Tag Archives: Asimov

Clarity

A Distant World that Feels Like Home. Asimov was the best.

In one of his autobiographies (there are at least two) Isaac Asimov said that when asked what he strove for in his writing, his answer was “clarity.” I remember that often as I read news stories and other ambiguous items. On July 23, 2019, The Washington Post ran a story about a person’s childhood. It quoted their grandparents’ opinion of the person, then told how their father was structurally unavailable, and their mother worked constantly. Then the paragraph said, “They raised him as their own child.” The word they being close to his dysfunctional parents, although it obviously refers back to the grandparents. Or does it? Could you make an argument that the author of the piece was actually referring to the parents, perhaps trying to make some subtle point about their parenting skills? Well, yes, you could. And that is why that paragraph is not clear. All it needs is for “They” to be replaced with “The grandparents” and all would be well, and clear.

That was in a newspaper that is, unusually, not interfered with by its owner (Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame.) A paper that can, most people think, be trusted most of the time. And they let unclear writing go right on out into the world. Come on, Post, get it together, okay? But consider what you see on social media. Any social media. Is it clear? Can you spot any ambiguity in the text? And, sure, I tend to lean more toward humanism than authoritarianism, but I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Liberals and Progressives. Because, thanks to the magic of filtering, I generally only see Conservative screeds second-hand, that is, when somebody reposts them. (I do follow POTUS on Twitter.) The folks I follow make a great many assumptions, about themselves, their audience, and their opposition. Any time you’re assuming something in a text it is perforce ambiguous. And ambiguity is the perfect opposite (apposite, even) of clarity.

So, here’s an exercise you can do. Go through your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. feeds and check for the ambiguous postings. There will be a lot. Look closely at the techniques the posters use to drive home their point to the unwary. Then, as you write your stories, never, ever do those things. The way things are, that alone might guarantee you the clarity good writing always deserves and needs.

Foundation’s Friends

Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Asimov was my first love of science fiction. My sister gave me a copy of the book Foundation when I was 11 or 12, and I was hooked. If you remember Han Solo’s speech about the difficulty of making a hyperspace jump in the first Star Wars movie, that was almost verbatim from Foundation. One of the coolest things about Asimov’s fiction is that he created a world that you could drop yourself into and forget that the real one was even out there. In fact, by the time he finished, he had tied up three of his worlds into a vast future history that is, frankly, one hell of a lot of fun to read. I was saddened when he died, because I thought I’d never get to see inside that world again. But, I was wrong.

Had I been paying attention, I’d have noticed that this book was already available at the time of his death. It was a tribute to a living author, and one well deserved. I’ve read only the first four stories so far, but they are, well, fantastic, amazing, and astounding. (Long-term fans will get that sentence. The rest of you, meh!)

The first story is about a girl who is a strip runner in future New York CITY. I mean CITY, as in the ones Asimov describes in Caves of Steel. A world where today’s New York is a sort of a bump on a log compared to the reality that is NEW YORK. In Caves of Steel, a detective names Elija Bailey is hired by “Spacers,” those who live on planets other than this one, to solve a crime. Elija comes from a world where paranoia about hygiene is rampant, and where robots are the common way to get everyday labor done. Spacers get colds, and don’t use robots. Our heroine must deal with those facts, and with her crime (strip running) as she learns some things about her world, her CITY, and the Outside. She even meets Bailey. Such fun! An excellent story, in a familiar world that is not the one we really live in!

The second story actually involves Thiotimoline! A practical use for it, and the solution to a difficult problem; a solution with cosmic implications! Thiotimoline is a powder that dissolves before you add water. The story of the powder was originally published in the journal Chemistry in 1948 as a bit of a joke. It reads like an actual thesis, which is what Asimov was also writing at the time. He got his PhD, we got two good stories. It’s a mystery with tongue firmly in cheek, just the way Asimov liked them. Just remember to resublimate your Thiotimoline before use.

The third story is another detective story, a tad grimmer, but still with a joking twist at the end. I think that if I’d been told that Asimov himself had written it, I’d have believed it. Somebody crossed a cabbage with, oh, no, I don’t want to spoil it, in case you haven’t read it. You should, you know.

And finally, fans will recognize the time that Gilmer sacked Trantor. This story is about the Second Foundation and how they deal with Gilmer. Right at the end one of them says something rather hubristic, and fans know the price of hubris, right? “What are the odds?” he asks. “Damned high!” we answer. Again, completely back into Asimov’s world. On Trantor, where you may recall “The Stars End.”

Well, I’m sorry I missed this book all these years, but at least I’m getting to read it now. Dammit, I like Asimov’s worlds, and I’m truly sorry that he had to leave this one.

Read it, you’ll like it!

Foundation’s Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Prefice by Ray Bradbury
Afterword by Isaac Asimov

Tor, 1989

No e-book, but still available at not outrageous prices used.