February 17, 2024

The book’s final chapters stirred up emotions in me even to the point of tears. I felt a connection to many parts of the way Asimov lived his life and felt a sort of cathartic release as with the loss of a friend at the conclusion of the book. I was struck by the timeline of events too. Asimov mentions the winter of 89’-90’ as a terrible one, bringing him to the hospital and to a “new life” afterward until his death in 92’. It was during this time he began writing iAsimov, finishing it only four months later. I was born 9 months after that beginning of that winter, making the end of his life coincide precisely with the beginning of mine. Perhaps it is my ego at play but a certain responsibility dawns on me to carry on a baton of a sort. I wish I could have met him but am very grateful for the autobiography and to learn about his personality that way.

I was struck by Janet’s final words in the Epilogue regarding Isaac’s reflection on being part of the future through his vision of his writing and work.

“…there’s still pleasure in that vision of being part of the pattern of life - especially a pattern expressed in creativity and shared in love”

In the moments of emotion as the book concluded, the importance of these aspects of life came to the fore. I am grateful to Janet and Issac for documenting these words and that their message found me at exactly this time.

On writing

With more than 450 books published, countless stories, essays, columns, et al. Asimov earned the distinction of prolific writer. What struck me most reading iAsimov, the last of three autobiographies published in his lifetime, was his straightforward style and how clearly his personality comes through. I have not actually rolled on the floor laughing in a while and certainly not from a book, much less a biography. The part of me who as an adolescent poured over a pen and paper to produce his first short story is inspired to write. With the Asimovian style as a model, writing for me becomes a way to gain clarity of thought and opinion with little need for flourishing or literary stylishness. A noteworthy subset of that approach includes keeping a diary with dates, names, and events for record keeping. As is mentioned a few times in iAsimov and apparent in the detailed accounting of the information therein, the practical reason of keeping a diary is for reference in later writing.

The following is a note penned by Asimov privately, shared in the epilogue by Janet Asimov. Isaac Asimov lived by an unbroken ethical code as is made clear in the book. Still, he achieved not just a quality life but also incredible quantity in creative output.

“Over the space of 40 years,
  I sold an item every ten days on the average.
Over the space of the second 20 years,
  I sold an item every six days on the average.
Over a space of 40 years,
  I published an average of 1,000 words a day.
Over the space of the second 20 years,
  I published an average of 1,700 words a day.”

In his reflections of mortality, Asimov mentions his concern for leaving his loved ones and his writing. My takeaway is that there is no time to waste on what we don’t love and that any craft requires focusing into its practice as much life energy as can be budgeted.

On ethics

Asimov shares many instances of the ethical code he lived by and was brought up in. The examples that most stood out were around his refusal to take or insistence to return payment for commitments that were not delivered by him. Of course, he would try to deliver on all commitments but, as situations made necessary, would either return the payment or see to it payment reached the appropriate person otherwise. In any case, this is a sense of ethics not much in written about these days whether its happening behind the scenes or not. This theme in the book highlights ethics mattered to him more than material gains.

Part of the moment of clarity for me in reading the book extends to financial concerns that inhabit the psyche. Today, I experience the highest standard of living to date, still there are remnants of a trauma from struggles with financially insecurity. The takeaway is to live a richer life by focusing on expressing the seemingly unlimited capacity for creativity, a divine phenomenon to be sure, and sharing with others out of love, to reiterate a point in the section on writing. Still, it won’t be straightforward, since trauma does die hard and there is a great potential to relapse into the cares of the world.

On science fiction

Surprisingly, iAsimov is the first of Asimov’s books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The foundation series is patiently sitting on my bookshelf in all its new book glory and next up. As it stands, some of my current science fiction books are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Snow Crash and Neuromancer, the latter two having been written much later in the arc of the genre. The Golden days of science fiction are referenced in iAsimov enough to give a working context for diving further. I appreciate having a historical background and names of some key players, like John W. Cambell, to make an informed decision as to how to take in the information. A historical framing helps process new information by continually tying it back to a ever-growing neatly organized chronology of facts and ideas.

So far, the science fiction that speaks most to me includes an artificial intelligence as a main character. This makes sense given my interest in the industry today and makes me feel like there is an intuitive yearning for the use and development of related technology. I wonder what Asimov and other science fiction writers, not to mention pioneers like Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, an alike, would think about where we are today in bringing to life visions they had in their lifetimes.