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The Asimov Story

OK, folks, you asked for it, so now I'll share it.

The year was 1983.  My best friend at the time, Haig, was a huge Trekkie. This was just after the Star Trek movie "The Wrath of Khan" had come out, and there was a Trek convention (actually, I believe it was a Creation Convention) in Boston that summer, with Walter Koenig (who plays Chekov in the film) scheduled to be the guest of honor.  So, we decided to go - his father drove us up there (we were both in High School at the time), and we made a day of it.

The convention was OK; but more interesting to me was the used book dealers that were there.   As an avid reader, I have been haunting used bookstores since I was very young; my dad used to take me with him when he went looking for books.   So, while Haig was in trying to get Koenig's autograph, I wandered out of the main convention hall into the entrance hall, where most of the used book dealers were.  My dad had recently given me a copy of Asimov's new Foundation series novel, "Foundation's Edge", as a confirmation gift (I was raised Catholic), and I was hoping to find a copy of it for him (my parents were separated and in the process of divorce at the time).  

One of the small dealers, right at the very entrance to the convention hall, had a very nice hardcover copy for sale, which I purchased for a good price (I suspect it was a remainder).   The dealer and I then struck up a conversation about the book, which was the first Foundation series book written in nearly 30 years.  After about 5 minutes or so, a third man joined the conversation as I was expressing my opinion that it wasn't one of Asimov's better works.  This third man, a small, elderly fellow with gray hair and thick glasses, began really egging me on, wanting to know why I felt this way, and very much taking a devil's advocate point of view on the subject.

Now, you have to understand, being raised in an Italian/Irish family in Massachusetts, I talk with my hands.   So, in short order, the conversation became quite animated; I became more and more adamant about my opinion of the book, with this third man making comments like, "Really?  Why is that?", and "Is that so?".  (The dealer, by this time, had become very quiet, for reasons that would soon be obvious.)   Finally, I said, "Look, Asimov really copped out on the ending.  It was contrived, and it felt like a 'quick fix' for a story that felt like it was going nowhere in the first place.   It's been 30 years since the last Foundation book, and this is the best he could do?  I expected better from him." 

All this time, I have the copy of the same book in my hands, waving it in the air for emphasis.  As those last words came out of my mouth, I looked down at the book and pointed at it because, like most hardcovers, it has the author's picture on the back of the slip cover...and as in doing so, I realize, the man I'm talking to is the man who is pictured there.  It dawns on me that yes, I just told Isaac Asimov, one of the finest sci-fi writers ever, that his most recent book was awful.

My jaw must have been hanging open at this point, because Asimov got this big, stupid grin on his face.  He reached up, took the book out of my hand, and said, "What's your name?"  I mumbled my first name name to him, and he quickly wrote something inside on the first page, then handed it back to me.   I read the inscription he'd put there, which said, simply, "To ****, I promise that the next book will address all of your concerns.   Thanks for the great discussion.   All the best, Isaac Asimov"   I managed to mumble my thanks and shake his hand, as he gave me that stupid grin again, and walked into the main convention hall without another word.

I was still standing there five minutes later, dumbfounded, when Haig came running out of the convention hall looking for me, shouting, "Hurry! Asimov is here! He just walked in!"   And before I could say anything, the book dealer, who was just as flabbergasted as I was, answered, "He knows.  He just told him his book sucked!"

fallentower fallentower 41-45, M 55 Responses Dec 17, 2008

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You were so lucky.

So... Did the next book answer your concerns? I myself have recently got into the prophets of science fiction and decided to start with Jules Verne. I will get to Asimov in time. Just curious about this book is all.

It was kind of strange I like that

GREAT READ

Great story! Treasure it to the end of your days.

This is a great story

O wow you got to meet Issac!

Ha ha ha ! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS STORY ! Thanks so much for sharing it :- )

Very awesome

Dont knowif I already read this, but I bought it on Kindle anyway. You're a great salesman. AE Van Vogt was my favorite, but Asimov is good anytime.

I could see myself getting into that situation.

You lucky lucky bastard. I am consumed with envy.

That is a great story! I love the Foundation series. It was the first sci-fi I had ever read before. Funny thin is, I'm re-reading the foundation series for like the 50th time and I just started Foundation's Edge the other night!!

Wow. That must have been incredible/ embarrassing. I love Asimov. I love how all his stories blend into one epic time line. What a treasured memory.

There probably would have never been a "Terminator" if there hadn't been "I Robot."

I used to subscribe to his monthly sci/fi magazine. He didn't put many of his stories in the magazine. He featured a lot of new writers. What he wrote mostly was the editorials. In one of his editorials he had a great explanation of how English became the choice of many writers to write in. He explained how so many languages have influenced English over the years that you can come up with dozens of words that mean the same thing but each one has a slightly different flavor that the writer can use to color his writing with. It was so many years ago that I read it that I'm having a hard time remembering the rest of it. I read all the great sci/fi writers of the time and I can't recall any of them writing about the internet.

You made a very perceptive observation about SF writers and the Internet. I too read most of the "greats" in the Asimov Era and do not recall any of them coming close to the Internet idea. Arthur C. Clark would have been most likely to do so, but as far as I know he did not. I do recall that Marshall Mcluhan talked about the "electronic village" in the 1960's
"We shape our tools," he said, "and then our tools shape us." Technology, according to McLuhan, is an extension of our own natural faculties. Just as a knife is an extension of the hand, and the wheel an extension of the leg, writing is an extension of speech and of memory. In this general metaphor, automobiles become extensions of our personal bodies, and the city an extension of our collective skin. Electronic communication is an extension of our nervous system, just as computers are extensions of our brains. Once extended, however, these technologies are "amputated." They exist as external and independent objects, though we remain dependent upon them.

WOW, pure awesome. And Asimov was classy. It probably meant more to him that a 16 year old was trying, was interested, and was willing to give an opinion. Really. That is... just, I envy you. I felt like I was the book dealer...

Wonderful experience and are you writing yourself? You should be.

That is a great story. I love Asimov, graduated from the same University he went to, and met him at a presentation he gave there when I was a student -- but I never told him his book sucked ;-)

Now that is a story. I did not know there was a new book, I loved the orginal Foundation series. I am kind of torn about reading the new book.

For a while there, Asimov and Clarke made up about half of the great ideas, both fiction and non-fiction. It's interesting how humble people like that are. It always seems like the smartest guy in the room is the one asking questions, not answering them.

Great story! Thanks for sharing this with us. I met Asimov under slightly different circumstances in 1972. He was guest speaker at Bryn-Mawr College. I was a high school teacher. The mother of one of my students worked at the College. Since her son was a big SF fan she managed to get three tickets to the event so I took him and his friend to the event. I don't recall the purpose of the event but it had nothing to do with Science Fiction. The focus was on world population growth and at that time Issac was at the forefront of the "zero-population growth" movement. There were about 25 persons in the room so it was a close up and personal talk. I recall Asimov rolling off a string of statistics about how the world population doubled every x-number of years so by the year 2000 we would not be able t produce enough food to sustain everybody. After the talk he got a lot of push back from a couple of college students about "forced abortions in China" and handled it exactly as he did your situation. He was a very humble man. But was also a genius who produced so many great books--both fiction and fact--that he should be inducted into the Writer's Hall of Fame. Is there one?

Awsome encounter, an Im betting he enjoyed every minute of your opinion. <br />
Thanks for sharing.

What an absolutely delightful story! Not only do you tell it well, getting the reader to live it right along side you, but it's endearing and sweet. <br />
<br />
I agree that Asimov was likely enjoying experiencing an honest discourse rather than head-bobbing appreciation that tends to go hand in hand with success. What a hoot that had to be for him.<br />
<br />
Oh, and congrats on sticking to your guns and being able to openly express your opinions (even to Asimov, when necessary).

All I can think of is how many times that book dealer has told the story about "that crazy kid who told Asimov his book sucked."<br />
<br />
I know I'd never stop telling it.

dr asimov could take as well as he gave. it reminds me of the story when he didn't get up to acknowledge a fan's accolades, till he suddenly realized it was f. murray abraham, and not only stood up, but blurted out something about him killing mozart. ;) he likely enjoyed it -- asimov was a fun man, and you reacted perfectly! thanks for telling us your wonderful story! (i got an autograph too, but my story is nothing like yours!)

Too cool.

Loved the story!! ^_^

Yes, that is a great story, an "awesome" story. Please remember that Asimov himself wrote that his reader could observer how his writing style improved or did not improve since "NIghtfall," his first published novella. You have to have a thick skin to be a novelist and go on tours. You just can' be Nixon. N'est pas?

It is nice to know that Asimov has a sense of humor. Many famous people tend to be full of themselves.