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It’s Been a Good Life by Isaac Asimov – Brief Remarks

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en Martes, 23 de mayo, 2017


Copyright © 2002 by Janet Jeppson Asimov.

Isaac Asimov’s boundless, inexhaustible intellectual curiosity and his extraordinary talent for explaining complex subjects in clear, concise prose is legenday to readers throughout the world. In addition to treating his devoted fans to nearly five hundred illuminating science-fiction and nonfiction books, he also found time to write a three-volume autobiography. Now these volumes have been condensed into one by Asimov’s wife. Janet, who also shares excerpts from letters he wrote to her and shocking revelations about the illness that led to his death. More than being just an absorbing history of Isaac Asimov’s life, It’s Been a Good Life is like having an intimate conversation with the master himself.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • Human life is, or should be, an adventure in self-discovery, learning what talents one has and using them, successfully.
  • It would have been good to know the language of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Doestoevski. Allow me to prejudice: surely there is no language more majestic than that of Shakespeare, Milton, and the King James Bible, and if I am to have one language I know as only a native can know it, I consider myself unbelievably fortunate that it is English.
  • We could have no social life, so I interacted with no one but my inmediate family.
  • No one can possibly have lived through the Great Depression without being scarred by it … No “Depression baby” can ever be a yuppie. No aumount of experience since the Depression can convince someone who has lived through it that the world is safe economically. One constantly waits for banks to close, for factories to shut down, for the pink slip of discharge.
  • The science-fiction magazines were the first pulp magazines I was allowed to read. That may have been part of the reason that, when the time came for me to be a writer, it was science-fiction that I chose as my medium.
  • In general, the trend over the last halg century or so has been away from the word to the picture.
  • My father: “if you hang around with bums, don’t think for a mninute you will make a good perosn out of the bum. No! That bum will make a bum out of you”.
  • Let me tell you, if you don’t know it from your own experience, that reading a good book, losing yourself in the interest of words and thoughts, is for some people (me, for instance) an incredible intensity of happiness.
  • You can’t entirely ignore the local synagogue; you are still interested in biblical lore.
  • I remained without religion simply because no one made any effort to teach me religion – any religion.
  • My experience with the Greek myths made it obvious to me that I was reading Hebrew myths.
  • There was no trauma about it, no soul-searching, no internal crisis, no troubled discussions with my parents or anyone else. There merely came a time, probably before I was thirteen, when I found myself accepting atheism as matter-of-factly as I had previously accepted religion. The universe I live in consists of matter and energy only, and that doesn’t make me in the least bit uncomfortable.
  • I feel no spiritual void. I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so.
  • Hell or not, they were better off. When I read it, I sympathized strongly with Milton’s Satan and considered him the hero of the epic, wether Milton intended that or not.
  • My father was a small storekeeper, with no knowledge of American culture, with no time to guide me, and no ability to do so even if he had the time. All he could do was to urge me to get good marks in school.
  • I learned to read before I went to school. Spurred on by my realization that my parents could not yet read English, I took to asking the older children on the lock to teach me the alphabet and how each letter sounded.
  • How did you learn all this, Isaac? From you, Papa. From me? I don’t know any of this. You didn’t have to, Papa. You valued learning and you taught me to value it. Once I learned to value it, the rest came without trouble.
  • I did not realize that my memory was remarkable until I noticed that my classmates didn’t have memories like it. Ater something had been explained to them, they would forget and would have to have it explained again and again. In my case it was only necessary that I be told once.
  • I may have been gifted with a delightful memory and a quick understanding at a very early stage, but I was no gifted with great experience and a deep understanding of human nature.
  • Once I could read, and as my ability to read improved rapidly, I had nothing to read. My schoolbooks lasted me just a few days.
  • I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library.
  • Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
  • Abut 1927 I briefly made the acquaintance of a remarkable youngster who had the ability to tell storires that held me enthralled … for the first time, I realized stories could be invented, and that was a terribly important thing to learn. Until then, I had naturally assumed that stories existed only in books and had probably been there, unchanged, from the beginning of time, and that they were without human creators.
  • Finally, I got the further idea of writing my own books and allowing them to be my permanent library.
  • The storytelling impulse is innate in most people, and if it happens to be combined with enough talent and enough drive, it cannot be supressed.
  • I have leanred that there’s no use in making things up as you go along if you have no clearly defined resolution to your story.
  • No one was ever allowed to teach me any more than I required to being teaching myself.
  • Until I was a published writer, I remained completely ignorant of the fact that there were books on how to write and college-level courses on the subject.
  • I still don’t discuss my stories when they are in the process of being written, and I still don’t welcome criticism.
  • Campbell: “I saw something in you. You were eager and listened and I knew you wouldn’t quit no matter how many rejections I handed you. As long as you were willing to work hard at improving, I was willing to work with you”.
  • I gathered that ideally all the writing I did should be for publication; that anything I had to write for personal reasons, whether diary or mail, would have to be brief. I have followed that principle ever since.
  •  I learned how to write science fiction by the attentive reading of science fiction, and among the major influences on my style was Cliff Simak.
  • Every significant social advance aroused opposition on the part of many.
  • Campbell: “Asimov, when you have trouble with the beginning of a story, that is because you are starting in the wrong place, and almost certainly too soon. Pick out a later point in the story and begin again”.
  • At one point, Campbell said: “Look, Asimov, in working this out, you have to realize that there are three rules that robots have to follow. In the first place, they can’t do any harm to human beings; in the second place, they have to obey orders without doing harm; in the third, they have to protect themselves, without doing harm or proving disobedient”. That was it. Those were the Threes Laws of Robotics.
  • They very word “robotics” was coined by me.
  • My own favorite short stories are, in roder, (1) “The Last Question”, (2) “The Bicentennial Man” and (3) “The Ugly Little Boy”.
  • Just as loving science fiction led me to the desire to write science fiction, the love of historical novels led me to the desire to write historical novels.
  • To write a historical novel was impractical for me. It would require an enourmous amount of reading and research and I just couldn’t spend all that time at it. It ocurred to me that I could write a historical novel if I made up my own history … a science-fiction story that read like a historical novel.
  • Why shouldn’t I  write of the fall of the Galactic Empire and the return of feudalism, written from the viewpoint of someone in the secure days of the Second Galactic Empire? I thought I knew how to do it for I had read Edvard Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire form first page to last at least twice, and I had only to make use of that.
  • I went home, dutifully, and began preparing an outline that got longer and longer and stupider and stupider until I finally tore it up. It was quite plain that I couldn´t work with an outline. To this day I cannot.
  • It was quite clear that anti-Semitism in the world of 1942 could not be blunted by the “good behavior” of individual Jews any more that the lynching of blacks could be stopped if some of them behaved like cringing Uncle Toms.
  • The multi-intelligence Galaxy is, to my way of thinking, more probable than the all-human one.
  • I was clever academically and I had writing talent. For the rest, I never felt that I was particularly bright in anything that had to do with ordinary living and with human interrelationships.
  • Commanding officer: “Now this guy Asimov you might as well leave alone. He’s got a 160 AGCT score and they ain’t going to use him anywhere except behind a desk, so don’t waste time on him. He’s the kind of stupe that’s okay on those shit tests, but he don’t know his right foot from this left and there isn’t no use trying to teach him because he ain’t got any sense. I been watching and I can see that”.
  • The best trick, when in a new place, was to walk into the orderly room and say to the master sergeant as politely as possible: “Arge, could I possibly use the typewriter for just a little while to type a letter to my wife?”.
  • It seems that I had once read in The Historians’ History of the World that Abd er-Rahman III, the greatest King of Muslim Spain, who had reigned fifty years with great success and prosperity, had confessed that in all that time, he had had only fourteen happy days.
  • Snafu, situation normal, all fucked up.
  • He knew very well that I was a hopeless mess in the laboratory. At one time he said to me, “Don’t worry, Isaac. We’ve got plenty of hands and if you can’t run the experiments we’ll hire someone to run them for you. You just keep getting the ideas; that’s what we need”.
  • You might remain at a typewriter hour after hour, and yet produce very little. What one needs is thinking time, and that can’t be rushed. You have to think up your plots and your complications and your resolution, so that most of your time is going to be spent thinking and not typing.
  • Writing a research paper is a tedious and stylized job. You cannot write as you wish; you cannot use English; you cannot have fun. It was even worse than being hack in the Navy making certain that no paragraph in a report was anything but a repetition of a paragraph in some earlier Navy Yard report.
  • “How pleased I am to meet you.” Then he said, “But tell me, what makes you think, just because you are the author of ‘Nightfall’, that you have slightest inkling of what is in it?”. And of course I couldn’t answer that question because it suddenly became clear to me that there might well be more in a story than an author was aware of.
  • I don’t want to arrogate to myself too much importance, of course, but I think it is fair to say that I may indeed have influenced Professor Pauling, and through him I therefore played a very small part in bringing about the nuclear-test ban – and I’m delighted.
  • Of all my science-fiction shorts, I enjoy my robot series most. I almost feel as though I have the patent on the robots. When other writers produce robot stories in which the robots follow the Three Laws (though no one is allowed to quote them except myself), I feel benign about it. When, however, some other writer dares to have his robots defy and disobey the Three Laws, I can’t help but feel it is a case of patent infringement.
  • I was learning that to a writer, all is useful raw material.
  • “The Last Question” was the best story I had ever done and (my private conviction) the best science-fiction story anyone had ever done.
  • As science writer, I am extraordinary. I plan to be the best science writer in the world and I will shed luster on the medical school. As a researcher, I am simply mediocre and … it there’s one thing this school does not need, it is one more merely mediocre researcher.
  • One cannot be a serious reader and writer of science fiction withour getting a broad smattering of many aspects of science and a surprisingly deep understanding of some. And astronomy is, preeminetly, the science most clearly associated with science fiction.
  • I found that I had to educate myself. I had to read books on physics to reverse my unhappy experiences in school on the subject and to learn at home what I had failed to learn in the classroom – at least to the point where my limited knowledge of mathematics prevented me from going later.
  • The one thing I had learned in my ill-fated class in economics in high school was “the law of diminishing returns”, whereby working then times as hard or investing ten times as much or producing ten times the quantity does not yield ten times the return. What I decided was that I wasn’t writing ten times as many books in order to get ten times the monetary returns, but in order to have tne times the pleasure …
  • A Jewish atheist which means I have to fight the irrational elements in Judaism particularly.
  • You have no idea how responsible I feel as a science writer. Every one of my library copies of my science books is margined with notes, bringing it up to date, correcting or extending it. Even if no additional edition is ever called for, I still must do this for myself.
  • It is so embarrasing to pull a bad blooper in public. I risk it constantly … and considering the volume I turn out, the number of subjects I cover and the speed with which I do it, I make amazingly few bloopers (if I do say so myself) but that does not in the least diminish my embarrasement and horror when a blooper is discovered.
  • My system for writing about something I have only the vaguest notion of is to close my eyes and type VERY VERY FAST.
  • Nothing goes really to waste, if you’re determined to learn.
  • I was one of the most overeducated people I knew, I couldn’t possibly write the variety of books I manage to do out of the knowledge I had gained in school alone. I had to keep a programa of self-education in process.
  • I’m a strainer; I strain out what I don’t want to pay attention to.
  • My favourite kind of day is a cold, dreary, gusty, sleety day, when I can sit at my typewriter or word processor in peace and security …
  • Anyone who can’t write unless he can count on four uninterrupted hours is not likely to be prolific. It is important to  be able to being writing at any time.
  • I don’t write only when I’m writing. Whenever I’m away from my typewriter my mind keeps working. Even when I don’t hear the actual words, I know that my mind is working on it unconsciously.
  • A prolific writer, therefore, has to have self-assurance. He can’t sit around doubting the quality of his writing. Rather, he has to love his own writing.
  • One reason for my self-assurance, perhaps, is that I see a story or as article or a book as a pattern and not just a succession of words. I know exactly how to fit each item in the piece into the pattern, so that it is never necessary for me to work from an outline. Even the most complicated plot, or t he most intricate exposition, comes out properly, with everything in the right order.
  • The writer’s life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.
  • Writing is a very lonely occupation. You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, or editors, but when you sit down at that typewriter, you are alone with it and no one can possibly help. You must extract every word from your own suffering mind.
  • How have I avoided writer’s block, considering that I never stop? If I were engaged in only one writing project at a time I suppose I wouldn’t avoid it. Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel (the hardest to do of all the different things I write), I find myself heartly sick of ti and unable to write another word. But I don’t let that drive me crazy. I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap.
  • Where do you get your ideas? By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself. Did you ever think it was easy to get a good idea?
  • To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, b ecause your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments. To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable of enjoying the good things.
  • For two centuries they had actually been slaved. Since that slavery had come to a formal end, the African Americans remained in a position of near-slavery in most segments of American society. They were deprived of ordinary rights, treated with contempt, and kept out of any chance of participation in what is called the American Dream.
  • It is a mistake to think that because a group has suffered extreme persecution that is a sign that they are virtuous and innocent. They might be, of course, but the persecution process is no proof of that.
  • It struck me that I did not particularly want to associate with people on the sole ground that they were like me in whatever quality it is that makes one do well on a intelligence test. I wanted people who more or less shared my common assumptions and universe outlook so that there could be a reasonable dialog.
  • People never realize how nonvisual I am.
  • To learn is to broaden, to experience more, to snatch new aspects of life for yourself. To refuse to learn or to be relieved at not having to learn is to commit a form of suicide; in the long run, a more meaningful type of suicide than the mere ending of physical life.
  • Surprised, I watched the program (Star Trek) and could see that it had its points. It was certainly the most intelligent science fiction I had seen yet on any of the visual media.
  • I have always being interested in the Bible, though I can’t recall ever having had any religious feelings even as a youngster. There’s a swing to biblical language that impresses the ear and the mind. There is no question that the Authorized Version (that is, the King James Bible) is, along with the plays of William Shakespeare, the supreme achievement of English literature.
  • Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare was the most pleasant work I had ever done. I have loved Shakespeare since I was a young boy, and reading him painstakingly, line by line, and then writing at length about everything I read was such a joy.
  • The ideal proofreader should be knowledgeable about every aspect of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, while being slightly dyslexic.
  • One advantage of being prolific is that it reduces the importance of any one book. By the time a particular book is published, the prolific writer hasn’t much time to worry about how it will be received or how it will sell. By then he has already sold several orders and is working on still others and it is these that concern him. This intensifies the peace and calm of his life. Even if one book doesn’t do well, all the books, as a whole, are bringing it money, and one fall-short isn’t noticeable.
  • I’m sure that any writer, if pressed, will admit to being influenced by some other writer whom he admires (usually it’s Kafka, Joyce, or Proust, although with someone as humble as I am it’s Cliff Simak, P. G. Wodehouse, and Agatha Christie). And why not? Why not take someone worthy as a model? And no imitation is truly slavish.
  • My books tend to celebrate tre triumph of technology rather than its disaster. This is true of other science-fiction writers as well, notably Robert Heinlein and Arthur Clarke. It seems odd, or perhaps significant, that the Big Three are all tecnological optimists.
  • It seems to me that people who believe in inmortality through transmigration of souls have a tendency to think that they were all Julius Cesar or Cleopatra in the past and that they will be equally prominent in the future. Surely, that can’t be so. Since som 90% of the human race lives (and has always, in time past, live) in various degrees of poverty and misery, the chanes are weighed against any transmigration personality ending up in happiness.
  • It is my opinion that we all achieve Nirvana at once, at the moment of death that ends a single life. Since I have had a good life, I’ll accept death as cheerfully as I can when it comes, although I would be glad to have that death painless. I would be glad to have my survivors refrain from wasting their time and poisoning their lives in useless mourning and unhappiness. They should be happy instead, on my behalf, that my life has been so good.
  • Even before Foundation’s Edge was published, Doubleday was satisfied on the basis of advance sales and on the sale of foreign rights that it was going to be a big moneymaker. I wasn’t, simply because I couldn’t believe that one of my books could be a best-seller. Having 261 non-best-sellers in a row rather established the pattern, to my way of thinking.
  • Surely, a heart attack es a legitimate excuse to slow down.
  • I treated any kind of illness as an insult to my masculinity, and so I was a denier.
  • My heart attack was a source of serious embarrassment to me and I pretended, as far as I could, that it had never happened and that I could live an uncaring normal life.
  • I raged against that evidence of old age and mortality, but there was nothing I could do about it.
  • I was not going to leave an unfinished novel behind me, as Charles Dickens did, if I could help it.
  • pag 231.
  • lectura pag 231.

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