Review of 'I. Asimov: A memoir'

I. Asimov: A memoir by Isaac Asimov

i_asimov.jpg Growing up it was Isaac Asimov that introduced me to Science Fiction with his highly readable “Foundation” and “Robot” novels. Asimov was an incredible prolific author who wrote not only Science Fiction, but also wrote stories of pure Science, and Mystery. “I. Asimov” is the third autobiography by Asimov that, rather than picking up where the second left off, chooses instead to cover the entirety of Asimov's life in a number of short chapters. Generally the book starts with his early life having emigrated from Russia to the US with his family at a very early age and ends with his final years in ill health but in between the chapter subjects are wide and varied, jumping randomly forward and backward in time as required, in this it is truly a “memoir” (collection of memories) rather than a true autobiography. The material is often a bit tedious taking in the details of his dealings with publishers or the academic world but there are also moments when we get a glimpse of something interesting.

Say what you like about Asimov (and in recent years allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct have come to light) he was often very honest about his mistakes including his propensity to continually tell people how great he was. It is debatable as to the truth of this but it is certainly to be admired his accomplishments over his lifetime. In describing his writing here it often seems he was trying to accomplish some sort of “record” for the most writing rather than generating any sort of literary art but in this I think his readers often relied: Writing without any pretension; Easy to take in and enjoy. He had an impressive memory which served him well in literary and educational circles (as a on again, off again university professor) so even when “tooting his own horn” he can, perhaps, be forgiven for doing so as he says he is simply being honest about his talents though most find this attitude extremely arrogant.

Often Asimov focuses on the number of articles he has written, the number of degrees he was awarded and, of course, the number of books he wrote. Doubtless the numbers are truly impressive but demonstrates that he was victim to an all-consuming compulsion to write, write and write again, often at the cost of his personal life and health. He frequently admits here that a day not spent writing he feels is a day wasted. I can't help feeling it was a bit of a lonely existence but he did manage to find a modicum of personal happiness. His first marriage was a rushed affair and was never very happy but his second marriage to Janet, quite late in life, was quite different and in her he found a kindred, or at least sympathetic, spirit. In this book Janet interrupts her husband's writing only twice: Once to tell the reader that Asimov's last words were, as he said they would be, that he loved her and the second time to add a poignant epilogue where Janet completes the tale of Asimov's life as he descended into ill health, dying in 1994 of kidney failure (though more recently it has been revealed he had contracted HIV after a blood transfusion), less than two years after the book was completed and two years before it was eventually published. It was hoped he would see this final chapter of his life in print but he never did.

A difficult read without a coherent narrative and the ceaseless obsession over detail but for fans of Asimov doubtless “I. Asimov” will shed some light on this interesting literary character's life. Most certainly he was a man of his age with the accompanying prejudices (and rampant sexism) but he was also an important literary force who many people enjoyed, as have I.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2020-08-28

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 1994

ISBN: 0385417012

Other reviewed books by Harlan Ellison, and Isaac Asimov:

Other reviewed books by Isaac Asimov: