Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lost Asimov: Cosmic Corkscrew

Isaac Asimov discusses his story "Cosmic Corkscew" in his anthology The Early Asimov.

Asimov began to dabble in writing when he was 11 years old. At age 14 he took a writing class in which his teacher was not supportive. Fortunately this spurred Asimov to greater effort rather than causing him to give up.

Asimov writes:
It was not until May 29, 1937 (according to a date I once jotted down-though that was before I began my diary, so I won't swear to it), that the vague thought occurred to me that I ought to write something for professional publication, something that would be paid for! Naturally it would have to be a science fiction story, for I had been an avid science fiction fan since 1929 and I recognized no other form of literature as in any way worthy of my efforts.

The story I composed for the purpose, the first story I ever wrote with a view to becoming a 'writer,' was entitled "Cosmic Corkscrew."

He wrote only a few pages before he lost interest...the prospect of having to write for others more difficult than when he was just writing stories to please himself.

A year later, in May, 1938, Astounding Science Fiction, changed its publication schedule from the third Wednesday of the month to the fourth Friday. Asimov worked in his father's candy/newstand, and was unaware of the change in publication date. He actually went down to the offices of Astounding Science Fiction to find out what was going on - and found to his relief that it hadn't ceased publication, just pub date.

But he was fired witn newfound enthusiasm to finish the story, and did so.

On June 21, 1938, he returned to Astounding Science Fiction with the story and asked to see John Campbell, the editor. Campbell, only 28 at the time, and just off his own successful writing career, saw him, took his story to read, and they talked for over an hour.

Two days later, Asimov received the rejected story, which gave him full reasons for the rejection. "He didn't like the slow beginning, the suicide at the end." He also didn't like the first person narration , the stiff dialog, and the length, 9,000 words...too long for a short story, too short for a novelette.

Asimov put the manuscript of "Cosmic Corkscrew" into a drawer and went on to write new stories. Eventually, the manuscript vanished, and is presumed destroyed.

The plot according to Asimov
In ["Cosmic Corkscrew"] I viewed time as a helix (that is, something like a bed spring.) Someone could cut across from one turn directly to the next, thus moving into the future by some exact interval but being incapable of traveling one day less into the future. My protagonist made the cut across time and found the Earth deserted. ALl animal life was gone; yet there was every sign that life had existed until very shortly before-and no indication at all of what had brough about the disappearance. It was told in the first person from a lunatic asylum, because the narrator had, of course, been placed in a madhouse after he returned and tried to tell his tale.

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