Isaac Asimov was born 100 years ago

Isaac Asimov in 1959 (Photo Phillip Leonian, from New York World-Telegram & Sun)
Isaac Asimov in 1959 (Photo Phillip Leonian, from New York World-Telegram & Sun)

Isaac Asimov was born in the village of Petrovichi, near Smolensk, Russia. His birth date is unknown: at the time, there were no birth records in the area, and the confusion between the Jewish Calendar, the Julian one used in Russia before the revolution, and the Gregorian one introduced after the revolution made that date uncertain. The reconstructions indicate that he was born between October 4, 1919, and January 2, 1920, and the latter date was adopted as his birthday.

In early 1923 the Asimov family emigrated to the USA, to New York, where Judah Asimov, Isaac’s father, opened a shop that sold candies, newspapers, and magazines. It was there that Isaac discovered science fiction thanks to the magazines sold in the shop. At Columbia University, he graduated in chemistry in 1939, completed a master’s degree in 1941 and a doctorate in 1948. During World War II, he served as a chemist at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia. In 1942, he married Gertrude, a marriage that lasted until 1970. The two of them had their son David in 1951 and their daughter Robyn in 1955.

Isaac Asimov’s writing career began in 1939, with the publication of the short story “Marooned off Vesta” in the magazine “Amazing Stories”. He soon became famous thanks to the first stories about positronic robots, which were followed in subsequent years by the ones that formed the then Foundation Trilogy.

For a few years, Isaac Asimov alternated between his job as a college professor and as a writer. By the early 1950s, he was earning more as a writer so that activity became predominant. The science fiction market was changing after years in which works of this genre were published in specialized magazines. Asimov was one of the writers who first started publishing their novels as books, starting in 1950 with “Pebble in the Sky“, in some cases collecting previously written short stories. In addition to the Foundation stories, he wrote the novels that went on to expand what was called the Robot Cycle and the so-called Empire Cycle novels. In the 1980s, he started unifying the various cycles to include them in one great future history.

In the 1950s, Isaac Asimov also started writing scientific articles and essays. Over the years, scientific popularization became more important than literature. In the 1960s, in addition to scientific works, he also began writing history books. In the 1970s, his production of mysteries also increased, particularly with the Black Widowers series. For years, Isaac Asimov wrote works in considerable quantities between literature of various genres and non-fiction. In 1966, he also found time to publish the novelization of the movie “Fantastic Voyage“.

In 1973, Isaac Asimov married Janet, a marriage that lasted until his death. In 1977 he suffered a heart attack, the beginning of a series of health problems that required a triple bypass. The surgery required blood transfusions but part of it was contaminated with the HIV virus, from which he contracted AIDS. Due to the prejudices of the time towards people suffering from that disease, this story was revealed only many years after his death, which occurred on April 6, 1992, and was initially attributed to heart problems with kidney complications, not mentioning AIDS.

Isaac Asimov was one of the writers who brought science fiction out of the world of magazines and a great scientific popularizer with his many articles and essays. A humanist and rationalist atheist, he brought many of his ideas into his literary works too, becoming one of the first great authors of hard science fiction, gaining fame that spread worldwide. He left a legacy estimated in about 500 books of various genres.

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