Asimov is Not Just a Dog

August 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m rather embarrassed to say that I first learned who Isaac Asimov was when a writer friend of mine told me about her dog. “His name is Asimov,” she said with the air of someone sharing a joke or revealing an amusing sort of secret. The name “Asimov” was familiar, certainly, but I really had no idea who he was. Someone science-y? That sounded right.

I eventually googled the name, so I knew who Isaac Asimov was by the time I entered this class, but I’d never read one of his stories before. I’m a self-proclaimed fan of “soft” science fiction, where the emotions and human reaction to whatever scientific feat or quirk are more important than the science itself. “Hard” science fiction had always seemed too technical, too cold. (Having never really read any hard science fiction, I admit to being rather prejudiced from the start). As a pre-med, I’d read more than enough scientific papers—I didn’t need that sort of thing bleeding into my fiction.

I was surprised, then, by how much I enjoyed “Nightfall.” Admittedly, our relationship didn’t start off well. I rolled my eyes so hard when the first two characters to which we were introduced were “Aton 77” and “Theremon 762.” Numbered names? I thought. Really?

I read a little more. How exactly does one “gesture peremptorily?” Could I learn?

(I can be very judgmental while reading. It’s a fault.)

Now that I’ve probably offended all the Asimov fans out there (and possibly all science fiction fans in general), I’ll go on to say that by the time I hit page 6, I’d forgotten about my complaints. By the time I finished the story, I was calling up my friend to tell her to read this story, because it was so intriguing.

As I said before, my prejudiced complaint of hard sci-fi was how it placed more importance on the science itself than on the people’s response to said science. “Nightfall” didn’t skimp on explanation regarding how the astrological spheres of its world were arranged, and how so-and-so law had been discovered, and such, but at the same time, it explored in depth the idea of a civilization raised without darkness. It turned out to be my favorite kind of story: a What If? kind of story.

I was fascinated by the notions  Asimov raised, how ideas that we hold to be the bedrock of life (the day/night cycle) might be seen as utterly absurd by people in another situation. I loved the exploration of the human psyche (even if I found some of the ideas a bit unbelievable), especially with regards to preconceptions and fear. Would a person who has never seen complete darkness be so frightened by it as to be driven mad?

“Nightfall” has certainly convinced me to seek out more of Asimov’s stories, and I look forward to seeing what other preconceptions I have about hard science fiction might be broken.

Also, next time I see my friend with Asimov the dog, I can be in on the joke.

-Kat Zhang

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