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This article was written in 1979 for "Southwest Airlines Magazine." I interviewed Isaac Asimov while I was a radio talk show host in Texas. This article is based on that radio program. I honestly do not remember how much of the introduction was changed by the SWA magazine editors. Isaac died in New York City on April 6, 1992, thirteen years after this article was written. By the time of his death (and later, since a few were published after his death), he is credited with compiling, editing or writing over 500 books. He coined the term "robotics."
 
Isaac Asimov about the time this was written                                 Isaac "resting on his laurels"

 

   

"An Interview with Isaac Asimov"
by Phil Konstantin



Click here for a link to a comprehensive "Frequently Asked Question" list about him from Asimovonline.com

...and now, here is the article exactly as it appeared in 1979...




For years relegated to obscure pulp magazines and the dank, dusty back reaches of the local library, science fiction has finally come of age. No more snuggling under the covers with a flashlight to sneak snatches of some interplanetary adventure, no more stashing the newest Nebula Award winner behind copies of Kipling or Kierkegaard; sci-fi fans have come out of the closet.

Cults have mushroomed here and abroad around writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov - all of whom have been elevated to guru status by the masses of fantasy seekers, science buffs and idealists. Science fiction has gone to the movies and rakes in millions of dollars from hordes of ticket buyers. Legions of the loyal have proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. Take the Trekkies (devotees of television's defunct but far from forgotten Star Trek series), they practically strong-armed Hollywood into resurrecting Captain Kirk, Mr.Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew for a feature film, Star Trek - The Motion Picture.

Called "the great explainer of our age," Isaac Asimov is perhaps everyman's science fiction writer. Peers heartily praise him as a translator of "scientific gobbledygook" into easy-to-understand English. Peter R. Weston in Contemporary Novelists observes, "...whatever Asimov writes, he writes well...He has above all the ability to communicate, which will ensure that all of his works have lasting appeal."

Born January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, Russia, the son of a candy store keeper, Asimov emigrated to America with his parents in 1923 and became a naturalized citizen five years later. He excelled at school - with the help of his photographic memory - and started writing by the age of 12. By 18, he was banging the keys of a second-hand typewriter his father bought him and he published his first story. He completed his education at Columbia University, taking BS, MA and PhD degrees between 1939 and 1948. He taught at Boston Univerity School of Medicine as an associate professor of biochemistry for more than 20 years. Retired from teaching, Asimov now lives in New York City and writes full time.

Under his own name and his pseudonym, Paul French, Asimov has compiled, written and edited some 200 works including his modern classic, The Foundation Trilogy (three separate novels about the collapse and rebirth of the Galactic civilization), and a winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards (equivalents of filmdom's Oscar), The Gods Themselves. Though most noted for his science fiction writing, the bulk of the author's work is nonfiction - textbooks and popular science. His topics of comment include astronomy, chemistry, physics, literature ("Don Juan," "Paradise Lost," and Shakespeare, most notably), the Bible, human physiology, mathematics, humor and history.

An obsessive writer, Asimov does his own typing (90 words per minute, at last count), copy proofing and indexing. He allegedly works 10 hours a day, seven days a week turning out two to four thousands words a day. Friends admit he is only rarely dragged "kicking and screaming" from his desk.

Former KPAC Radtio talk show host, and current free lance writer, Phil Konstantin interviewed Asimov on the air at the Port Arthur station. "I was thrilled to get to talk to him, tickled to death," comments Konstantin. "I've been a fan of his longer than he would probably care to know. He is a very humorous person, just as glib verbally as he is in his writing."

SWA Magazine: In many of your books, you have mentioned on the jacket that your publishers were looking for a devilishly handsome and witty person to edit an anthology. Are you really that handsome?

Asimov: Oh, well, inside I'm like that - very young and handsome, and sexy. On the outside, only a few favorite people can see that. Like me, for instance.

SWA Magazine: I understand that at one time you said that you would let your work serve as your biography, and yet In Memory, Yet Green, your autobiography, has just come out. Why did you change your mind?

Asimov: Well, my 200th book was coming up and Doubleday wanted something they could plug, so they said they wanted an autobiography. I tried to resist, but they overcame me.

SWA Magazine: How long did it take to complete?

Asimov: Ten months. I started on March 9, 1977, and I finished on December 31, 1977 because I promised I would have it finished by the end of the year. It was rough going, too. The book is over 640,000 words long, which is more than three times as long as The Foundation Trilogy.

SWA Magazine: Have you really done that much?

Asimov: In my life? I've done nothing in my life. You would be surprised how shrewdly I had to write it to obscure that fact.

SWA Magazine: Recently, there have been several science fiction movies and television programs that have appeared. What are your opinions on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Asimov: Well, I liked Star Wars. I thought Battlestar Galactica was such a close imitation of Star Wars, emphasizing the less attractive portions, that I was a little impatient with it. And as for Close Encounters, I'm afraid I detested that. It was too noisy and parts of it were just silly.

SWA Magazine: There seem to be many scientific inaccuracies in many of these films. What is your feeling on this?

Asimov: Yes, Battlestar Galactica for instance, started off with twenty to thirty minutes of space battles which looked exactly like air battles in World War I. You could swear that the space ships were surrounded by air the way the maneuvered. One felt it was unworthy.

SWA Magazine: The Vipers in Battlestar Galactica look like jets. Is this a realistic design for the future?

Asimov: It is as if people in the 1880s were writing fantasy stories about airplanes of the future and they had the pilots lean back at the wheel and yell "whoa" and the airplane came to a halt in mid-air.

SWA Magazine: Getting away from fiction, what do you think about the recent UFO sightings in Australia and New Zealand?

Asimov: I think they might be the planet Venus. Venus was very bright in the sky at the time, and when it is low near the horizon, it sometimes looks as big as a house. In fact, President Carter once saw a UFO; he said so, and most people, or astronomers at least, think that judging from the time he saw it and the day he saw it, it was also probably Venus.

SWA Magazine: Talking about spacecraft, what do you think about the shuttle program?

Asimov: Well, I hope it does get off the ground. And I hope they expand it, because the shuttle program is the gateway to everything else. By means of the shuttle, we will be able to build space stations and power stations, laboratory facilities and habitations, and everything else in space.

SWA Magazine: How about orbital space colonies? Do you see these facilities being built or is the government going to cut back on projects like this?

Asimov: Well, now you've put your finger right on it. In order to have all of these wonderful things in space, we don't have to wait for technology - we've got the technology, and we don't have to wait for the know-how - we've got that too. All we need is the political go-ahead and the economic willingness to spend the money that is necessary. It is a little frustrating to think that if people concentrate on how much it is going to cost they will realize the great amount of profit they will get for their investment. Although they are reluctant to spend a few billions of dollars to get back an infinite quantity of money, the world doesn't mind spending $400 billion every years on arms and armaments, never getting anything back from it except a chance to commit suicide.

SWA Magazine: Do you think that we will avoid a self-inflicted global catastrophe?

Asimov: The chances don't look so good, but they don't look so black, either. The birth rate is going down over most of the world, and if it continues to go down, then perhaps we can bring a halt to the population explosion before it completely overwhelms us. There is always the danger of nuclear war, but we've kept away from it now for thirty-five years. And maybe we can keep on keeping away from it. We've been polluting and using up our energy, but I think more and more we are aware of the dangers of this. And perhaps, we will do something about it. To my way of thinking, the biggest obstacle to solving the problems we have, and we have some of the solutions, is that the world is dividing up into separate nations, all of which are more concerned over their own short-term interests than over the long-term survival of the human species. And as long as that is so, then I don't think we will have a chance, because we will all go down the tube quarreling, so to speak.

SWA Magazine: Do you see this as the foreseeable future, or will we have enough sense to avoid this?

Asimov: Well, I do see this tendency to draw back from the brink. In other words, we to tend to realize that we can't afford to quarrel, the earth is too small for that, and the United States and the USSR do keep talking and now it looks as though the US and China are going to keep talking. I would like to see the Soviet Union and China have a detente, too. I would like to see initiative toward peace between Israel and Eygpt expanded to include the rest of the Middle East. All of these things are hopeful beginnings. The various detentes are hopeful beginnings, but they are only beginnings, and at the rate they are moving, we will never make it. So, we will have to go faster.

SWA Magazine: Assuming we survive our current problems, what are the prospects for finding life as we know it on other planets?

Asimov: In our solar system, the chances are extremely slim. The planet that had the best chances, Mars, has shown itself to be barren of our type of life. And you could probably be safe in saying that it would be impossible to find any life like us on other planets.

SWA Magazine: What about other solar systems in our galaxy?

Asimov: That's a different thing. It is very likely that there are many, many planets carrying life, even intelligent life, thoughout the universe, because there are so many stars. By sheer chance, even if those chances are small, a great many life forms and a great many intelligences may exist.

SWA Magazine: I've always been curious, what is your PhD in?

Asimov: Chemistry.

SWA Magazine: How much science do you use in your science fiction?

Asimov: Quite a bit. In my science fiction books, although I take liberties, when I state something about science in these stories, it is so. Or at least is true with our current knowledge.

SWA Magazine: Due to your number of stories about robots, I wonder if you feel that we will have full-functioning robots by the year 2000?

Asimov: They are advancing steadily in all sorts of robotic directions, and I think that assuming that there is no thermonuclear war or that civilization does not meet a serious crisis that it cannot recover from, I think that by the end of the century we will have, at least, simple robots. That is, objects that are roughly man-shaped that can do certain jobs.

SWA Magazine: Will this need a military push to get it off the ground?

Asimov: Oh, I don't know about that. The computers in general are advancing so rapidly now, just in response to peacetime economic demands, that I think there is a chance we'll develop simple robots; not on purpose, but just as an unavoidable by-product of computer advances.

SWA Magazine: What is your opinion, generally, on ESP, metaphysics and astrology?

Asimov: I'm a skeptic. I won't accept it without good, hard scientific evidence. And there isn't any so far.

SWA Magazine: Wouldn't you even have your horoscope done as an experiment?

Asimov: Well, I don't think that it is possible for me to do that, because I don't know the exact day of my birth. I was born in Russia shortly after the revolution. Things were pretty messed up, no records were kept, and although I have a birthday, I am not sure that it is the accurate one. In addition to not having records kept, my parents knew the day only in the Jewish calendar and at that time the Russians were using the Julian calendar, which was thirteen days behind the Gregorian. It is just impossible to get it all straightened out.

SWA Magazine: In The Foundation Trilogy, you propose a new branch of science called psychohistorics. Do you feel that this idea, which says that the actions of trillions of people can be accurately predicted, could actually evolve?

Asimov: It is possible. It may not be as simplistic as the psychohistory of the Foundation, but after all, I firmly believe that all phenomena can be mathematicized and possibly anaylzed. It may be too difficult to handle easily, but we keep making small steps in that direction.

SWA Magazine: What do you think about the writing of Carl Sagan?

Asimov: I'm crazy about his stuff. Listen, I read Dragons of Eden in galleys. I was lying in bed reading it because the publisher wanted a statement from me. I nudged my wife and said, "Listen, this is going to be a best seller." And, I was right. If you look on the back cover of Dragons of Eden, you will find a quote I made about the book and it is quite sincere. It had nothing to do with the fact that Carl and I are friends.

SWA Magazine: What about your non-working life - what do you do for entertainment?

Asimov: Well, basically, I sit in my apartment and type up my newest effort. I go out and give a talk every once in a while, and this evening I went to a party for my Italian publisher. It was from six to eight and I left promptly at twenty till seven to be here when you called. By the way, I couldn't get a taxi, so I had to walk a long way before I could get a cab.

SWA Magazine: Well, now we can find out how really important Isaac Asimov is. Do you have your own parking place?

Asimov: Heavens, no. I don't even use a car in Manhattan, it's a form of suicide.

SWA Magazine: I read an article once about a person claiming to be your brother. Do you have a brother, and if so, how does he feel about you?

Asimov: I have a younger brother named Stan. He's the vice president of the New York Newsday. He is an ideal brother to have; he's sane, rational, well-balanced and he doesn't mind being my brother in the least. He's going his own way and he has been quite successful in his field, which is newspapers. He doesn't feel that he lives in my shadow. If the situation were reversed, I don't think I could be that rational. I'd probably hate him.

SWA Magazine: The article I read, which I think he wrote, said that between the two of you, you have each written an aveage of 100 books. Is that true?

Asimov: Yes, I have written 200 and he hasn't written any, which comes out to an average of 100 each.






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