Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I've recently begun reading Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov in the beginning of a journey toward reading the entire Foundation series (as written by Asimov, not the posthumous sequels). It always strikes me when I read works by Asimov what an incredibly bad writer he is, at least as far as novels. His short stories generally are good, but that's because you expect something different from a sci-fi short story than what you expect from a novel. A sci-fi short story is supposed to explore some kind of futuristic scientific speculation--and Asimov is the undisputed master of this style. A sci-fi novel, on the other hand, is supposed to be just like any other novel, and the speculation is incidental to the story, or at least the story takes the forefront. Asimov seemed to have missed the distinction.

Which is not to say that I don't like it. I'm one of a limited number of people that actually enjoys reading that kind of thing. But let me explore why it's bad from a fiction-writing standpoint.

The most important rule of writing fiction is "show, don't tell." Asimov is absolutely famous for telling rather than showing. Every novel of his that I've read has a character unfamiliar with his surroundings and a person who knows about it. The one familiar with them shows the other around and explains all the workings of the space station or planet or whatever else is involved.
He's famous for having long passages of explanation of what's happening. He does make concession to the rules of fiction by adding some exciting events, but this is the lesser part of the story.
And in Nemesis, for example, we see one of the largest failings of most Asimov novels. The main characters are often scientists who sit around and discuss the scientific problem until they come to a solution.

If you like that kind of thing, like me, it's fine, and reading Asimov is great. Of course, if you like that kind of thing you've probably already read a lot of Asimov, so what I'm saying here won't be much help.


  1. So apparently Pitch Black (the prequel to Chronicles of Riddick, for those who don't know) is based on an Asimov story called "Nightfall." Don't suppose you've read it, have you?

  2. I haven't read it, but I'm not surprised. Pitch Black is actually a really great sci-fi horror movie, probably the best one outside John Carpenter's The Thing and at least Alien, if not other movies in the Alien series. The Chronicles of Riddick, on the other hand, is complete and utter crap and couldn't possibly be based on an Asimov story.

    Asimov did write a lot of stories, so I'm not surprised that I haven't read that one, especially since most of his that I've read are about robots and computers.

  3. You probably shouldn't actually read prelude first, as it wasn't meant to be read in that order- start with foundation, then foundation and empire then second foundation then.. uh the next one, then foundation and earth and THEn the prequels. It's no big deal, but I think they contain spoilers.

    Nightfall is a fairly short short story- from what I've heard of pitch black, they're not particualrly similar. Nightfall is fun though.

    A lot of Asimov's books tend to descend into physics lessons every now and then...

  4. I believe that Nightfall was later turned into a novel by Asimov in collaboration with another author. And in the author's note in Prelude, he says that the order they were written isn't necessarily the order in which they should be read. I had already read Foundation and Foundation and Empire, so if there were obvious spoilers in Prelude they didn't bother me (I finished it last night).

  5. Ack! What don't you like about Chronicles?? Yes, it has little to do with the Asimov story, in the same way that Hellraiser 2 has nothing to do with Hellbound Heart, but it's a good movie in it's own right. Pitch Black, as much as I enjoyed it, is a fairly cliched movie and Chronicles is nothing more than an exploration of the character of Riddick.. Hmph.

  6. Well, for one thing, it was kind of stupid. For example, when the sun was rising on that prison planet, Riddick was going to swing around and expose himself to the sunlight, so what does he do to protect himself? They splash water on his back. What. The. Fuck? I'm sorry, but the only thing that would do is instead of instantly frying and baking in the sun, he would be boiled and steamed. Also, the story was damn weak besides the bad science.