The World Is Right Again
Notes from the Pandemic
Mike Starbird and I have been reading Isaac Asimov.
Asimov, you may know, holds the world record for number of books written in a lifetime—over 400, which comes out to one every six weeks for 50 years.
The most famous of these, and the ones we’re reading, are his Foundation series and robot series, both science fiction. The two series were separate for much of Asimov’s life, but in later years he decided to merge them, and so the final few books of each series are in both.
During the pandemic I had mostly been reading books that I already owned and that, in fact, were in my “To read” pile. I’ve enjoyed those, but they were mostly big, fat nonfiction books—exactly the kind of books you put in your “To read” pile. Finally, after finishing an 800-pound doorstop—er, book—I decided enough was enough. What I needed was something easy, familiar, and entertaining.
I immediately thought of Asimov.
I had devoured his science fiction novels when I was a kid; I had even reread a few as a young man. Even so, it had been years since I had touched the books, and the idea of reading them gave me roughly the same pleasure as the thought of diving into a vat of chocolate.
And the only thing better than reading them, I decided, was to read them with a friend. Enter my good buddy Mike Starbird—math whiz, game aficionado, philosopher of education and whatever else you’d like to discuss. It’s fun to do anything with Mike, even just reading, even when separated by a thousand miles. (Mike lives in Austin.)
Asimov wrote his two series sporadically over the years, and so the question arose: In what sequence should we read the novels? The order in which he wrote them? The order in which the fictional events occur? And which series should we start with?
The answer, it turned out, had been provided by Asimov himself. Toward the end of his life, in response to a fan’s question, he listed his suggested order, which took both series into account, starting with Caves of Steel and ending with Foundation and Earth, 14 books in all. Mike had recently read some of the books, and so he decided to read only those he hadn’t read for a while, or at all. I would read the entire list and, because so many years had passed, fully expected to remember almost nothing about them.
I started a week ago, and I’ve finished three already—the original robot trilogy, mysteries pairing detectives Elijah Baley, a human, with R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot. The best part is that Mike and I already have had two long phone calls to compare notes and exchange opinions about Asimov, science fiction, and life.
For a short time, thanks to Isaac Asimov, the pandemic walls have come down, the masks have been tossed aside, and the world is right again.