Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asimov and Women

In the 1970s, critics began to write about Asimov's work, and many feminists castigated him because there were no "strong women" in his early stories. (Even Susan Calvin is hardly a strong woman. In one story she causes a robot to have a nervous breakdown because it lied to her about a male colleague being attracted to her, and so she'd put on some makeup for the first time and made a fool out of herself.)

Asimov's explanation - probably valid - was that he didn't know any women, except his mother, on whom to base characters in his stories. (On the other hand, when it comes to the pulps, E.E. Doc Smith's women are the nadir of female characters. But that's a rant for a different time.)

In any event, in a Black Widowers short story, I believe Asimov reveals what he really feels about women - they all remind him of his mother:

From "Middle Name":
Rubin says, "Come, Henry, are you trying to say that men are afraid of women?"

Henry - the waiter who solves all the Black Widowers mysteries, states:
"I believe many are. Certainly, many feel a sense of relief and freedom when in the company of men only and feel particularly free when women are not allowed to intrude....

It seems to me that most men during their childhood have had their mothers as their cheif authority figures. Even when the father is held up as a mysterious and ogreish dispenser of punishments, it is, in fact the mother whose outcries, yanks, pushes and slaps perpetually stand in the way of what we want to do. And we never recover."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Asimov quotations

These are from The Quotations Page

I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.

I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die.

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.

Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right.

Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.

Science can be introduced to children well or poorly. If poorly, children can be turned away from science; they can develop a lifelong antipathy; they will be in a far worse condition than if they had never been introduced to science at all.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist.

One, a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; Three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Isaac Asimov, Laws of Robotics from I. Robot, 1950

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Isaac Asimov, Salvor Hardin in "Foundation"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

John W Campbell, most potent force in science fiction you never heard of, now a centennial man

(L. Ron Hubbard left, John Campbell right)

From The Daily Maverick, a South African online webpaper
John W Campbell, most potent force in science fiction you never heard of, now a centennial man

Chances are, unless you’re a hardcore science fiction fan, you’ve never heard of John W Campbell Jnr. But if you’ve read Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke or Robert A Heinlein you were touched by his influence. Campbell’s the guy who put science into sci-fi.

Born on 8 June 1910, Campbell started writing science fiction at 18, while studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was first published a year later and for several years he wrote prolifically under his own name as well as a pseudonym, Don A Stuart. He stopped writing at 27 to become editor of Astounding Stories. He soon changed the name to Astounding Science-Fiction and published stories by new, undiscovered writers with names such as Isaac Asimov, A E van Vogt, Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke and Theodore Sturgeon.

Though he died in 1971, most science fiction fans say the exact birth of The Golden Age of Science Fiction was with the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction when Campbell published Asimov and Von Vogt for the first time.

Covers of Astounding Science Fiction featuring stories by Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein.

British Science fiction historian, critic and novelist Adam Roberts described the shift from pulp to realism when “the Golden Age valorises a particular sort of writing: 'Hard SF', linear narratives, heroes solving problems or countering threats in a space-opera or technological-adventure idiom”. It was under Campbell’s exacting and demanding editorship that the genre would make the move from fantastical fluff to hard science-based fiction. Campbell demanded realism and developed characters; he suggested stories and threw scripts back at writers again and again until they met his demanding standards.

The result was an industry shakeout that made way for new writers who would later become legends earning the moniker of grand masters or science fiction’s “big three” – Asimov, Heinlein & Clarke. In his memoir Asimov speaks about Campbell’s influence: "By his own example and by his instruction and by his undeviating and persisting insistence, he forced first Astounding and then all science fiction into his mould. He abandoned the earlier orientation of the field. He demolished the stock characters who had filled it; eradicated the penny-dreadful plots; extirpated the Sunday-supplement science. In a phrase, he blotted the purple out of pulp. Instead, he demanded that science-fiction writers understand science and understand people, a hard requirement that many of the established writers of the 1930s could not meet. Campbell did not compromise because of that: those who could not meet his requirements could not sell to him, and the carnage was as great as it had been in Hollywood a decade before, when silent movies had given way to the talkies."

Watch Isaac Asimov speaking on the Golden Age of Science Fiction:

John W Campbell died 61 years old, a shadow of his former self. A compulsive smoker, Campbell pooh-poohed health warnings by the US surgeon-general as “esoteric”. Towards the end of his life the 2m-tall man with hawk-like features and a quicksilver mind had been reduced to what Isaac Asimov described as “a diminishing shadow of what he had once been”.

Alienated from most of the science fiction writers he once championed, Campbell fell deeper into pseudo-science and a fringe thinking that saw the community of writers he fostered reject him. In this case it matters not how the man died – his work had already been done. What matters is what came before and how he forever changed the nature of science fiction. Campbell firmly closed the door on a “pulp era” of science fiction writing, and was pivotal in ushering in the first Golden Age of Science Fiction.

By Mandy de Waal

Read works by John W Campbell at Project Gutenburg, letters by John W Campbell which show his relationship with Robert A Heinlein deteriorating into acrimony.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Crater on Mars named for Isaac Asimov (May 28, 2009)

In May 2009, the name of a crater on Mars was changed to honor Isaac Asimov:

From SFScope: Crater on Mars named for Isaac Asimov
By Ian Randal Strock May 28, 2009

Steven H Silver alerts us to the fact that, earlier this month, the International Astronomical Union approved the naming of a crater on Mars for Isaac Asimov.

This NASA side-by-side image shows: "Asimov Crater is located in Noachis Terra at 47.0°S, 355.1°W; Danielson is in western Arabia Terra at 8.0°N, 7.0°W. Both craters were named by the IAU this year. Note that Asimov is largely filled with material; large pits mark the interface between the ancient crater walls and the material that filled the crater. Although not obvious at the scale of the images presented here, the darkest materials in Danielson Crater are windblown sand dunes. The Asimov picture is from Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) red wide angle camera image M01-01232; the Danielson picture is also from the MOC red wide angle camera, image M01-00847. These pictures were taken during the MOC Geodesy Campaign ten years ago in May 1999. The images were map-projected by personnel at Malin Space Science Systems."

Ken Edgett, guest-blogging on The Planetary Society's blog, writes about the craters. "Let's start with Asimov, named for the author of the 1952 short story, 'The Martian Way', among others. Until it was given a name a few weeks ago, my colleague… and I referred to it as the 'Noachis Pit Crater'. We talked about it all the time, at least once a month, for the past decade—because it fascinates us. Asimov Crater has been almost completely filled with stuff—layers of who-knows-what—rocks, sand, and dust. Deep pits have developed at the interface between the buried crater wall and the material that filled Asimov. How this happened, I do no not know. It is one of the myriad and profound mysteries of Mars, as are all of the large craters that have been filled and buried, all over the planet. What I do know is that these pit walls show some spectacular things. Two of my favorite features on the entire planet are found in and on the walls of these deep pits." He goes into great detail on the scientific coolness of the two craters.