The Complete Stories, Vol 1 by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This 600+ page book of short stories is a pretty good collection of Asimov’s early 1950s work. Some of the stories are very, very good, such as “Nightfall,” which I was delighted to find had been turned into a full novel later, which I recently bought and intend to read. Others are not quite as good. One that irritated me was “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda,” where a man comes “home” to a space station after being out in space for a long time and as he’ll be heading for the planet and his wife in another day, he contacts a local woman for a one nighter — even though he’s married. Events occur that delay their tryst and she gets impatient with him and I guess the humor lies in his attempts to solve everything so they can get together and hit the sack. Finally, everything has been taken care of and he’s ready to go meet the whore, when he hears a woman call his name and turns around to find his wife unexpectedly greeting him — and he’s ticked. To me, this was a very offensive and sexist story. I didn’t think it merited inclusion in an anthology of collected works since it was in such poor taste. But then, as I’ve discovered, Asimov — if you go by his early work — was a bit of a sexist himself, as he rarely used female characters and with one exception I can think of, when he did, they were typically window dressing — poor, helpless, empty headed dullards completely dependent on men to save them from whatever was happening to them. Oh, and as we learn in one story here, woman like to talk. A lot. I guess that’s all they do. Pig. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt by saying maybe he was a product of his times. It was the 1950s after all and women’s lib hadn’t occurred and a woman’s place was in the home, so maybe…. And I haven’t read enough of his later work to know differently, although I just finished Foundation’s Edge today and it had strong female characters, although one was evil. It was written in the 1980s. Maybe he adjusted with the times.
In any event, the stories in the book are largely pretty good, until you get to about the last 100 pages or so and then the quality of the work drops off immensely. I’m not sure why that is, but the last several stories are quite bad. There’s a marked difference between them and the earlier pieces. Again, I don’t know why the editors decided to do it that way, but that’s just the way it happened, so I guess you have to live with it. One thing that was interesting is Asimov’s obsession with computers, using one giant computer he calls “Multivac” repeatedly in his stories. Multivac is a computer that pretty much runs the world and everything in it. It is hundreds of miles big and spits out data punch cards, much like the giant 1950s-era computers did, requiring specially trained computer programmers and operators to interpret its results and instructions. He also worries about man versus machine and sides with man virtually every time, which is interesting as he is constantly writing about machines such as robots. I find Multivac interesting because it’s proof that Asimov had absolutely no sci fi foresight like other sci fi writers, such as Philip K. Dick, did. He never was really able to guess at desktops, laptops, smart phones, or anything like that. Meanwhile, so many other early sci fi writers were able to envision things such as these that I am continually amazed that Asimov maintains the massive sci fi reputation he enjoys. Personally, I think he was stuck in a 1950s nuclear-era technology rut with absolutely little ability to think ahead creatively like so many of his peers and while the stories in this book are generally pleasantly well written, except for much dialogue, which Asimov always seems to have problems writing, his writing skills don’t even begin to measure up to so many other sci fi writers, it’s not even funny. Personally, I think he had several decent ideas and could tell a decent story, but then so could hundreds of other writers, so in my opinion, he was just a hack. I can easily name numerous other sci fi writers who are infinitely better than he ever was.
Whatever the case, and no matter how poorly Asimov wrote most of his novels, most of these short stories are quite good and are pretty well written. I assume he must have had a good editor. This book is the highest rated book I have ever seen on Goodreads, with a 4.36 out of 5 score. I certainly don’t think it deserves a 5 at all and I’m not even sure it deserves a 4, but I’m going ahead and giving it one just because so much of it was entertaining and after all, isn’t that what you want out of a good short story? I’m curious, now, to see how his writing matured in the ’60s, so if I see Volume 2 of this series, I’ll probably get it. As for this book? Recommended.
2 thoughts on “A Review of Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories Volume 1”
Asimov wasa a great writer and I was greatly sadden by his untimely death in 1992
The Science Geek
I loved Asimov as a kid and was drawn to the sciences from his books, especially the Light, Magnetisim, and Electricity (which was the first of his that I read).
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