Daniel Elkind. January 2, 2020Photo: Phillip Leonian from New York World-Telegram & Sun.
Editor’s Note: Isaac Asimov, whose 100th birthday falls on January 2, 2020, is one of very few popular authors whose published works far exceed their number of years on earth. By some counts, Asimov’s books nearly come to 500. A polymath of remarkable output, the writer, chemist and professor of biochemistry, who died in 1992 at the age of 72, taught, researched and — most of all — wrote with all the concentrated intensity of a star going supernova. And he was an eclectic imploding star: Scientific essays, histories, a guide to Shakespeare and sci-fi stories wherein he (like the Bard) coined household words like “Robotics,” now the name of an entire field. In this piece from 2009, Daniel Elkin, outlines the extraordinary life and Talmudic spirit of an American master of science fiction — much of which has since become science fact.
Between 1950 and 1969, Isaac Asimov became a publishing industry unto himself. From “Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan,” to “Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts” and “Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor,” he was celebrated as much for his success and prolificity as for his wit, curiosity and erudition. Photographers asked him to pose with his many books, and he obliged, wearing a grin both proud and credulous. On the cover of “Opus 100,” published in 1969 (Houghton Mifflin), he is pictured sitting at a desk between two endless stacks of books, sans notorious mutton chops, dressed in a suit and tie on the occasion of his 100th book in two decades. When Asimov appeared on “The David Frost Show,” the host asked if he believed in God. “I haven’t given it much thought,” he replied. But by then, “Dr. Asimov” had become a household name.
Asimov’s first novel, “Pebble in the Sky,” introduced America to the Galactic Empire — his de facto science-fictional universe — and to a not yet so self-assured 29-year-old Asimov, with the words: “Two minutes before he disappeared forever from the face of the Earth he knew, Joseph Schwartz strolled along the pleasant streets of suburban Chicago quoting Browning to himself.” Schwartz, we are told, is a retired tailor. The Robert Browning poem he’s reciting happens to be “Rabbi Ben Ezra.” And in an instant, Schwartz finds himself again an immigrant: this time, in an unknown future, on an earth too radioactive to sustain life beyond the age of 60.
Born near Smolensk, in Petrovichi, during the first years of the Soviet Union, Asimov’s first language was Yiddish, his eyes recessively blue and his Judaism casually latent: “… it may well be that many East European Jews are descended from Khazars and the people they ruled,” he later wrote, as a confirmed rationalist. “I may be one of them. Who knows? And who cares?” Upon arriving in New York in 1922, the young, preschool-age Asimov quickly taught himself English. Since his parents spoke only Russian and Yiddish, he began a course of Anglophile self-education at public libraries, first reading dictionaries, then the Greek myths and British classics.
The young George Gershwin converted to ragtime partly to escape the street, and Asimov converted himself to science to achieve a similar effect. This he did via Columbia University (his doctoral thesis was on “The Kinetics of the Reaction Inactivation of Tyrosinase During Its Catalysis of the Aerobic Oxidation of Catechol,” the first and worst-selling of his books) and one of several family candy stores on Decatur Street in Brooklyn. There he was first introduced to science fiction through such pulp magazines as Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction — stories he would later defend on the grounds that “the age of the pulp magazine was the last in which youngsters, to get their primitive material, were forced to be literate.”
Intuitively threatened by looking’s supremacy over reading, he went on to publish fiction and nonfiction at a vengeful rate, as if to stanch the attrition: His 200th book, “Opus 200,” was published in 1979, followed by “Opus 300” in 1984. Meanwhile, he maintained a life diametrically opposed to that of a typical writer, eventually making money by publishing books and working as a professional chemist by day, simply out of curiosity and passion. At the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia, probably the first and last time three sci-fi writers — Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and L. Sprague de Camp, author of “A Gun for Dinosaur” — were ever in charge of wartime weapons research, Asimov was, in fact, more inspired by theoretical premises than the performance of seam-sealing compounds: What if it were humans who had to come to the aid of foreign intelligences? (“Blind Alley”) What if Truman dropped the bomb? (“Pebble in the Sky”) Or what if a computer played the role of God? (“The Last Question”)
More Lithuanian than Polish — that is, more Misnaged than Hasid — science fiction writers rule a universe of which they are the sole intelligent designers, inscribing the Law on a parchment of space-time continuum composed of bizarre coincidences and fantastic exceptions derived entirely from our own planet and its latter day. The rules they set spring up like traps, inevitably ensnaring the 62-year-old retired tailors of the world in the nightmare of a life that ends at 60, and a fate that, like the Great Depression Asimov survived, happens to be both terrible and explicable. (It is said that, following Tsar Nicholas’s expulsion of the Jews from Russia, a rich landlord in Asimov’s birthplace conveniently shifted the border to the east of town from the west, therein annexing its residents, geographically, to the Pale of Settlement, while remaining, physically, within the margins of crown lands.)
Galactic Talmudists, it is the writers — not science — who rule science fiction, just as it’s the competing voices of commentators that create the echo of the Talmud: When Asimov coined the term “robotics,” he also enumerated its three standard laws, reminiscent of Rabbi Hillel and the exegetic penchant for threes: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” Perhaps this preoccupation with the terrestrial and the worldly is why the genre turns so readily to social satire and dystopias — places that must exist, according to etymology and various destinies.
Asimov’s most popular sci-fi series, “Foundation,” for example, was inspired by the gloomy fate of Europe in 1941: Thinking of Edward Gibbon’s multivolume “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Asimov began his so-called “history of the future” in novel form, proposing a foundation at the borders of a galaxy where scientist-saviors convene to keep the Galactic Empire alive by compiling an encyclopedia of human knowledge to combat the encroachment of “feudalism,” or fascism.
The story “Jokester,” from Asimov’s later collection, “Earth Is Room Enough,” asks the seemingly innocent question, “Where do jokes come from?” And concludes, with sinister implications for human laughter, that the prototypes of our humor are of “extraterrestrial origin” — a laboratory experiment for alien psychologists. Thus the joke is on us: There will be no more jokes now. “The gift of humor is gone,” Trask said drearily. “No man will ever laugh again.”
Though Asimov’s dialogue was openly stilted and his style consciously antiquated from the first to the last bookend of his long career, and though he somehow always managed to make Jewish names sound futuristic, or merely Israeli — Abram Trask, Pola Shekt, Bel Arvardan — his presence can still be felt in the sympathy accorded Multivac, the story’s supercomputer and lonely-intelligent bearer of bad news (Asimov died of AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion, in 1992). In the final sentence we can sense an allusion to the mysterious popularity of the author’s science, too: “And they remained there, staring, feeling the world shrink down to the dimensions of an experimental rat cage — with the maze removed and something, something about to be put in its place.”
Gibson first used the word “cyberspace” in 1981, in a short #story called “Burning Chrome.” He worked out the idea more fully in his first novel, “Neuromancer,” published in 1984, when he was thirty-six. Set in the mid-twenty-first century, “Neuromancer” follows a heist that unfolds partly in physical space and partly in “the matrix”—an #online realm.#cyberspace #neuromancer #history #future #book #internet
you are either young and ignorantYour main argument is insults. Apparently it is connected with your racist preferences - you are a privileged Westerner, and i am just a slavic resident of the territory of your raw material colony.
I'll save the Dalai Lama for lastApparently, you have something in common with him. As with the CIA, which finances it. He also had a common interest with this man, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo:
asked specifically for anarchist writings, but rather asked a community for book suggestions.Read more carefully. And look who this post is addressed to, what specific tag it opens:
Since I know you are too stupid to know your history,Your argument is insult again. I don't think it's a coincidence and you're a real sincerely supporter of the Western Supremacy.
Albert Camus was quite active in the anarchist community in FranceI didn't say anything about Camus, i just explained your promotion of a CIA agent.
Really, by saying that my recommendations have nothing to do with anarchism, having the revelations just presented, you should consider removing your thumbs as a revolutionary act, because thumbing away at your screen has done nothing but make you look like a raving sycophant.I didn't say anything about these writers. My criticism was directed exclusively to the promotion of a CIA agent among them. The predecessor of this CIA agent was in friendly relations with the Nazis:
Now, whatever the backstory for the Tibetan exiles, including the Dalai Lama, the point is moot. His book, Ethics for the New Millennium, is a significant contribution to those who seek to create a world worth living inExactly. It is classic propaganda of New Age movement.
a world, where we care, where we don't look at our neighbors with contempt, but rather act in good faith towards one another.I suppose that's why you call your interlocutor young and ignorant, too stupid like a raving sycophant. It is your way to don't look at your neighbors with contempt. I don't think you're looking, but you're just declaring your contempt.
In the book, he talks about how he had spent much of his life ignorant to the world around him, and then he sought to know what was out there, which opened his mind to the struggle of others.With the CIA money for the preparation of an armed struggle.
A little piece of life advice: if you're going to start an argument with strangers on the internet, make sure that they didn't go to college for political science because they were an anarchist, over 20 years ago.They were over than 20 years ago, and now they are engaged in "unobtrusive" promotion of CIA agents, repeatedly noticed with connections with the Nazis.
It would behoove you to go open a book, and read something to educate yourself on critical thinking, and how to properly approach discourse with people who are allegedly your allies.Irresponsible Westerners are not my allies. These are those who support deliberate robbery and genocide by spreading their propaganda to maintain their inherited colonial privileges.
This equality consists not only of rights but also of freedoms. In fact, many of the rights most cherished by citizens of democracies aren’t even provided for in law except by implication. They exist in that open-ended empty space created through the restriction of government power. For example, Americans only have a “right” to free speech because the government is forbidden from making any law restricting that freedom, and a “right” to a free press because the government is forbidden from making any law to abridge it. They only have a “right” to worship freely because the government is forbidden from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, and a “right” to peaceably assemble and protest because the government is forbidden from making any law that says they can’t.\#privacy #snowden #book #quote #permanent-record #surveillance #cia #nsa #liberty #freedom #rights
In contemporary life, we have a single concept that encompasses all this negative or potential space that’s off-limits to the government. That concept is “privacy.” It is an empty zone that lies beyond the reach of the state, a void into which the law is only permitted to venture with a warrant—and not a warrant “for everybody,” such as the one the US government has arrogated to itself in pursuit of mass surveillance, but a warrant for a specific person or purpose supported by a specific probable cause.
The word “privacy” itself is somewhat empty, because it is essentially indefinable, or over-definable. Each of us has our own idea of what it is. “Privacy” means something to everyone. There is no one to whom it means nothing.\
It’s because of this lack of common definition that citizens of pluralistic, technologically sophisticated democracies feel that they have to justify their desire for privacy and frame it as a right. But citizens of democracies don’t have to justify that desire—the state, instead, must justify its violation. To refuse to claim your privacy is actually to cede it, either to a state trespassing its constitutional restraints or to a “private” business.\
There is, simply, no way to ignore privacy. Because a citizenry’s freedoms are interdependent, to surrender your own privacy is really to surrender everyone’s. You might choose to give it up out of convenience, or under the popular pretext that privacy is only required by those who have something to hide. But saying that you don’t need or want privacy because you have nothing to hide is to assume that no one should have, or could have, to hide anything—including their immigration status, unemployment history, financial history, and health records. You’re assuming that no one, including yourself, might object to revealing to anyone information about their religious beliefs, political affiliations, and sexual activities, as casually as some choose to reveal their movie and music tastes and reading preferences.\
Ultimately, saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. Or that you don’t care about freedom of the press because you don’t like to read. Or that you don’t care about freedom of religion because you don’t believe in God. Or that you don’t care about the freedom to peaceably assemble because you’re a lazy, antisocial agoraphobe. Just because this or that freedom might not have meaning to you today doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or won’t have meaning tomorrow, to you, or to your neighbor—or to the crowds of principled dissidents I was following on my phone who were protesting halfway across the planet, hoping to gain just a fraction of the freedoms that my country was busily dismantling.
The NYC Anarchist Book Fair aims to offer a space for people to connect with one another as well as to provide broader access to the rich and varied spectrum of anarchist ideas and practices. Now is the perfect time to explore these ideas and practices and to bring them into play in our communities and the world.The Book Fair includes:
books, zines, pamphlets, music, audio-visual media, art, t-shirts and more
workshops (panels, skill-shares and presentations)
an Art Festival
a Film Festival
a Music Night
“Iain McKay’s introduction is a model of scholarship and succeeds not only in contextualising and explaining Kropotkin’s ideas, but also in addressing a number of misunderstandings and misrepresentations along the way. He also makes a convincing case for the book’s continuing relevance for present-day radicals.” —David Berry, author of A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917 to 1945#Science #Anarchy #book #read #reading
“This is a welcome new translation of a long neglected text by Peter Kropotkin.... This book will not only be of keen interest to specialists in science studies, political epistemology, and the history of political ideas, but also to contemporary libertarian activists who will still find plenty of relevant, clearly explained material to engage with.” —Benjamin Franks, author of Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of Contemporary British Anarchisms