"Isaac Asimov had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life."
One of the pioneers of Science Fiction
, Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) invented or popularized many of the genre's tropes - Robot Buddies
, Galactic Empires, world-spanning cities
- but is best known for the Laws of Robotics
and the Foundation Trilogy
, both early works. He is considered one of the "Big Three" of Science Fiction
along with Arthur C. Clarke
and Robert A. Heinlein
, and was the owner of one seriously awesome pair of sideburns.
Dr. Asimov was a professor of biochemistry, member of Mensa
, and one of the most prolific writers of science fiction and fact in history. He wrote 515 books as well as an uncountable number of short stories and scholarly articles; his writing spans nearly every subject a person can write about, including a book about writing itself, a book of trivial facts about whatever came to his head, an annotated commentary of the complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan
, and at least two joke books. The prolific nature of his work was to the point where he wrote a book in every Dewey Decimal System category except for Philosophy (and technically, he is even in that category too, though he only wrote the foreword
to a book on philosophy that was written by another author). His friend and fellow author Peter David
once joked, after Asimov's death, that sooner or later a new book, ''Isaac Asimov's Guide to the Afterlife" would be appearing in bookstores, because if anyone could pull off a posthumous publishing, it would be Asimov. In addition, he was a Promoted Fanboy
; he started reading the pulp sci-fi magazines sold in his family's candy stores when he was young, began writing his own stories when he was eleven, and managed to get published when he was nineteen.
Robots in early science fiction almost always Turned Against Their Masters
, a trope Asimov felt was ridiculous
. Robots were tools; they would be safe by design. After a few preliminary stories, he formalized this with the Three Laws of Robotics
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Asimov noted that the three laws are, at their core, basic principles of machine engineering scaled up for designing hard AIs
, i.e. any well-designed tool (like a kitchen knife) should not be able to injure its user in normal (and a few abnormal) usage, be able to accomplish its intended function efficiently, and be able to perform its intended tasks without excessively damaging itself unless such damage is required for performance or safety. Nevertheless, he engaged in destructive testing of these laws in his subsequent robot stories, showing how robots could still cause trouble through an overly literal
interpretation of their orders and the Three Laws, and even twist them to justify killing humans
and taking over the world
with a Zeroth Law Rebellion
. The original short stories revolving around robots most prominently featured the female robopsychologist Susan Calvin, a misanthrope who used her intellect to resolve the malfunction featured in those stories. Other stories in the series tended to feature similar thought processes to those followed by Calvin - just not her
The "Robot Novel" trilogy that began with The Caves of Steel
was set thousands of years farther in the future. In this setting, Earth was a vassal
of its original "Spacer" colony worlds, which had grown powerful and wealthy with the help of robots. The novels revolved around the tension between the Spacers and the overcrowded, dystopian Earth, as viewed through the eyes of plainclothes police detective Elijah Baley, who repeatedly finds himself assigned to politically explosive murder cases alongside the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw. The stories also explored the potential consequences of robots on a variety of possible human societies.
Trilogy is a sequence of stories set after the fall of a Galactic Empire, describing a conspiracy to restore civilizationnote
. They were the first to be set in a future history, covering the thousand year interregnum. (Well, maybe about half of it, before Author Existence Failure
.) These were set in the same universe as his earlier "Galactic Empire" stories, but he did not write bridging material between the two until much later
. After uniting the Galactic Empire and Foundation
, Asimov then linked Foundation
and the robot stories through an elaborate Retcon
As you might expect, various of his stories may be found online - notably his own favorite among those that he wrote, "The Last Question
", and one many consider his best, "Nightfall
Dr. Asimov's stories have also been adapted for television several times, most notably in Out of the Unknown
and a full-length adaptation of "The Ugly Little Boy". He also co-created the short-lived television series Probe
He died in 1992 of AIDS, contracted through a blood transfusion. He left instructions for this not to be published until 10 years after his death in which time he thought acceptances of HIV would change.
Works by Isaac Asimov with their own trope pages include:
Isaac Asimov's other works provide examples of: