schwartz's new mental abilities, and they are narrowly able to stop the plan to release the virus. Schwartz uses his mental abilities to provoke a pilot from the Imperial garrison into bombing the site where the arsenal of the super-virus exists.

The book ends on a hopeful note — perhaps the Empire can be persuaded to restore the Earth, and to bring in huge amounts of uncontaminated soil.