Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Memory Yet Green

In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography, 1920-1954 (1979) by Isaac Asimov

Asimov's autobiography gives us the early years of his life--from his birth in Russia and his family's immigration to the United States to the point where his writing career had really taken off. By the time the book ends, he has written his most famous novelette, "Nightfall," and has seen his Foundation series (originally published as separate short stories) released in book form. He provides an intimate view of history--from post-WWI Russia to the United States during WWII and the Korean conflict and includes snippets of other events along the way. The book also features the struggles faced by a young immigrant family in early 20th Century America. Most relevant for those who, like me, have enjoyed his science fiction are the insights into how he got into the writing business and what the early years of science fiction and publishing were like. 


Finally finished this one--it seems like I've been working on it forever. At over 700 pages, Asimov was one wordy dude and only covered 34 years of his life. I love his fiction, having cut my SF eye teeth on his books and short stories. But I must say: the man had a (shall we call it) healthy ego. Once he knew a thing, he was quite prepared to point out how well he knew a thing. Repeatedly, in case you missed it. To give him his due, he also presents the reader with his shortcomings and mistakes in life and is perfectly willing to own up when he was at fault. He also seems to have been a remarkedly loyal friend and family member--helping out in situations that may have turned out disastrously simply because he, as he called it, was following the code of the Woosters: Never let a pal down. He also stuck with his first book publisher, Walter "Brad" Bradbury at Doubleday even when Fredrick Pohl tried to tempt him with bigger profits at Ballantine books.

It would be great to make a lot of money with my writing, and I would feel silly if all the other writers went on to make a lot of money and left me behind

But then I thought of Brad taking my first book, and going over the galleys with me, and working with me to cure me of overwriting, and being kind and helpful, and I had to picture myself saying, "Sorry, Brad, you've been outbid."

So I finally said, "I can't do it, Fred. I'm sorry."

Asimov, as is true of all of us, was a complex individual. Intelligent, creative, competitive (he always wanted to be first or youngest to do something), loyal, sometimes easily angered over trivialities, in equal parts self-deprecating and somewhat egotistical, and, well....a bit of a lech--he never met a pretty girl he didn't want to hug. With his spare, direct style (you wouldn't think it since he took over 700 pages to to tell us about less than half of his life), he comes through as trying to be honest about his life. He is on display, warts and all, and some of it is a little difficult to take--especially in these days. One has to wonder if all the women he thought were so indulgent with his eyebrow-wagging and suggestive comments really were (I sincerely doubt it). And whether they really did think he was just harmless. It's obvious that he thought they thought so (or had chosen to believe it). He also seemed to be disproportionately concerned with everyone's looks--men and women--especially in first encounters. Everyone is initially described in terms of how attractive they are. He soon moves on to other matters and has great respect and interest in others' intelligence, but it's a bit jarring to see that everyone is measured on the Asimov attractiveness scale.

But--putting that to the side--this is a very good autobiography. It is entertaining and informative and even though it's quite long it was never tedious. Asimov is a storyteller above all and he makes the story of his life worth telling. ★★★★

1 comment:

Christophe said...

A warts-and-all balanced review of a warts-and-all balanced autobiography, it seems. Thanks.