Asimov: Man Thinking

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Editor: Scot Peacock
Date: 2002
From: Children's Literature Review(Vol. 79. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,680 words

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One of the best-known science fiction writers in the world, Isaac Asimov has become a household name. He is solidly identified with the genre, although the majority of his 400 plus books have been non-fiction, covering a vast array of subjects, from Shakespeare to the Bible, as well as countless branches of science.

He began reading science fiction as a teenager and made his first sales at eighteen. The science fiction he had read was largely adventure or "space opera," which was basically what was being published in the few existing magazines till 1937, the year when Isaac was seventeen and also the year John W. Campbell, Jr., took over Astounding and began to change the face of magazine science fiction in America. Naturally enough, when Asimov began to write, his stories were largely adventurous, too. His first sales were to Amazing, and over the first few years of his writing career he was also contributing regularly to Planet Stories, Astonishing Stories, and various other non-Campbellian magazines.

When science fiction book markets began to open up in the early 1950s, his literary agent, Frederik Pohl, asked Asimov to create a manuscript to offer the first major publisher to establish a science fiction line, Doubleday & Co. Asimov was ready with a short novel (Grow Old Along With Me) rejected by the market it was intended for, Startling Stories. Originally judged too short for book publication, the expanded version published by Doubleday in 1950 became Pebble in the Sky.

Because he shunned vulgar language and the depiction of explicit personal scenes in his writing, nearly all of Asimov's work--both fiction and nonfiction--is suitable for young readers, that is, for any readers old enough to grasp the meanings of the words and the concepts. In fact, he makes it a point not to condescend in vocabulary and ideas throughout his work, though his knack for a "plain style" is much underrated. Besides clear, grammatical prose, he has a genius for fresh similes and analogies to make difficult or unfamiliar concepts accessible to a naive reader as well as interesting to a sophisticated reader.

Few critics, however, have discussed at any length that part of Asimov's fiction that is meant especially for young readers. Most Asimov critics have simply ignored the juveniles or glossed over them rapidly. Joseph F. Patrouch, Jr., finds them good at visualizing alien landscapes and thus creating a sense of wonder but finds their highest value as "first rate mystery stories" (158-59). Hazel Pierce also finds them interesting chiefly as detective stories (Olander and Greenberg 37-39). William Touponce suggests that the most interesting thing about the Lucky Starr books is "the encroachment of error into science fiction narrative, which bases itself on connections with the real world as known by science" (97). James Gunn gives more consideration to the Lucky Starr novels (the Norby books had not yet been published), yet concludes by comparing Asimov's juveniles to those of Robert A. Heinlein: "One might speculate that Heinlein juveniles...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420044188