Throwback SF Thursday: Where to Start with Isaac Asimov

Young Isaac Asimov

I should really be hitting you with an honest-to-God book review today, but: because real life intrudes, because I haven’t finished the book, because I’m inspired by reading Alec Nevala-Lee’s history of John W. Campbell’s editorship of Astounding, because Vintage Science Fiction Month approaches, and because I need somewhere to store all of the recommendations I’ve been getting, I am going to talk about reading Asimov for the first time instead.  “What!?” you say, “What kind of weirdo hasn’t read Asimov?”  Well, me.  Two-plus years after starting Throwback SF Thursdays, I remain criminally underread in pre-1980 speculative fiction, and I am particularly underread in science fiction, which, relative to fantasy, has never been my thing.

Since I read older speculative fiction year-round, I like to focus a bit more for Vintage Science Fiction Month in January on science fiction rather than fantasy.  One of my posts this year will be on Nevala-Lee’s book, and it makes sense to read related works for my other posts.  So, at the very least, I will read and review a Heinlein and an Asimov.  With a couple Heinleins under my belt, I have a decent handle on where to go next with his work.  But I have not only not read Asimov, I don’t even know all that much about his body of work.

So I reached out to the wisdom of the Twitter crowd (don’t laugh).

The Hugo Award book club responded first with some recommendations and one anti-recommendation:

Andrea from the Little Red Reviewer spoke up for the I, Robot stories, although the Hugo Award book club refused to back off of Nightfall:

Jacob from Red Star Reviews put in a good word for the expanded version:

Asimov started out writing short fiction, and Pseudolus Forty-Twodolus recommended starting with a short story collection:

John Schmidt gave me options with both a short story and a novel:

Kevin Xu points out that the Robot stories and the Foundation series are set in the same universe and recommends reading them in publication, not chronological order (#TeamAlwaysPublicationOrder):

Nick Borelli from Out of This World SFF Reviews suggests putting off Foundation because it is the heavier work:

PC Bushi of Bushi SF/F, though, stands up for Foundation:

…while admitting I, Robot’s place in the science fiction canon:

Nathan, the Pulp Archivist, second’s the importance of I, Robot, pointing to its cultural impact:

Nathan points to another story that has sent out ripples still being felt today:

(Wikipedia tells me that Asimov only wrote the novelization of the movie, although his book came out first.)

Kevin Xu makes another recommendation that he describes as “pulpy,” which is always a feature, not a bug around here:

Parties disagree as to which Foundation books are worth reading:

Mark from Kaedrin jumped in with some last minute recommendations:

I wound up with a lot of disparate recommendations, which doesn’t surprise me, although the sheer number of responses did.  PC Bushi sums things up:

I am leaning toward swinging by the used bookstore on my way home today and seeing what they have, with an eye toward grabbing a short story collection that includes Nightfall and with The Caves of Steel as a backup.  (Alec Nevala-Lee makes a big deal about the importance of Nightfall in his book.)

What do you think.  Where would you tell someone to start with Isaac Asimov?

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About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction). https://everydayshouldbetuesday.wordpress.com/ https://hillbillyhighways.wordpress.com/
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18 Responses to Throwback SF Thursday: Where to Start with Isaac Asimov

  1. Terry says:

    Well, Nightfall and the original Foundation series were both voted “best all time” in their categories in the 60’s, so I think they are both essential. Third would be from my view I,Robot—as much for its impact on how robots would be portrayed in writing in the future as for its quality. I would also recommend “The Early Asimov” a collection of short stories from his early days writing—the contrast between what was publishable then and now is just awe inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alexandra says:

    I read Asimov when he was still alive and writing. Yes, I’m that old! The thing is, ask me now about his work and I haven’t got a clue. It’s been decades since I read the man and, to be honest, like Clarke, my lasting impressions were always one of well, that was okay. The pair love to write about big subject and things, but the humanity of the story(ies) got lost sometimes in the science. In other words, I found most of them to be forgettable.

    Good luck with the reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When i was a kid and I had finished all of Heinlein’s juveniles (or in-between reads, all these years later it’s hard to remember) my dad handed me a copy of Asimov’s ‘The Complete Robot’. A collection of all the Robot short stories. I loved it, and it not only made seek out more Asimov, but kindled a love for short stories that’s lasted the rest of my life.

    I’d suggest start with ‘The Complete Robot’, but if you’d rather read a novel go for ‘The Caves of Steel’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jesse Abraham Lucas says:

    Nightfall And Other Stories, always. C-Chute is my absolute favorite Asimov.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Boyle says:

    Like Alexandra, I read Asimov and Clarke when they were alive and I’m afraid I can’t remember much at all about any of their books/short stories. Mostly forgettable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. adventuresfantastic says:

    I missed most of this conversation on Twitter.

    The original “Nightfall” is still well-regarded for a reason. The robot short stories vary some in quality, but most of the ones about Susan Calvin are among the best. The Caves of Sreel is worth a read. It has been too long since I read the original Foundation to venture an opinion. I would read them first before I read anything from the 80s where Asimov tried to tie the robots stories into his Foundation series.

    You might see if you can locate a copy of The Best of Isaac Asimov. It was a Fawcett paperback published in the 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d start it with I, Robot– it’s a short story anthology disguised as a novel. Asimov’s best when he sticks to short stories (which is why Foundation’s broken up into chunks in turn).

    The Caves of Steel is honestly disappointing, but I should probably get around to reading Nightfall at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dude, don’t even try. I am a fan. From what I’ve seen of your tastes, you’ll just hate him.

    I, Robot needs to be looked at as a series of puzzles. If you do, they’re very good.

    Caves of Steel is probably the best bet for your tastes as I can tell of them. It is an excellent mystery and while the lead is lightly drawn at least he puts in enough work to be invested in him.

    The climax is probably the best thing Asimov has written.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Mostly though saying “Don’t even try” is me being selfish. At this point, I kind of get it. If you’re part of the pulp rev, Asimov, boooooooo. And I get it. He is very light on character and action and very heavy on egghead sci fi. His prose isn’t just sparse, it pretty much is nonexistent.

    He is what he is – take him or leave him. The pulp rev likes to leave him but hey, maybe you’ll connect with it. I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. deuce says:

    With so much great SF out there, you want to read Asimov?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jumping in late here, but I enjoyed Caves of Steel. I read Nightfall so long ago that I can’t comment about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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