Sunday, July 10, 2016

In Memory Yet Green by Isaac Asimov

When I was a kid, my interest in science fiction was fed by reading many short stories from the heyday of science fiction magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. I particularly remember reading I, Robot, a collection of stories written by Isaac Asimov. (The book is still in bookstores after more than four decades. Will Smith is on the cover; his 2004 movie of the same title was based on one of the stories.)

Asimov wrote an extensive autobiography. The first volume, In Memory Yet Green, covers the first 34 years of his life. As you would expect, his life in that timeframe was similar to many other. He grew up, completed his formal education, started his career and started a family.

Like other famous people, Asimov had fortunate timing, talent, and willingness to work hard to achieve something. He is best known for his achievements as a science fiction writer. Writing was not his sole profession during this part of his life, but he was a fairly prolific writer and was well known in science fiction circles. He had a reputation in science fiction fandom before he ever published a fiction story. He was a fan of the early science fiction magazines and regularly wrote letters to them. He made friends with other fans, several of whom became successful writers along with him, particularly fellow Futurians.

As he put time into writing stories, his participation in fandom waned. His other career as an academic chemist also took up a lot of time. Though it is well known among science fiction fans, others may not be aware that had a Ph.D. in chemistry and was a professor at a medical school. He co-wrote two biochemistry textbooks during this period.

The book covers many aspects of his life, both professional and personal. He begins with his birth in Russia and ends as a husband (to Gertrude) and father (to David) on the verge of a career transition. In between he lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, and many other upheavals of the first half of the 20th Century. Asimov shares his experiences and views of these events.

Asimov’s style in his autobiography is much as it is in his other writings: straightforward and often jovial. He is not shy about his accomplishments, but he is often humorously self-deprecating and willing to confess to his boneheaded moments.

The book will probably appeal mostly to science fiction fans. Asimov got in on the ground floor. He knew many of the other writers, editors, and publishers of his generation including Ian and Betty Ballantine, John Campbell, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester Del Rey, Robert Heinlein and Frederik Pohl.

If you’re interested in reading this book, you may also be interested in

Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. New York: Doubleday, 1979.