Change

Isaac Asimov (1920 -1992) is arguably one of the greatest writers in the English language of the 20th century CE. He was prolific: “so prolific and diverse in his writing that his books span all major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification except for category 100, philosophy and psychology,” says the wiki.[1]

He lived to write and admitted that “if my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” In his 1990 memoires, he wrote, “I have had a good life and I have accomplished all I wanted to, and more than I had a right to expect I would.” Few people are as lucky as he was in that he got to do what he loved most to do, and did it exceedingly well. The graph below shows that in 1989, he published around 44 books — that’s nearly one book a week.

Source: asimovonline,com

He was no scientific genius nor even a literary genius. His greatness lay in his ability to comprehend ideas and communicate them to ordinary people like the rest of us. I have always admired his basic decency and his truthfulness. Most of all, I admired his imagination. He understood change and the dynamics of change. I think he understood why the world has abundance and that humanity was on its way to superabundance — the core idea that I am investigating these couple of years.

Here’s a brief excerpt from a conversation he had with Bill Moyers in 1988.[2]

The important bit of that exchange is this:

“… one great advantage of science fiction is to introduce the reader to the idea of change, of changes that may well be inevitable but which are not conceivable to the reader. I’ve said that myself on different times. The fact is that society is always changing but the rate of change is been accelerating all through history for a variety of reasons. One thing is change is cumulative. The very changes you make makes it easier to make further changes. It was only with the coming of the Industrial Revolution that the rate of change became fast enough to be visible in the single lifetime. So people were suddenly aware that not only were things changing but that they would continue to change after they died.”

Some bits of good science fiction do become science fact eventually. The gap between sci-fi and sci-fact is decreasing at an accelerating pace — which is another way of saying that technology is advancing at an accelerating pace as our stock of technology grows. What’s coming down the road will be magical. As another great sci-fi writer, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”[3]

NOTES:

[1] He wrote in 1969 that “the only thing about myself that I consider to be severe enough to warrant psychoanalytic treatment is my compulsion to write … That means that my idea of a pleasant time is to go up to my attic, sit at my electric typewriter (as I am doing right now), and bang away, watching the words take shape like magic before my eyes.”

It’s hard to fully count but it appears that Asimov was associated (author, co-author, editor) with around 500 books and 90,000 letters. Most people have not even read 100 books, let alone write 500 books. For the curious, here’s a catalogue of Asimov’s books at asimovonline.com.

[2] I have an even briefer “excerpt of that excerpt” here.

[3] From Clarke’s 1962 essay “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination” the Three Laws:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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