I is for Isaac Asimov

This is part of the Alphabet of Crime Fiction series. Big thanks to Kerrie for doing the leg work. You can show your appreciation by heading on over to Mysteries in Paradise and either signing up or cheering everyone on.

I is for Issac Asimov

Issac Asimov born in Russia in 1920, moved to U.S. at the age of 3, was a Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University and, of course, a prolific writer to boot. While Asimov started out writing science fiction, he has written books that fall under all 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System. And that includes mysteries. Asimov was one of the first authors I read and learned to love. I graduated high school reading his books on the physical, chemical and biological sciences while ignoring the prescribed textbooks. I did very well on my A-levels. But since we are all about mysteries, his mystery canon consist of the following:

The Black Widower series – In many ways, these books are similar to the Ms. Marple short stories where she is invited by her nephew to sit in on the conversations and ends up solving the mysteries. In Asimov’s case, it’s the butler Henry Jackson who invariably solves each mystery.
Novels – Includes The Death Dealers and Murder at the ABA. I have only read the latter and it has an interesting history. Asimov was asked to write the book by his editor at Doubleday and given three months to do it because they wanted it in time for the ABA convention. He finished it in time and wrote himself into the story. That’s right, one of the major characters in the book is Issac Asimov, the famous writer, who is at the ABA convention when a murder happens. You can tell he had fun with the idea.
The Robot series – Includes four books about the human detective Elijah Baley and his android assistant Daneel Olivaw. These books meld science fiction and mystery (because Asimov believed and wanted to prove that scifi is not just a limited genre but an idea that can be applied to other genres).
The rest of the mysteries – I don’t really have much to say here. I have read some of them but none strike me as particularly remarkable.

Asimov’s writing hold a special place in my heart. The Robot series along with the rest of the Foundation books represents some of Asimov’s best fiction and I have read and reread them many times. He was so prolific that Harlan Ellison joked that “Asimov had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.”

Recommended Reading
The Black Widower series and Murder at the ABA of course. But also, the entire Foundation canon, including The Robot series and The Foundation Trilogy are some of the most entertaining and engrossing books written. And while they are nominally scifi, Asimov’s books were always about interpersonal relationships and societies-at-large. They just happen to be set in the future.

More about Asimov at Wikipedia


5 responses »

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Peter – I think you made an excellent choice here. A lot of people don’t think of Asimov as an author of crime fiction but of course he was. And he did indeed show that one can write a story that transcends genre or at least has lots of elements of different genres in it.

    • and I’m realising that many (most? all?) best selling books are that way. Harry Potter isn’t really magical fantasy or, at least, that isn’t why so many people love it.

      • Margot Kinberg

        Oh, now that’s a good point, Peter. A good story is not good because it’s just a fantasy, or just sci-fi, or just a spy story. It’s a good story because of the characters and the plot. And that often means elements of more than one genre or more than element of the same genre.

  2. Well, I’m one who didn’t know he wrote crime fiction but I’m sure he wrote some great ones.


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