Isaac Asimov

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Isaac Asimov (1965)

Isaac Asimov ( english [ aɪzək æzɪmɔv ]; born January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi , Soviet Russia as Исаáк Юдович Азимов ( Isaac Judo Petrovich Azimov ); † 6. April 1992 in New York , United States ) was a Russian-American biochemist , nonfiction author and a the most famous science fiction - writers of his time. Together with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein , he is often listed as one of the "Big Three" of English-language science fiction.


Isaac Asimov was born on January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi near Smolensk . His Jewish parents emigrated to the USA in 1923, and Asimov grew up in Brooklyn / New York. His father became an American citizen in 1926 and bought a candy store where Isaac had to help from the start. As a result, he had little contact with his peers and became a frequent reader at an early age, teaching himself to read at the age of five and holding a membership card for a lending library at seven. The issues of Amazing Stories magazine that were on display in his father's shop were his first contact with science fiction, even if he was only "officially" allowed to read science fiction after Science Wonder Stories appeared and he had convinced his father that this is valuable reading because “science” is included in the title. His parents wanted him to study medicine , but first he studied chemistry from 1935 at Columbia University . There he was involved in the founding of the Futurian Science Literary Society in 1938 and got to know some science fiction authors, the Futurians . In 1939, at the age of nineteen, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

In 1939, Marooned Off Vesta (German: Havarie vor Vesta ) was his first short story published in the March issue of Amazing Stories . He then published more in the Astounding edited by John W. Campbell . He later put some of the stories published there together to form the Trilogy Foundation .

After his application for a place in medicine had been rejected by all five eligible universities in New York, he continued his chemistry studies , which he graduated with a master's in 1941 . During the next four years he interrupted his studies due to the war, first worked in the Philadelphia Navy Yard's Naval Air Experimental Station and finally served a short time as a conscript in the US Army . In 1948, at the age of 28, he received his doctorate in biochemistry . A year later, Asimov was appointed professor of biochemistry at Boston University's medical school . In 1951 he became assistant professor there and in 1955 got a permanent position. In 1958 he gave up teaching and made writing his main occupation. He belonged to the circle of the Trap Door Spiders , a literary group of men whom he immortalized in a crime series as a black widower .

In the 1960s he met Eugene W. Roddenberry , who, like Asimov himself, was very interested in artificial intelligence . In 1979, Asimov worked as a Special Science Consultant in the making of Star Trek: The Movie . He was also honorary vice-president of the high-intelligence club Mensa . In 1985 he became president of the American Humanist Association and remained in that position until his death.

Asimov was married to Gertrude Blugerman from 1942 to 1970 and had two children with her (David, * 1951, and Robyn Joan, * 1955). He was married to Janet Asimov from 1973 until his death . Together they wrote science fiction books for young readers, most importantly the series on the robot Norby.

Isaac Asimov died on April 6, 1992 of heart and kidney failure - a consequence of an HIV infection that he contracted in 1983 through a blood transfusion during a bypass operation.


In the narrative part of his oeuvre three focal points can be identified:

  1. his robot stories on the earth of the near future
  2. his robot thrillers of the future
  3. his stories about the galactic empire of the distant future

In his later life he combined the focus with further novels that fill the gaps in his early works. The story arc spans over 20 millennia.

He also wrote numerous short stories and some novels with an independent plot.

His robot stories and especially the short story And Darkness Will Come ... (orig. Nightfall ) are regarded as particularly outstanding works of the science fiction genre. In fact, in 1968 Nightfall was named the best science fiction story before 1965 by the Science Fiction Writers of America .

In addition to the robot stories, his fame is based on a series of short stories that were later published as the Foundation Cycle . In it he describes, inspired by Edward Gibbon's decline and fall of the Roman Empire , the decline of a galactic empire.

Asimov invented terms that have now found their way into science fiction and linguistic usage in general. For example, "positronic" as the opposite of electronic (first mentioned in Reason 1941), " robotics " (first in the short story Runaround , March 1942 - the name of the company US Robotics goes back to it) and " psychohistorics " (Foundation cycle) .

His works have inspired many other writers and his science fiction collections have delighted countless readers. In particular, the three laws of robotics became common property of science fiction.

Asimov's work was not limited to science fiction. After giving up his teaching activities, he developed into a modern polymath : he was co-author of a textbook on biochemistry, wrote books on the Bible and William Shakespeare , works on Greek and Roman history and non-fiction books on scientific subjects from almost all areas - including instructions for the use of slide rules . In total, he published over 500 books and more than 1,600 essays . He was also the editor of numerous science fiction anthologies and his own science fiction magazine. Little is known in the German-speaking world that he also published several volumes with humorous texts, anecdotes and limericks . His science column in the magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction , which he wrote for 33 years and which appeared in book form in excerpts in 26 volumes, had 399 episodes .

One of his popular scientific works is the two-volume work The exact secrets of our world (Isaac Asimov's New Guide to Science), which introduces the layman to the scientific world in the style of an opera guide.


Robot head from the film adaptation I, Robot from 2004

In the short story Robbie (1940), Asimov first dealt thoroughly with machines with artificial brains, the robots . Before Asimov, the majority of robot stories in literature followed the Frankenstein pattern, which Asimov described as incredibly boring: "Robots were created and destroyed their creators". In the short story Runaround , first published in 1942 , Asimov postulated the Three Laws of Robotics .

  1. A robot must not injure people or cause harm through inaction.
  2. A robot must obey a human's commands unless such commands conflict with the first law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as this protection does not contradict the First or Second Law.

Asimov assumes that tools are generally designed in such a way that they implicitly have to obey these laws. Analogously, in his stories, robot brains are designed in such a way that the robots cannot and are not allowed to do anything other than obey the three laws of robotics . It is positron brains that do not have the choice to make explicit or even arbitrary decisions. They react compulsorily, similar to how today's computer systems react according to the binary system: 0 = do not execute; 1 = execute. According to Asimov, these laws are necessary so that a robot does not reach its own consciousness, which could cause unmanageable chaos and incalculable consequences for man and machine.

As “ Vice Versa ”, Asimov projected the three laws onto people. The laws of humanism state:

  1. A person must not injure anyone or cause harm through inaction.
  2. A human must give commands to a robot that preserve robotic existence, unless such commands cause harm to a human.
  3. A person must not harm a robot or allow it to be harmed by inaction, unless this damage is absolutely necessary to protect a person from harm or to carry out a vital task.

This listing of the “laws of humanism” corresponds without any compelling comparison to the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell , in which animals get rid of the rule of humans and find their own (humanistic / animal) laws, which they then change or repeal by themselves and lead to the same dependence on themselves. Asimov's laws of robotics correspond to this revolutionary idea of ​​unauthorized changes to existing, binding implementations, which under no circumstances can be broken, but in his stories can often be called into question or circumvented by exceptional situations not only by robots, but also by humans and rightly precisely these To raise questions about a free, self-determining existence of life - for example in the story The 200-year-old .

In the stories by Ich, der Robot (1950), Asimov deals with many aspects of these laws. Most of the stories are about two robotics specialists (Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan) who have to solve various problem cases, for example

  • a robot that argues stubbornly according to logic ( Reason )
  • "Crazy" robots that act in strange ways because their task is in conflict with one of the laws (runaround) ( escape )
  • a robot that has an emotional behavior and thereby disregards the first law ( first law )

The character Susan Calvin also plays a huge role in the stories and was one of the author's favorite characters. With Susan Calvin he created a character that Arthur C. Clarke described in the novel 3001 - The Last Odyssey as a "role model in the intellectual competition between robots and humans". In Asimov's stories, she was portrayed as a cool, almost emotionless robot psychologist for "US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc." who can handle robots much better than humans. In the story Lenny, for example, she worries about a robot that behaves like a human baby due to inadvertently changed programming. There are also scattered hints in his stories that she is very similar to a robot herself.

The crime novels The Caves of Steel (1954, German Die Stahlhöhlen ), The Naked Sun (1957, German The naked sun ) about the policeman Elijah (Lije) Bailey and the robot R. Daneel Olivaw (in some older translations also as Tom Bailey and R. Daniel Oliver) as well as the follow-up novels The Robots of Dawn (1983, German The Departure to the Stars ) and Robots and Empire (1985, German The Galactic Empire ) provide a comprehensive introduction to Asimov's future world.

Asimov later had the so-called "Zero Robot Law" developed in The Galactic Empire :

  • A robot must not cause harm to humanity or, through its inaction, allow humanity to be harmed.

The first, second and third laws of robotics are modified accordingly: "... unless this would violate the zeroth law." Significantly, it is not a human, but a robot (R. Daneel Olivaw) who establishes this law.

In the trilogy about the robot Caliban (the concept for the novels about Caliban comes from Asimov himself, but was implemented by Roger MacBride Allen ) the three laws are discarded and the "new laws" are created:

  • A robot must not injure a person.
  • A robot is required to work with humans unless that collaboration is contrary to the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesn't conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot is free to do what it wants, unless doing so would violate the First, Second, or Third Law.

The movie I, Robot with Will Smith , released in July 2004, refers to the short story collection of the same name. The film uses people and motifs from these stories, the plot of the film is newly developed by the scriptwriters.

The film Der 200 Jahre Mann was also successful . The android Andrew Martin (played by Robin Williams ) discovers artistic and human skills in the course of the film. Its goal is to be recognized as a person. At the beginning of the film, the laws are presented, the effects of which are shown several times in the film.

The robot laws were also featured in the episode Guardians of the Law in the series Raumpatrouille and in the episode Arousal Factor: Zero from the sitcom The Big Bang Theory .

Handbook of Robotics
56th edition, 2058 AD

The famous title I, Robot of this short story collection was not chosen by Asimov, but by the publisher (against Asimov's objections), because title I, Robot was a short story by Eando Binder that was very well known at the time and was expected to increase sales. Asimov himself had Mind and Iron in mind as the title .

The later years of his work were marked by an effort to arrange his novels chronologically and to fill in gaps in order to create a continuous history of mankind, beginning in 1982 with the birth of Susan Calvin and the establishment of "US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc." ( I, Robot ) and only ending tens of thousands of years in the future.


  • In their novel Die fiegen Zauberer (1976), the two science fiction authors Larry Niven and David Gerrold Asimov set a literary monument: A scientist has to make an emergency landing with his spaceship on a strange planet. With the help of his translation device he communicates with the humanoid intelligentsia of this planet. He is amazed to see that they call him purple. The translation device gave its name to Like a color between purple and gray , a description for mallow . In English: As a mauve .


Hugo Award

  • 1963 Special Prize for "Adding Science (Science) to Science Fiction"
  • 1966 Special award for the best science fiction series of all time: Foundation Trilogy
  • 1973 Best Novel for: Lunatico or The Next World ( The Gods Themselves )
  • 1977 Best narrative for: The Bicentennial ( The Bicentennial Man )
  • 1983 Best Novel for: In Search of Earth ( Foundation's Edge )
  • 1992 Best story for: Gold ( Gold )
  • 1995 Best non-fiction book for: I. Asimov: A Memoir
  • 1996 Best Novel for: The galactic General ( The Mule ) - Retro Hugo for the year 1945
  • 2016 Best Short Story for: Robbie ( Robbie ) - Retro Hugo for 1940
  • 2018 Best Story for Foundation - Retro Hugo for 1942

Nebula Award

  • 1972 Best Novel for: Lunatico or The Next World ( The Gods Themselves )
  • 1977 Best narrative for: The Bicentennial ( The Bicentennial Man )
  • 1987 Special prize for his life's work (Nebula Grand Master Award)

Locus Award

  • 1973 Best Novel for: Lunatico or The Next World ( The Gods Themselves )
  • 1975 Best reissue anthology for: Before the Golden Age
  • 1977 Best narrative for: The Bicentennial ( The Bicentennial Man )
  • 1981 Best non-fiction book for: In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954–1978
  • 1983 Best Novel for: In Search of Earth ( Foundation's Edge )
  • 1987 Best short story for: Robot Dreams
  • 1995 Best non-fiction book for: I. Asimov: A Memoir

Further awards

After Asimov also one is Mars crater named, see the Martian crater / O list .


Isaac Asimov was unusually productive. His work comprises more than 500 works, of which a three-digit number has also been translated into German. The novel titles shown here are only a small selection of his most famous works. For a more comprehensive list of works, see the bibliography of Asimov's works .

Foundation cycle

Empire novels:

  • Pebble in the Sky (1950; German: Radioactive ...! )
  • The Stars, Like Dust (1951; German: Stars like Dust )
  • The Currents of Space (1952; German: The feverish planet )

Foundation trilogy:

  • Foundation (1951; German: The Thousand Year Plan )
  • Foundation and Empire (1952; German: The Galactic General )
  • Second Foundation (1953; German: All roads lead to Trantor )

Robot novels:

Continuation of the Foundation trilogy:

  • Foundation's Edge (1982; German: The search for the earth )
  • Foundation and Earth (1986; German: The return to earth )

Foundation history:

  • Prelude to Foundation (1988; German: The rescue of the empire )
  • Forward the Foundation (1991; German: The Foundation Project )
Lucky Starr Novels (as Paul French)
  • Lucky Starr, Space Ranger (1952; German: Gift vom Mars )
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953; German: Flight through the sun )
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954; German: In the ocean of Venus )
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956; German: In the light of the Mercury sun )
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957; German: On the Moons of Jupiter )
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958; German: The Rings of Saturn )
Single novels
  • The End of Eternity (1955; German: At the end of Eternity )
  • Fantastic Voyage (1966; German: Die phantastische Reise )
  • The Gods Themselves (1972; German: Lunatico or Die next Welt )
  • Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987; German: Doktor Schapirow's brain )
  • Nemesis (1989; German: Nemesis )
  • with Robert Silverberg : Nightfall (1990; German: Nightfall )
  • with Robert Silverberg: Child of Time (1991; German: Kind der Zeit )


Biographies and Monographs
  • Hans Joachim Alpers , Harald Pusch (eds.): Isaac Asimov - the thousand year planner. (= Edition Futurum. Volume 2). Corian Verlag, Meitingen 1984, ISBN 3-89048-202-3 .
  • Janet Jeppson Asimov: Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing. Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York 2006, ISBN 1-59102-405-6 .
  • Carl Freedman: Conversations with Isaac Asimov. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi 2005, ISBN 1-57806-738-3 .
  • James Gunn : Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. 2nd ext. Edition. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland / London 1996, ISBN 0-8108-3129-5 .
  • Joseph D. Olander, Martin H. Greenberg (Eds.): Isaac Asimov. Harris, Edinburgh 1977, ISBN 0-904505-40-5 .
  • Donald E. Palumbo: An Asimov Companion: Characters, Places and Terms in the Robot / Empire / Foundation Metaseries. McFarland and Company, Jefferson, North Carolina 2016, ISBN 978-0-7864-9823-9 .
  • Joseph F. Patrouch: The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. Doubleday, Garden City, NY1977, ISBN 0-385-08696-2 .
  • William F. Touponce: Isaac Asimov. Twayne Publishers, Boston 1991, ISBN 0-8057-7623-0 .
  • Michael White: Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-7867-1518-9 .
  • Richard Wagner-Glass: The greatest fairy tale of all time. The Robot / Foundation saga by Isaac Asimov. In: Sascha Mamczak, Sebastian Pirling, Wolfgang Jeschke (eds.): The Science Fiction Year 2011. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-453-53379-0 , pp. 155–170.

Web links

Commons : Isaac Asimov  - collection of images, videos and audio files
The Steel Caves (Heyne 2004, contains "The Steel Caves" and "The Naked Sun")
The rise to the stars (Heyne 2005)
The Galactic Empire (Heyne 2005)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Isaac Asimov FAQ. Accessed December 30, 2018 .
  2. ^ Isaac Asimov: The Rest of the Robots . Doubleday, 1964, ISBN 0-385-09041-2 .
  3. ^ I. Asimov: My robots. Essay, in: Robot Visions. Bastei Volume 21 201, Bastei Lübbe by Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc, Copyright 1990.
  4. ^ Robot visions. Bastei Volume 21 201, Bastei Lübbe by Byron Preiss Visual Publications, 1990.
  5. The Locus Index to SF Awards - Locus Award Nominees List: Issac Asimov ( Memento of the original from January 12, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed May 14, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /