Monday, October 31, 2011

How did Asimov justify his existence?

In Asimov's Black Widower's story, each dinner guest us asked, "How do you justify your existence. An editor asked this question of Asimov:

"How do I justify my existence? By my writing, I amuse people and make them happy. My writing style is simple, straight-forward and upbeat - nothing nasty or horrid or violent or perverse. In this sad world, I think that anyone who spreads happiness automatically justifies there existence."

How could Asimov write so much?

From Yours, Isaac Asimov, pg 12

"Rightly or wrongly, I rarely wade through primary material. My references are generally a variety of encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, etc.,-in other words, predigested stuff and secondary material.

This would hurt myconscience if I ever pretended to be contrinuting anything to scholarship, but I don't. I cheerfully admit that I never present anything new. What I have to sell is arrangement and style.

I was once stopped by someone when I was writing one of my books on words because I had a Webster's Unabridged open before me. He said, "Why, you're just getting your material out of Webster's."

And I said, "That's right. Here's Webster's and here's what I've written so far. Do you want to continue?""

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How did Asimov write so clearly?

He explains this in an essay he wrote called "The Mosaic and the Plate Glass," but in short form, here's the principle (from Yours, Isaac Asimov(:

"I simply make use of the English language. I never use a long word when a short one will do or literary trickery when plain-speaking will do. Doing all that, I am capable of convincingly treating my readers as my intellectual equals, and in return for that, they will go to all lengths to understand me."

How did Asimov learn to write?

From Yours, Isaac Asimov

pg 9

"I honestly don't know how to write or how to advise anyone else to write. I can do it, but that doesn't say I know how to do it. I also synthesize DNA in every cell of my body, but I don't know the exact details of how I do that, either."

Asimov actually learned how to write first by reading voraciously as a young child, and having a desire to tell stories himself.

When he first started trying to break into John W. Campbell's magazine, Campbell would give him detailed advice, and in his autobiography Asimov says that he learned a lot from that.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why did Asimov write?

From Yours, Isaac Asimov:

"I write in order to teach and in order to make people feel good (for I am wedded to the theory that learning is the most enduring pleasure.) It is nice to make money doing so. However, my chief reason for writing is to please myself, because I myself learn by writing. And that it my pleasure, too."

Sprague de Camp and Cliff Simak

On 16 September, 1955, Asimov wrote a letter or postcard to someone. (The one flaw in Yours, Isaac Asimov is that we usually are not told to whom Asimov was writing.)

From this letter, we may take it that by 1955 de Camp and Simak were good friends who exchanged letters...but of course that Asimov was more prompyt than they.

From pg 4
"Writing at once and answering at once is one of my many compulsions. I do not expect it of others. The pattern of my regular correspondences (as with Sprague de Camp, Cliff Simak and so on)is a letter from them, an answer from me by return mail, an answer from them any time from a month to a year later, an answer from me by return mail and so on. I virtually never write out of turn, so I end up never bothering anyone."

Yours, Isaac Asimov: A Lifetime of Letters, edited by Stanley Asimov. Doubleday, 1995

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Crazy Ideas #1: His Accountant

All writers - of fiction anyway - are asked where they get their ideas.

Asimov got many of those from his Black Widower mystery stories from real life.

For example, in "The Family Man," a Black Widowers story which appeared in a 1976 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the Black Widower's guest is an IRS investigator. His presence prompts Thomas Trumbull to say, "Good God. And you offer that as justification for your existence? Horse-whipping with barbed wire is what it justifies."

Later on in the story, Trumbull says, ""What the hell has 'unwilling' got to do with it? You enforce your own interpretation of the rules, act as prosecuting attorney and judge, hound us relentlessly, treat us as guilty till we prove ourselves innocent, and are perfectly ready to jail us if you can. What do you care if we're unwilling?"

and you know Asimov was thinking about the IRS when he had Geoffrey Avalon say this:
"I don't conscientiously pad, but I must admit that the IRS and I might not agree on just what constitutes a deductible expense in the first place."

And he has his IRS character say, "Then you deduct it till we tell you otherwise. That's the tax man's version of keeping you innocent until proven guilty."

Asimov never got in trouble with the IRS, but he was questioned about a deduction he took when he donated his papers to Boston University in 1968. (8 years before the events of "The Family Man."

From Yours, Isaac Asimov (a collection of Asimov's letters and postcards to people):

In late 1968, Isaac got a notice from the IRS that it had questions about his 1966 tax return.

1 November 1968
My accountant kept calming me and calming me and telling me he knew I was honest and the tax people knew I was honest and he would tell them flatly that it was a waste of time to question a man of my integrity, etc., etc. Then he looked through my tax return and said, "Aha-a-a-a." And I said, "What, what, what, what, what?" Then, to make it perfectly clear, , I said "What?" (That's a Wodehousian touch.

In 1966, I was giving my manuscripts and papers to BU, and for the first time, I received a note from them which included a notarized statement from some expert in such matters which gave an evaluation of the worth of my contribution. He placed it at $3,500. BU informed me I could deduct this from my income for tax purposes and so I did.

My accountant said, "Any sunstantial contribution in something other than money sets off an alarm in the computer and everyone comes running."

I said, "But I had nothing to do with it. I didn't ask for it. BU sent it of their own accord, and this guy is a recognized expert employed by them and this is a notarized letter."

And he said, "It doesn't matter. They want to argue it. They're going to question whether the material is worth that much."

I said, "For my part, it isn't worth anything. I used to burn it all before I started giving it to BU. But the university says its worth a great deal to them and to future generations of scholars."

He said, "I'll argue it with them and we'll see what happens."

Anyway, I'm not mad anymore because I think this is a legitimate investigation. In my case, I think the deduction is reasonable enough, but I can see where this sort of thing could lend itself to great abuse and the government should investigate it. And I'd rather be investigated myself in a careful guard against abuse than to escape it out of the general corruption and inefficiency of the government. Because, to be selfish about it, a rotten government would be far more expensive to me in the long run than the enforced (even unjustly enforced) payment of a few hundred dollars.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Brave New Words

From I09: 10 Brave New Words
10 Words You Might Think Came from Science (But Are Really From Science Fiction

Last week it came to our attention that the phrase "blast off" was coined—not in a purely scientific context, but a science fictional one—by E. E. Smith, an early science fiction author often referred to as "the father of space opera." The term appeared in Smith's 1937 story Galactic Patrol, when one character inquires of another, "How long do you figure it'll be before it's safe for us to blast off?"

And it turns out blast off isn't the only scientific word or phrase with science fictional origins; here is a list of nine more, originally composed by Jeff Prucher—editor for the Oxford English Dictionary's Science Fiction Project and author of the Hugo Award—winning Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction—for the Oxford University Press Blog.

9. Robotics
This is probably the most well-known of these, since Isaac Asimov is famous for (among many other things) his three laws of robotics. Even so, I include it because it is one of the only actual sciences to have been first named in a science fiction story ("Liar!", 1941). Asimov also named the related occupation (roboticist) and the adjective robotic.

8. Genetic engineering
The other science that received its name from a science fiction story, in this case Jack Williamson's novel Dragon's Island, which was coincidentally published in the same year as "Liar!" The occupation of genetic engineer took a few more years to be named, this time by Poul Anderson.

7. Zero-gravity/zero-g
A defining feature of life in outer space (sans artificial gravity, of course). The first known use of "zero-gravity" is from Jack Binder (better known for his work as an artist) in 1938, and actually refers to the gravityless state of the center of the Earth's core. Arthur C. Clarke gave us "zero-g" in his 1952 novel Islands in the Sky.

6. Deep space
One of the other defining features of outer space is its essential emptiness. In science fiction, this phrase most commonly refers to a region of empty space between stars or that is remote from the home world. E. E. "Doc" Smith seems to have coined this phrase in 1934. The more common use in the sciences refers to the region of space outside of the Earth's atmosphere.

5. Ion drive
An ion drive is a type of spaceship engine that creates propulsion by emitting charged particles in the direction opposite of the one you want to travel. The earliest citation in Brave New Words is again from Jack Williamson ("The Equalizer", 1947). A number of spacecraft have used this technology, beginning in the 1970s.

4. Pressure suit
A suit that maintains a stable pressure around its occupant; useful in both space exploration and high-altitude flights. This is another one from the fertile mind of E. E. Smith. Curiously, his pressure suits were furred, an innovation not, alas, replicated by NASA.

3. Virus
Computer virus, that is. Dave Gerrold (of "The Trouble With Tribbles" fame) was apparently the first to make the verbal analogy between biological viruses and self-replicating computer programs, in his 1972 story "When Harlie Was One."

2. Worm
Another type of self-replicating computer program. So named by John Brunner in his 1975 novel Shockwave Rider.

1. Gas giant
A large planet, like Jupiter or Neptune, that is composed largely of gaseous material. The first known use of this term is from a story ("Solar Plexus") by James Blish; the odd thing about it is that it was first used in a reprint of the story, eleven years after the story was first published. Whether this is because Blish conceived of the term in the intervening years or read it somewhere else, or whether it was in the original manuscript and got edited out is impossible to say at this point.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Video: Isaac Asimov on Humanism, Making Bigger Circles

My kindle readers can't see the video - but if you go to Youtube via your computer (Or via your Kindle Fire, when that's available) you can see plenty of vids of Asimov talking about everyhting under the sun.

The Next Mars Rover Is Nuclear-Powered

This is what my newscrawler told me would be said in this article:
The Next Mars Rover Is Nuclear-Powered
It almost sounds like something out of Isaac Asimov's Foundation where nuclear energy power everything from ships to handguns, but it's true. A few days before the rover's scheduled launch on November 25, NASA scientists will install the Multi-Mission ...

But in the article itself, Asimov's name isn't mentioned.

Nevertheless it's interesting.

From PCWorld, Geektech: The Next Mars Rover Is Nuclear-Powered
If you’ve seen the next Mar’s rover, named Curiosity (part of the Mars Science Laboratory--or MSL as it's called for short), you’ve probably noticed that it’s does not have solar panels, and that’s because it does not need them. NASA has opted for a more reliable miniature nuclear battery to serve as Curiosity’s main power source.

A few days before the rover's scheduled launch on November 25, NASA scientists will install the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. The generator is equipped with thermocouples that convert the heat generated from the natural decay of the plutonium dioxide into electricity. The power supply can provide Curiosity with a constant 110 watts of electricity that will allow the rover to travel farther than previous rovers and use more powerful analytical tools, all while continuously recharging its batteries.

NASA decided to use this alternative power source in place of solar panels because the Curiosity rover is like a compact car in comparison to its RC-car predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit. Curiosity weighs in at 2,000 pounds and measures 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall, which makes it twice as heavy and five times larger than the last two rovers.

The scientists also hope that the internal power system will also be more reliable in the dusty Martian environment than the solar panels on earlier rovers that were rendered useless in the planet’s winter.

The craziest thing about these radioisotope power sources is that they have been in use since the Apollo moon missions.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scrabble superseded Asimov

I just put on a Scrabble tournament yesterday here in Cheyenne - not as successful as I'd hoped. There are 8 people in my club - they showed up, and that was it. Despite the fact that we'd gotten a nice write up in our Wednesday paper - it generated no new people and no new spectators. Very disappointing.

But preparing for the tournament had taken up all my time, and that's why I've been lax here.

Regular posting starts tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Asimov TV Watch: CSI.

I was watching a re-run of CSI yesterday - Gus Grissom says that Isaac Asimov is one of his favorite writers, and quotes:
"I believe that only scientists can understand the universe. It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong."

(Can't tell you what episode title it is. It's the one where a young genius attempts to hill his parents because they won't give him money so he can go to college, and they make to much money for him to get a scholarship, but his dad was wearing a nicotine patch which saved his life.)

Thing is, I doubt if Asimov really said this. It just doesn't sound like him.

I searched the web for the quote, and its on a lot of sites - but none of them say from which essay or book it comes! I wonder if they are all just quoting Gus Grissom?

* Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
* Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
* Volcano Seven: Treasure and Treasure Hunters
* Rush Limbaugh Report

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Top 10 Robot Movies

From The Top 10 Robot Movies

Robots are back at the box office! Since “Real Steel” is making the box office rounds, let’s take a small retrospective into the subgenre of sci-fi that always popular with audiences, robot movies. These movies aren’t in any particular order; the only requirement is that they have a robot in them.

“I, Robot”: The 2004 Will Smith film probably upset some Isaac Asimov fans, but the film was a fun romp, if you will, into the world of the future where robots are now the norm for humanity, but they are also the bane of the humans who fear the imminent uprising of sentient robots. The main robot character, Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is a compassionate being the audience can sympathize with, and his journey to find himself–as well as the journey Smith’s character, Del Spooner, takes to come to terms with technology–is entertaining, even if it’s not entirely accurate to the Asimov story.

“The Iron Giant”: The 1999 animated film based on the Ted Hughes book and directed by Brad Bird was given the short end of the stick by the marketing department, as the film was robbed the gross it should have received if it had much better teaser trailers. However, the film itself is a modern classic about a boy and his robot, a being from another planet that was originally meant to be a weapon. The film is all about honest storytelling, and voicing the robot is possibly the best role Vin Diesel has played yet.

“Metropolis”: The 1927 film is possibly the best example of early sci-fi works in cinema. An epic of its time, “Metropolis” features not only a sprawling futuristic city divided between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, but also one of the best designs of a robot in cinema, in my opinion–an art deco androgynous being that looks as mysterious as it does scary and intimidating. In fact, the The Machine Man does do some bad things by impersonating the heroine, Maria. Even if silent films aren’t your cup of tea, the visuals alone will keep you enthralled.

“Blade Runner”: “Blade Runner”, based on the book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, is a film that has now reached cult status even though it was derided when it first premiered in 1982. Similar to “I, Robot,” the androids (or, as they are called in this film, “replicants”) in this futuristic Los Angeles used to be used for everyday chores, but eventually became intelligent beyond the scope of their programming and are now outlawed from Earth. There are several androids in the film, but out of all of the most popular androids–Daryl Hannah as Pris and Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty–the star is Sean Young as Rachael, the replicant with the 1940s Victory Rolls hairstyle. Again, the same type of epic scope is used here just as it was used in “Metropolis,” so you feel entrenched in the world even when you see the first shot.

“A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”: I think 2001′s “A.I.” was a weird film for several people, but the big draw about this film about androids was the Stanley Kubrick-esque style of storytelling and visuals brought to screen by Steven Spielberg. In fact, this was Kubrick’s pet project before the project fell to Spielberg after the visionary director’s death. Some others might have gotten miffed if they read the short story the film is based on, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, but overall, the film is one that is an intriguing watch.

“Bicentennial Man”: Personally, I found “Bicentennial Man” to be weird. Maybe it was because it was a Robin Williams film where he was playing the role straight instead of being funny. But still, the 1999 film based on Isaac Asimov’s novella is an interesting film to watch because of Williams’ character Andrew Martin slowly acquiring emotions in order to become human.

“Terminator” series: These films have made legions of people afraid for what might happen if and when androids (which are being developed now) develop the ability to think. Another element of these films involve time travel, something we haven’t developed yet, despite the various string theory ideas surround such travel. But aside from the science part, the draw to the film is Arnold Schwarzenegger being the big action hero and saying the iconic line, “I’ll be back”.

“Robots”: The 2005 CGI film about a world of robots isn’t anything dealing with the end of humanity; it’s dealing with happiness (or, at the very least, the end of humanity has been over for eons in order to make way for some happiness). The film is simple–a small-town robot (Ewan McGregor) wants to go to the big city in order to become an inventor. One link this film has with “Bicentennial Man” is that Robin Williams is playing another robot. Like with “Cars,” inevitable plot-hole questions come up, like how do the robots have children or grow up, but if you don’t think too much, the movie is fine. Also, it has great visuals, great character design by the children’s storybook author/illustrator William Joyce (who’s also behind children’s shows “Rolie Polie Olie” and “George Shrinks” and the Disney film “Meet the Robinsons”), and fun action scenes.

“Star Wars” films: I don’t think there’s much I have to say about this entry. Everyone knows a lot about this series even if you haven’t seen the films, but these films are on the list because they have two of the most famous robots, C-3PO and R2-D2.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” films: Again, the television show is so ingrained in the collective consciousness that I don’t have to say much about the show or the films, but both the show and film versions contain one of the most famous androids, Data, the android who, like The Bicentennial Man, wants to become human. His character received a few dents in the films, but he’s still one of the most beloved characters ever created in “Star Trek” history, I think.

Book Revew: I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert

From BLog Critics Books: Book Revew: I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert
Review by Michael Jones
I know I tend to hyperbolize when I come across a good book or music release, but Mickey Zucker Reichert's I, Robot: To Protect flabbergasts me at how much I enjoyed it despite my every intention to dislike it.

Perhaps annoyingly a fan of Isaac Asimov and his works, you see, I tend towards the belief that his works and worlds are things that should be left well enough alone and enjoyed for the wonderful things they are…no sequels or prequels are needed or wanted.

Then I get the chance to read this new Reichert book, which is the first of a planned trilogy of novels not only set up in Asimov's world of I, Robot but are novels meant to be official prequels to the work as they are authorized by the estate of Asimov himself, and so, even if only to "slam it," i picked up the book and began reading.

That's when I cursed Reichert's name. Why? Because the story was wonderful and in no way was an attempt at recreating Asimov's writing style or techniques, it totally got everything on point and magically made me think I was learning something new about his stories.

I, Robot: To Protect made me feel as if I were being given a chance to see Asimov's character of Dr. Susan Calvin in a new way. For a moment I nearly said in a new light, I'll admit, but that didn't feel like the right way to get across what I'm trying to say here.

A new light would only show you things that were already there, only in the shadows and perhaps unrecognized. Reichart's book, instead, reads like we are privy to a part of Calvin's life that Asimov simply never had time to put down on the page. It reads and feels completely true to the character and gives her new shades of dimension that will now alter how I think of Asimov's originals

It made me fall in love with Susan Calvin and with Isaac Asimov's writing all over again.

Seeing Dr. Calvin as a freshly graduated "resident" at a hospital gives you the chance to see how she thinks as she gets to know what being a doctor fully means as opposed to studying to become one. If you are a fan of Asimov you know how brilliant he portrayed her as being, but Reichert allows you to see that the diamond did not spring full formed but instead had to endure all the pressures of being unproven coal for a while.

It's…well, it's a lot clearer and entertaining than maybe my writing is making it out to be. This is, in the end, a wonderful book that i enjoyed tremendously. Reichert not only manages to be true to Asimov's vision but manages to write one hell of a story that is enjoyable even if you had never heard of Isaac before.

She is one hell of a good writer, and I cannot wait for the other two volumes of this story to be published so I can read and reread them.

* Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
* Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
* Volcano Seven: Treasure and Treasure Hunters
* Rush Limbaugh Report

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On travel til Wednesday

I'm visiting elderly relatives in Box Elder, SD who do not have internet.

Will try to sneak out now and again to an internet cafe to post, but more than likely will not be posting until Wedneday.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

July 1962: Hot Stuff

In the July 1962 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, asimov makes another personal reference:
It is the life's ambition of every decent, right-thinking scientists or near-scientist (I use the latter noun as an excuse to include myself) to influence the course of science. For the better, of course.

Most of us, alas, have to give up that ambition; I did so long ago. Never (so my heart told me) would there be an "Asimov's law to brighten the pages of a physics textbook, or an "Asimov reaction" to do the same for those of a chemistry textbook. Slowly, the possibility of an "Asimov theory" and even an "Asimov conjecture" slipped through my fingers, and I was left with nothing.

With nothing, that is, but my electric typewriter and my big mouth, and the hidden hope that some idle speculation of my own might spark better minds than mine into some worthwhile accomplishment.

And he goes on to tell the story of Hong Yee Chiu, at ther time of Asimov's writing a post-doctoral research worker at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, who wrote a paper on his theory of supernova formation after having been inspired by one of Asimov's essays.

Monday, October 3, 2011

March 1962: That's Life!

In this essay, Asimov mentions his son David for the first time. He will reference him perhaps twice more, before never mentioning again and focusing on his "blond-haired blue-eyed daughter Robyn" for the rest of his anecdotes.
My son is fiendishly interested in outer space. This is entirely without reference to his father's occupation, concerning which he is possessed of complete apathy. Anyway, in honor of this interest of his, we once bought a recording of a humoruos skit entitled "The Astronaut" (which was soon worn so thin as the result of repeated playings, that the needle [of the vinyl record] delivered both sides simultaneously.

At one point in this recording, the interviewer asks the astronaut whether he expects to find life on Mars, and the astronaut answers thouhtfully, "Maybe...if I land on Saturday night."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

January 1962: The Modern Demonology

The next essay Asimov wrote which featured a personal anecdote was "The Modern Demonology," which appeared in theJanuary 1962 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
You would think, considering my background, that had I ever so slight a chance to drag fantasy into any serious discussion of science, I would at once do so with neon lights and fireworks blasting.

And yet, in [the previous essay] on entropy, I completely ignored the most famous single bit of fantasy in the history of science. Yet that was only that I might devote another entire essay to it.

Okay, that's not a personal anecdote, just Asimov referring to himself and his reputation. So it's more of a personal "reference" than an "anecdote," but in the Encyclopedia Asimova we include everything.

The "most famous single bit of fantasy in the history of science" to which he refers is "Maxwell's Demon." Mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, in an effort to explain to the layperson how entropy works.