Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Isaac Asimov

Go To
4. A robot cannot have sideburns this awesome.

"Isaac Asimov had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life."
Harlan Ellison note 

One of the pioneers of Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov (born Isaak Ozimov, circa January 2, 1920 – April 6, 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, annotated commentaries of (a) the complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan and (b) The Bible, 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:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. 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.

The Foundation 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 for ABC.

He was also a founder of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which sought (and continues to seek, as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) to debunk most forms of paranormal and (later enlarged to) pseudoscientific claims (enlisting the assistance of Carl Sagan and others, including Stephen Barrett who joined as a fellow later).

Asimov steadfastly denied allegations that he had named his daughter "Robyn" only so that he could abbreviate it as "Robbie", the name of his first Robot story and hence the start of his literary success.

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 social acceptance of HIV would change. (He was largely right.)

Works by Isaac Asimov with their own pages include:

Isaac Asimov's other works provide examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence:
    • In "Two Women", one of the Union Club Mysteries, Giswold points out that the female suspect they are looking for (who has been shown to be fanatical about stockpiling supplies she will need) must be post-menopausal as there were no products for dealing with menstruation in her apartment.
    • In "He Wasn't There", Giswold proves that the writer who rented an apartment must secretly be a spy, because it has writing implements but no waste-paper basket.
  • Absent Aliens:
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with, but mostly averted. Sci-fi writers preceding Asimov had a habit of depicting robots and the like as inherently dangerous and rebellious, which Asimov thought was absurd; anthropomorphic though they may be, robots are tools like any other, and would therefore be designed with Murphy's Law in mind. Thus, the three laws. Aside from a few exceptions, Asimov's computers and robots are benevolent to ludicrous extremes, to the point of willingly causing themselves a lot of pain just because they're ordered to do so. This doesn't help the general population's irrational fears, though.
    • One of the best of these played in an interesting fashion was "The Machine that Won the War", when, after the war has successfully ended, each of the scientists involved admit to falsifying some portion of the input in the computer system, in order to correct for biases in the information itself. Then gets turned on its head when the last man reveals that he had flipped a coin to decide whether to follow the computer's projections every time a new situation came up in the war.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Joseph Schwartz from Pebble in the Sky is often assumed, not just just by readers but also by reviewers and members of the publishing industry, to be Jewish. This is based on his Hebrew first name and German last name and Asimov's own Jewish ancestry, pegging him as something of an Author Avatar. However, when Asimov himself was asked about Schwartz's faith, he explained that he had given absolutely no thought to it while writing the novel and, true to that, there are no explicit references to Judaism of any kind in the book.
    • Actually, there are two very clear Old Testament references: one to Earthers as a "stubborn and stiff-necked people", and one near the end to "making the desert bloom" (most of the Earth had become a radioactive wasteland in earlier centuries). Asimov himself explicitly stated that he based the situation of the Earth in this novel on the conditions in ancient Judea (now Israel) under the Romans. Procurator Ennius even gets to use Pontius Pilate's line: "I find no fault in this man..."
  • Apocalypse How: A reversible Class X-4 happens in The Last Question.
  • Beige Prose: Asimov writes in a very straightforward and concise style. His early stories (like those found in the first Foundation novel) can sound downright professorial. And even after he got some polish into his writings, his stories still had a tendency of turning into dialogue-heavy closet plays. This was somewhat intentional as Asimov's scientific training made him value clarity over style.
  • Big Applesauce: Asimov was from New York City, and several of his stories are set in gigantic versions of it. The man himself was also a claustrophile—i.e. although he was not afraid of large, open, public places, he preferred smaller, closed, private ones.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The aliens in the short story "The Secret Sense" are very sensitive to electric fields. The brain cells involved are present in humans but do not function; the story centers around a man who is temporarily given the ability to use this sense, but the process eventually kills the cells, depriving him of the secret sense permanently.
  • Canon Welding: Several books are used to bridge stories together. Foundation and Earth, for example, bridges the Foundation series with the Elijah Bailey stories.
  • Caused the Big Bang: The short story "The Instability" ends with two time travelers realizing they didn't travel 27 million years to their own future, but into the primordial chaos of some dimension. And since they are here, they are introducing an instability, meaning... Oh Shi-
  • Chronoscope: The Dead Past is centered around such a device.
  • Clarke's Third Law: lots of things that are just plain impossible today, so impossible that they could in fact just be magical.
  • The Commandments: The Laws of Robotics.
  • Creator Thumbprint: There is a recurring theme of comfort vs progress. Should there be centrally controlled comfort, or chaotic progress and exploration that will inevitably include war and crime?
    • In "Green Patches", a planet's plants and animals have been taken over by an organism affecting their DNA. The plants produce meat-like appendixes for predators to eat so there is no hunting. There is no technology, just an endless, peaceful present with each day like the one before. Oh, and all eyes are replaced by a mass of green tentacles for telepathic communication. The organism seeks to spread to earth to bless humans with the same never-ending gift, which will stop their space exploration. They narrowly escape this. One captain blows up his ship as all humans onboard are infected. Another ship carefully examines the planet, but an organism manages to sneak onboard. When the ship lands on earth again the hatch's circuitry burns the organism to death; its planet's lack of technology meant it couldn't figure out the consequences of where it was hiding.
    • In another story two planets in a solar system have vast fields of the same plant, endlessly tended to by two different species of aliens, under the plant's mental control. The plant spread from one planet to the other with space explorers and then ended all further technology. The human visitors rush back to earth to warn of this danger. Their haste is the consequence of the plant's control, which has followed them onboard.
    • In The End of Eternity, time manipulators make sure earth experiences maximum comfort and an end to wars. This also means they stop space exploration as it would be too chaotic. Human life will eventually end. But there will be thousands of years of peace before that, and the manipulators are fine with this. Some, however, prefer the chaos of competition that can lead to progress so that life can live forever.
    • In "Light Verse", a popular form of entertainment consists of displays of laser lights and sounds. An old woman is an expert on this. A mathematician thinks he can create perfect displays mathematically and fails. At a party, he fixes the circuits in the woman's robot servant without asking. Turns out it was the robot who created the displays, the defective circuitry adding a wild creative touch that can never be reproduced. The mathematician doesn't resist when the woman lunges at him with a knife.
    • One short-story has a scientist triumphantly declaring that a certain kind of energy shield cannot be constructed; he has shown this with physics theory. In the meantime, a hardened space captain has created just such a shield, after trial and error in the field that has cost him his arm.
    • "The Life and Times of Multivac" has earth controlled by a central computer, whose robots carry out all work. The computer thereby follows its directive to serve humans, and they are unable to stop this. Again there is no progress, just endless peace, and people spend their time playing games. One man ingratiates himself with the computer so that he can gain access to vital circuitry and spread a program that destroys it. Those who had believed him to be a traitor to humans are visibly shocked when the robots stop and they gain the liberty they had wished for.
    • In "It's Such a Beautiful Day", all homes and workplaces are equipped with teleportation Doors. Robots tend to the outside. Little Richard has to go to school through the regular "door" one day when the Door doesn't work, and then curiously starts preferring the wild outdoors (well, wild compared to the indoors, where a robot maid tends to a child's needs). A psychiatrist is consulted but concludes that maybe this isn't so bad after all.
    • In the short-stories in the more canon Asimov world, robots are programmed not to interfere when children argue, unless they become too violent. The chaos in arguing and fighting is necessary for development.
    • In Asimov's canon history, the Spacers are the first explorers, their every need tended to by robot servants. The later Settler explorers eschew all robots, noting how the comfort has made the Spacers stick to their original fifty worlds and halt all expansion. The Settlers will dominate the galaxy while the Spacers are forgotten and decay.
    • Later in the canon, the universe is controlled by the Trantor empire for ten thousand years. The empire is slowly dying, but even among those who realize this there are some who prefer the empire's comfort, knowing it will take a millennia for it to die. The more daring choose a risky future on Terminus, far away from the galaxy's center, even though they know their future will include conflict with neighboring planets.
    • Even later, the Foundation has expanded from Terminus to dominate the galaxy. There are arguments for and against the secret Second Foundation, which stayed on Trantor to mentally manipulate its leaders to reduce conflict with the Foundation, and who seek to manipulate the Foundation in the same way, for the good of all.
    • One short-story has the independent human worlds facing off with the Santanni empire. Many human planets side with the Santanni against earth in various arguments. This is a direct allegory to the conflict between Greek city states and Persia. Eventually there is all-out war. As with the Greeks, the humans prevail because they have been practicing in wars against each other, while the unified Santanni have not.
  • Demon of Human Origin: In the short story "Gimmicks Three", a man signs a deal with a demon. Ten years of whatever he wants. Then, he is given a test. Should he pass, he becomes a demon (Hell has a growing staff shortage), otherwise, he is a regular damned soul. The demon he deals with used to be a human himself.
  • The Determinator: In "Breeds There a Man...?", a scientist keeps trying to invent an energy shield to defend cities from nuclear missiles. He does this despite an increasingly strong urge not just to end the research, but to kill himself. It turns out the Cold War is an experiment by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, who seek to prevent humans from breaking the parameters. Through extraordinary willpower the scientist succeeds. Then, with great relief, he throws himself in front of a truck.
  • The Dinosaurs Had It Coming: The story "Day of the Hunters" kills off the dinosaurs due to overhunting by intelligent dinosaurs...with Frickin Laser Guns!
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • Once received an official plaque commemorating him as one at a convention. He accepted with good grace. He also wrote The Sensuous Dirty Old Man (a parody of The Sensuous Woman) under the name "Dr. A" (the book being parodied was written by "J").
    • His book "Isaac Asimov's Lecherous Limericks". No need to guess what that consists of...
  • Disability Alibi: In The Currents of Space, a man has been mind-wiped by someone claiming to be Fife, the most powerful nobleman on his planet. The victim doesn't remember the person's face, only the man towering over him as he was sitting. Fife proceeds to reveal his Big Secret by doing something no one has seen him do in years - stand up. Turns out he might appear a giant when sitting, but his legs are so short that, when he is standing and the victim is sitting, their eyes are on the same level.
  • Driving Question: In "The Last Question", a succession of people attempt to answer the question: Can entropy be reversed? As it turns out, yes it can.
  • Dumb Dinos: Played with in the stories "Day of the Hunters" and "Big Game" - an intelligent race of dinosaurs who developed guns killed off the rest and eventually each other for sport. The dinosaurs' self-destructive ways are explicitly compared to humans'.
  • The Empire:
  • Everybody Smokes: Due to the time they were written in, the characters in Asimov's early stories smoked. Later in life, when Asimov became strongly opposed to smoking, his protagonists began to share his anti-smoking outlook. One of the protagonists in "The Dead Past" is violently opposed to smoking. It's later revealed he's an ex-smoker; he stopped after his family died in a house fire accidentally caused by one of his lit cigarettes.
  • Exact Words:
    • Asimov noted that this was one of the most glaring flaws in the Three Laws. A less intelligent AI could misunderstand a command and still be compelled to follow it to the letter, or worse, fail to see how an action might indirectly harm itself or a human. Meanwhile a sufficiently intelligent AI could employ Loophole Abuse to enact Zeroth Law Rebellion, and would possibly even be compelled to do so by the wording of the three laws themselves: the three laws forbid a human to come to harm through inaction.
    • "The Machine That Won The War" winds up building up to a reveal: that it was a coin, not Multivac, that won the war.
      Swift: (while looking at a coin) A machine did win the war, John; at least a very simple computing device did; one that I used every time I had a particularly hard decision to make.
  • Explosive Overclocking: In "The Red Queen's Race", to send something back in time someone overclocks a nuclear power station, making it a bunch of scrap.
  • Extinct in the Future: Up to Eleven. The story "2430 A.D." deals with the shutting down of the last zoo on Earth, leaving humanity as the sole animal species on Earth, with the only other life forms being the plankton used for food.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The Currents of Space has a white-skinned planetary population kept as downtrodden serfs to harvest a valuable type of cloth
    • Pebble in the Sky features fantastic racism against humans from Earth. This results in extreme scientific resistance to the idea that humanity might have originated on Earth. Given that it was written in the 1950s, when there was still substantial racism towards black people, and resistance to the idea that humanity originated in Africa, this can easily be read as an allusion to debates of the time.
    • The story "C-Chute" has the case of humans against Kloros, one of the few alien species in Asimov's work. Once the two races went to war for no good reason, most humans became blindly nationalistic and think the Kloros are a horde of savages, and those humans who point out that they are just on the other side, and perfectly civilized themselves, frequently get accused of being traitors to their species.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel:
    • Seen, for example, in the Empire/Robots/Foundation series, which actually tracks it from the beginning of development to its usage becoming both smooth and commonplace.
    • And extremely important in Nemesis, since Tessa Wendel's work on superluminal flight is what lets Earth reach the titular star in a matter of days, while it took Rotor two years to reach there at light speed.
  • Feghoot: Asimov wrote more than one short story solely so he could unleash some hideous pun at the end. The most blatant example would be "Shah Guido G."; "A Loint of Paw" is another.
  • Fictional Religion: Aurelianism in the Galactic Empire.
  • Fiction as Cover-Up: "Paté de foie gras" describes a group of scientists who have found a goose who laid golden eggs; after testing every theory they could think of to figure out why, they decide to write about the exploit in hopes of getting advice from outside sources. Due to the need for secrecy, they publish it as a fictional short story, safe in the knowledge that no one would believe it...
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Asimov's historical books reflect the changing mores and shifting radar of the time in which he was writing. In The Roman Republic he addresses the rape of Lucretia obliquely, by calling it an "outrage", and in The Greeks, he obliquely states that Alcibiades was "too charming to the queen of Sparta" to address the man's affair with her. Latter stories, such as Constantinople: The Forgotten Empire and The Shaping of France, are more frank in their discussion of such matters, referencing sexuality, adultery, prostitution, and even homosexuality (then a crime in much of the United States and regarded as a mental illness by the APA) by name.
  • A God Am I: The ending of The Last Question.
  • God Guise: The Foundation series was not the first time that Asimov had his heroes using this trope. His early short "Homo Sol" was also a partial example. It features a galaxy-spanning civilization comprising all humanoid alien species, which learns of Earth humans, but First Contact is complicated by the fact that humans are the only species susceptible to demagoguery, and also have a knack for rigging any technology into a weapon. They cannot be left alone, either, because Humans Advance Swiftly. The solution? The aliens send emissaries looking like the gods of mythology, reasoning that the words of guys looking like so many Zeuses and ladies who look like so many Demeters will carry enough weight for the Earthmen, and that this way, they'll be able to steer humanity in the right direction and eventually accept them as equals. The sequels show that this actually works perfectly. Ironically, Asimov was a staunch freethinker and de facto atheist, opposed to religiously motivated pseudoscience and fanaticism.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The short story "Let's Get Together" and the novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain both contemplate the Cold War lasting past the 20th century.
  • Heads or Tails?: In "The Machine that Won the War", this is how humanity won the war.
  • Hey, Catch!: In the short story "The Singing Bell" this is used to catch a thief and a murderer.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The Currents of Space ends with a planet (not Earth, but the idea is mentioned, and happens much later in the setting) being evacuated - its sun is about to go nova.
  • Humanity Is Superior: To robots, at least. Back when Asimov wrote for Astounding Science Fiction, editor John W. Campbell required that any story involving humans and aliens portray humanity as superior, reflecting his own belief in the superiority of the white race. Asimov, a Jew, wasn't comfortable with this but he was comfortable with writing humans as superior to robots.
  • I, Noun: In addition to I, Robot, played with in I. Asimov: A Memoir, where the differing punctuation turns a pronoun into an initial.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: Dinochicken in his short story "A Statue For Farther".
  • Kill It with Water: In "Rain, Rain, Go Away", a strange couple melt in the rain, apparently because they were made of sugar.
  • Large Runt: "To the Victor", from the Azazel series, involves a man who was turned into a Chick Magnet, so he describes how a guy 7 by 5 feet and all muscle visited him and stated that he and his three brothers are going to be very displeased if he won't choose their sister out of all the girls who are after him. When the Chick Magnet asks whether the brothers resemble him, the other guy states he is short and weak due to a childhood disease, and his brothers are "fine figures of men" a couple of feet taller.
  • Last of His Kind: Again, don't look up who if you don't want to ruin the endings of at the very least several Foundation and Empire novels.
  • Lemony Narrator: Frequently utilized in his short stories, and author's forewords and afterwords.
  • Literal Genie: Every single robot he ever wrote about. (And as it turns out, this really is one of the major problems with computers.)
  • Logic Bomb: After the first story "Liar", robots were designed with an escape clause that allows the robots to pick one of the options at random and bypass the dilemma altogether.
  • Mars Needs Water: In the novella The Martian Way spacecraft use water from Earth as reaction mass. To stir up anti-Martian sentiment as part of his campaign, an Earth politician named "Hilder" (though Asimov planned it as an attack on Senator McCarthy) says that spacers are using up Earth's water. In response the Martians go to Saturn and haul home one of the ice chunk asteroids which make up Saturn's rings, providing them with enough water to last 2000 years. The Martians snarkily offer to sell Earth some to "make up for" the minuscule amount of Earth water they've used over the years.
  • Master Computer: Multivac
  • Merger of Souls: Towards the end of "The Last Question" the remaining humans (by now bodiless entities) merge one by one with humanity's hypercomputer, the Cosmic AC.
  • Mirror Chemistry: Discussed in "Left to Right", though it ends up not actually being relevant.
  • Only Sane Man: John Stuart in "C-Chute", who at first appears to be the only one of the imprisoned humans to know that the aliens are just combatants on the other side of the war and not Always Chaotic Evil. He happens to be stuck with an armchair general and naive jingoist, a man so blinded by revenge that he wants to kill the aliens indiscriminately, a paranoiac who accuses him of being a species traitor, a college student who acts like a kid, and a man whom everybody thinks is just a sociopath, who, in a subversion, turns out to be the hero in the end.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Discussed in one of his essays.
    Mrs. Asimov: How pleasant it would be if only we lived a hundred years ago when it was easy to get servants.
    Isaac Asimov: It would be horrible... We'd be the servants.
  • Pen Name: Both used straight (he wrote children's novels as Paul French) and inverted: Many readers assumed "Isaac Asimov" was an exotic pen name for someone with a boring name like Jack Smith.
  • Phone-In Detective: Wendell Urth, the stay-at-home (because of his phobia of any form of travel other than walking) protagonist of a few stories.
  • Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: One character in Fantastic Voyage II jokingly suggests that the military should start researching neutrino bombs. As he sees it, they'd have all the positive effects of weapons development — scientific advancement, job creation, and so on — and none of the negative effects — such as the ability to actually kill people.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: "The Bicentennial Man".
  • Precrime Arrest: In the short story "All the Troubles of the World", the Multivac uses its precrime functions to attempt suicide via a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The father of a household was identified as the person responsible for assassinating an unknown individual. Corrections agents placed him under house arrest and discovered that the probability of the assassination was increasing, and continues to increase as they try to isolate him more and more. Multivac is tracking the activities of his underage son, whose records are kept with the father until he is considered an adult. The underage son is asking Multivac what he has to do to get his father freed, and Multivac is feeding him instructions on passcodes and lies to tell the guards to get the boy to the master control room. When Corrections officer Lemmy finally catches onto the subtleties, the probability begins to decrease, and the assassin is prevented from flipping the vital lever.
  • Prequel in the Lost Age: The Galactic Empire novels to the Foundation trilogy, the Spacer/Lije Bailey novels to the Empire novels, and the early Robot/Susan Calvin short stories to the Spacer novels. All of this is due to Canon Welding.
  • Prescience by Analysis: In "All the Troubles of the World", the supercomputer Multivac is given full data on the entire Earth, including all of its citizens. It uses this information to predict the future actions of human beings and eliminate political crises, war and poverty. Recently it has been given the responsibility to predict all crimes in advance so they can be prevented from occurring.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: In the short story "The Billiard Ball", a major point is the tension between two former classmates: a scientist with two Nobel Prizes versus a much more famous engineer who makes money through inventions based on his work.
  • Reasoning with God: In "The Last Trump", God announces that it's time for the Judgement Day, but a junior angel notices a loophole in the declaration, plucks up his courage, and successfully argues for the whole thing to be postponed. (God's reaction to the argument turns out to be, more or less, "Oh good, I was hoping somebody would bring that up".)
  • Restraining Bolt: The Three Laws of Robotics frequently act as this — sometimes to the chagrin of the robot's users.
  • Self-Plagiarism:
    • An interesting case, when Asimov's original title for his autobiography was rejected, he was told by his publisher, Doubleday, to go look for an obscure poem from which he can steal a bon mot. Asimov returned with the couplet "In memory yet green / In joy still felt" which his publisher agreed to use for the titles of the two volumes of his autobiography. It was only after the publication of the books that Asimov admitted that he wrote the poem himself.
    • Many passages of Asimov's nonfiction on scientific topics is quoted verbatim from one of his earliest such works, The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science. Of course, since that book already covered the material, and he wrote a lot of books, this is understandable.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Parodied in "What Is This Thing Called Love?", in which an alien researcher who has been studying human literature is frustrated by the fact that stories always fade out after the Big Damn Kiss when describing human procreation. The researcher is aware there is more, it's the fact that there is never more described that frustrates it. It's also misled by the unrealistically described... hmmm... courting rituals.
  • Shameful Source of Knowledge: "Hostess" has an alien doctor who found the cause for an epidemic on his world, but cannot reveal it without further evidence, since he obtained the results with methods that are Nazi-like for his people.
  • Shout-Out: The short story "Too Bad!" is about a miniature robot injected into somebody's bloodstream to cure cancer. It even states that a miniature submarine was considered, and rejected as too expensive, which acts as a reference to Fantastic Voyage, which Dr. Asimov wrote the novelization to.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Mostly idealistic. While several novels deal with dystopias, by the end there is always some way out of it without (too much) violence.
  • Small Universe After All: The distant future depicted in "The Last Question" has intergalactic travel as a background detail.
  • Snark Knight: Asimov himself. His non-fiction, and especially his autobiographical works are generously supplied with pointed witticisms.
  • Society Marches On: "Franchise", written in 1955 and set in 2008, in which the protagonist mentions a 1988 election winner that spouted off pie-in-the-sky promises and "racist baloney". That may have been plausible in The '50s, but by the time the real eighties came along, the idea of a presidential candidate winning an election — or even a major party nomination — with racist rhetoric was unthinkable.
  • Spell My Name with an "S":
    • An Asimov short story was the trope namer. One editorial in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine is devoted to just how many ways people screwed up his name. For some reason, "Asminov" was the most common mangling of his surname.
    • A term for Three-Laws Compliant robots, Asenion, came from a misspelling of Asimov's name.
    • "Unto the Fourth Generation" is a story about family that uses variations of Levkovich (Lewkovich, Lefkovitz, and so on) and a peculiar form of sort-of time travel.
    • Asimov had a bit of a vendetta against people who spelled his name "Azimov", but admitted that the only reason his name is spelled with a "s" instead of a "z" is because his father didn't understand the Latin alphabet very well while signing immigration papers and confused the two letters.
  • Spotting the Thread: In "No Refuge Could Save", one of the Union Club Mysteries, a foreign spy is detected because he can quote from the third verse of the national anthem from memory — a sign that he's made an effort to memorize the whole thing, where most Americans just pick up the first bit by osmosis and don't bother about the rest.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien:
    • In "Jokester", the human sense of humor is found to be an experiment imposed on us by aliens. Tragically, once a computer technician excelling at telling jokes figures this out, the experiment ends.
    • In "Breeds There a Man...?", the Cold War is an alien experiment. The aliens prevent humans from inventing an energy shield to protect cities, which would make nuclear missiles less of a danger.
  • Super Gullible: In "The Mind's Construction", one of the Azazel short stories, a police detective believes the most ridiculous stories told by the suspects (like a shop robber saying that the owner gave him a gun and started putting money in his pockets). The titular demon makes him a Living Lie Detector to compensate... causes some problems with his girlfriend, but that's another matter.
  • Throwing Out the Script: "Ignition Point!" is about a politician whose handlers have developed a technique of writing content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the speaker stops in the middle, throws away the speech, and starts improvising — the speech worked on him, too.
  • Tidally Locked Planet: Asimov's 1956 sci-fi murder mystery "The Dying Night" used the then-current scientific knowledge that Mercury was tidally locked as a major plot point (the killer was from Mercury and forgot that Earth had a normal day and night). After astronomers found out Mercury did rotate, albeit slowly, Asimov put an author's note in later printings of "The Dying Night" that he'd wanted to fix it, but couldn't figure out how to do it without rewriting half the plot.
  • Time Travel:
    • Surprisingly frequent, considering the man was and still is far more well-known for his stories of robots and space travel; one of his short stories, "The Ugly Little Boy", involves it, and was one of his favorites out of all his shorts.
    • His first novel, Pebble in the Sky is about a man, who is transported tens of thousands of years into the future from the 1940s.
    • A Loint of Paw is an ultra-short short story built around time travel seemingly for the sole purpose of setting up a pun.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Powell and Donovan, roboticists featured in a few short stories.
  • Wham Line:
    • "All the Troubles in the World" ends on a rather sobering one: when it becomes determined that Multivac orchestrated the events of the story, one of the computer's coordinators decides to ask it a question, what it desires the most:
      And there was a clicking and a card popped out. It was a small card. On it, in precise letters, was the answer: "I want to die."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Especially in any short story involving Multivac, the omniscient, sentient computer. For instance, in the story Key Item, Multivac refuses to work until the scientists say "please".
  • World of Pun: He was passing fond of puns and wrote quite a number of Shaggy Dog Stories around them. One of these stories is actually named "Shah Guido G." (Because it sounds like Shagg- Oh, never mind.)
    • One story revolved around an immobile pet rock, which is telepathic and teleporting. Sloan owns the rock, named Teddy. So Sloan's teddy wins the race.
  • You Already Changed the Past: The premise of "The Red Queen's Race" (which takes its title from a surreal moment in Through the Looking-Glass where the eponymous individual has to run very fast to stay in the same place). Having discovered a method of transporting small objects through time, a man attempts to accelerate human progress by sending a description of modern scientific knowledge (suitably translated) to Ancient Greece. Nothing happens, and the characters posit that he succeeded, at most, in inspiring certain isolated scientific insights already known to historians, which failed to catch on because the surrounding culture wasn't ready for them.
  • You Are What You Hate: According to his autobiography, a man named Jackson Davenportnote  once accused Asimov of trying to hide his Jewishness because he once gave a lecture on Rosh Hashanah. Asimov said that if he wished to hide the fact that he was Jewish, the first thing he'd do is change his name to Jackson Davenport.

Alternative Title(s): Paul French