'Social Science Fiction' in Asimov's work



"Social science fiction?"
Science fiction is a term familiar to many people. This is especially true due to the tremendous influence of television. But the term "social science fiction," although not heard too often, is a term is descriptive of most of today's science fiction literature.

"But what does it mean?"
Social science fiction is the term given to literature "which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings."(1) It is to be set apart from the adventure or "gadget" science fiction which is characterized by simplistic plots and flat characters. Social science fiction is concerned with the problems presented to humanity by technology and science.

This theme can be seen readily throughout many of Isaac Asimov's science fiction works. But, Mr. Asimov was not too concerned with the problems of atomic power or overpopulation when he was three years old.

Asimov was born in Russia in the year 1920. He and his parents emigrated to the United States when Isaac was three years old. Upon arriving, young Asimov wasted little time in beginning his writing career. He had taught himself to read and by the age of seven, he had his own library card.(2) But, of the two books he was allowed to take out, only one of them could be fiction. Thus, Isaac took a liking to many science and history books, and his amazingly retentive memory allowed him to recall many of the things he read.

Because of his excellent reading habits and his superb memory, Asimov was considered brilliant when he entered school. A grade of 95 from a person capable of 100 was considered a poor grade by Isaac's father. Although he was an excellent student, Asimov was frequently bored by school. In order to escape boredom, he would create stories in class for himself and others. Although he did this verbally at first, he began writing down his stories at the age of eleven. Yet these in-class activities did not distract him from his schoolwork. He graduated the Boys' High School in Brooklyn when he was fifteen. From there, he went on to receive a B.S. from Colombia University in 1939, a Masters in 1941, and then a Ph.D. in 1948.(3) Asimov says he would have continued his studies had it not been for World War II.

Asimov's first exposure to science fiction occurred one day while he was working in his father's candy store. Although Asimov worked in this store all the way up into his college studies, he still found time for reading. But his father forbade Isaac from reading the dime novels on the shelves in his store. One day, though, a magazine appeared on the shelf entitled, "Science Wonder Stories." Since the word science was included in the name, young Asimov was permitted to read it.(4)

Although Asimov would become a famous writer in his own time, he did not think of writing as a career in those pressured times. He wanted to complete his college studies and then begin a career in chemistry. Writing, to him, was an amusement.

But his father did not think that way. His father saw the potential of becoming a great writer. Although Asimov had only submitted two of his stories at the time, his father felt that deserved some credit. Credit in the form of Asimov's first typewriter.

But it was not until 1938 that Asimov would get his first story in print. In that year, the magazine known as "Astounding Stories" changed its name to "Astounding Science Fiction" and its editor to John Campbell. Asimov wrote a number of letters to the magazine, letters that were published. Encouraged by his father, Asimov submitted a manuscript to Campbell in person. The editor met with Asimov, looked over the manuscript, and rejected it. But Asimov did not take the rejection as a negative experience, but rather a positive one. Although he continued to send stories in to Campbell, the editor kept sending him rejections. Asimov finally sold his first story. But it was not to "Astounding Science Fiction," but rather to another magazine titled, "Amazing Stories."

Asimov continued writing for the next eleven years in order to pay his way through college. During this time, he joined a science fiction fan club titled, "The Futurians."(5) He was able to pay his way up through his Ph.D. in biochemistry. But it was not until his first novel, Pebble in