While I was researching something to post about indie publishing, I came across several articles about one of my favorite authors, who was traditionally published … a lot.
The Good Doctor
There were an abundance of articles because Thursday, January 2, in addition to being my little sister’s birthday, was also the birthday of one of the most prolific authors of all time … Isaac Asimov, and a lot of people remembered.
Asimov wrote more than 500 books, and is arguably the author most responsible for taking science fiction from the pulp magazines and making it a respectable genre.
That might have been enough for some writers, but Asimov was equally at home writing mysteries, fantasy and scholarly non-fiction; excellent books explaining physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and ancient history to the layman.
He also published well-researched volumes on themes ranging from the Bible to Shakespeare. He even wrote humorous books of limericks. His books were published in an amazing nine-out-of-ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification System.
Asimov’s best known work includes the story “Nightfall,” acclaimed as the best science fiction short story ever written, and the various installments of his Foundation and Robot series.
Awards and Acclamations
During his lifetime Asimov was the recipient of at least eight Hugo awards and two Nebulas for his fiction. For his non-fiction he was also awarded at least five major awards, including the Howard W. Blakeslee Award from the American Heart Association.
A remarkable intellect, Asimov taught biochemistry at Boston University’s School of Medicine, before he turned to writing full-time, but not many people realize just how precocious he was.
He graduated from high school at fifteen … and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University by nineteen, where he also earned a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Asimov’s personal papers, archived at Boston University’s Mugar Memorial Library, consume 464 boxes on 232 feet of shelf space.
I’ve always felt a special connection to the Good Doctor. While he was the editorial director of a publication named after him … Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine … he penned a hand-written index card to accompany the form-letter rejection I received from editor George H. Scithers for a story submission.
The note said simply “Too much talk-talk in the ending.” It was signed “I.A.”
The Scithers rejection letter was soon lost, but that card became one of my most treasured objects (but that’s another story).
Fifty years ago, Asimov published a story called “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014” in The New York Times. It listed his predictions for what the world would be like in 2014. Now that 2014 has arrived, several of those eerily correct predictions are worth talking about.
1.) Asimov predicted, by 2014, electroluminescent panels would be in common use.
Electroluminescent panels are those thin, bright panels we see everywhere today in retail displays, billboards, signs, lighting and flat panel TVs. Score one for the Good Doctor.
2.) Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.
The first commercial cell phone call was still almost twenty years away when Asimov made that prediction. Think about how quickly communication devices have changed since then. Even my seven-year-old grandson can use FaceTime on the i-Phone.
3.) The luminescent screen can also be used for studying documents and photographs, and reading passages from books.
With computers, tablets, iPads and smartphones, all of this is true.
4.) Robots will neither be common, nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.
If you define “robot” as a computer that looks and acts like a human, then this prediction is definitely true. We don’t have robot servants, robot friends, or robots that we absolutely cannot tell from human, but we do have robots.
5.) In 2014, there is every likelihood the world population will be 6.5 billion and the U.S. population will hit 350 million.
Asimov slightly overestimated the U.S. population (317 million) and underestimated the world population (7.1 billion) but, considering the vast majority of the year 2014 is still in front of us, his guesses surrounding population are mighty close.
6.) Mankind will have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction.
We’ve hardly become “a race of machine tenders” … unless you consider how a lot of us are never far from a machine (i-Pads and Smartphones) that we “tend” pretty much constantly.
Hmmm … maybe this is what the Good Doctor saw.
7.) All high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology, become proficient in binary arithmetic and be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed.
This is one I wish was true. Asimov was correct insofar as high school kids, and younger, can certainly use computer technology, but American education lags far behind some countries in the world when it comes to computer science.
Unfortunately, coding classes are still relatively uncommon in American high schools, and just 1.4 percent of our high school students took the computer science exam in 2012.
Perhaps the problem doesn’t lie in what the Good Doctor realized we need to do, as much as it does in what we, as a society, don’t want to do.
8.) We will live in a “society of enforced leisure.”
Not yet, Dr. Asimov, not yet … and unless we get busy and catch up to the world’s countries that are so far ahead of us in educational matters … we may never get there.
Right now, I have to interrupt my “enforced leisure” to get dressed, go out and tackle the beginning of the 10-12 inches of snow we’re expecting today.
What are your predictions for the things we’ll be doing fifty years from now?