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Old 09-18-2012, 11:06 AM   #16
Graham
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Even when we were reading Asimov back when he was writing it we all knew that he lacked depth of characterisation. However, we loved him for the plots and the ideas and the way his stories leapt off the page.

There's more than one route to greatness, and as others have said many have built on what he did to climb higher and further.

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Old 09-18-2012, 11:08 AM   #17
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I found Foundation quite boring too, although the dated technology was kind of charming. At least he had computers with visual displays. I also read Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky earlier this year, where they still use slide-rules.

I quite enjoy some of Asimov's work, but I don't think I'd really waste much time defending the quality of his prose. I was just thinking the other day that Asimov's The Gods Themselves and Ursula K Le Guin's The Dispossessed both feature the internal politics of scientific progress as major plot points, and won the Hugo award just two years apart, but stylistically they could hardly be further apart. The lumpen Asimov seems from another era, compared to the Le Guin, and I'd say it was one of Asimov's best. For all that, I enjoyed both of them; they just have different virtues.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:19 AM   #18
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I remember an essay about science fiction-by Poul Anderson, I think. According to it the true value of science fiction isn't predicting changes in technology but predicting the social effects of those changes. The part I remember was about science fiction that might have been written in 1880-1900. The automobile was visible, if not yet commonly known. So the technological change would be the prevalence of the automobile. No problem if you treat it like a horse. ("The hero jumped into his automobile & raced off in pursuit of the bad guys.") But the true value was in predicting how the automobile would allow people to live further away from their jobs, thus creating suburbs, and provide more privacy for lovers, thus increasing 'back seat' sex, etc.

In that view, Asimov's writing is very good. Although he couldn't predict technology beyond nuclear fusion (really? what about hyperspace jumps?) he predicted the social changes well. Whether or not he's accurate remains to be seen-but I haven't seen any evidence (yet) that he's wrong.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:20 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by holymadness View Post
If we compare him to his contemporaries—Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Arthur Miller, Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck—there is really no question that he was a minor, minor figure in letters at the time. Had he not popularized science fiction along with Clarke and Heinlein, I think he would be forgotten today.
There's no question that he was a major figure. He just wrote in an a genre that was sneered at. People still read his books, they aren't reading him just because he was historically important. He is - and was - a major figure, even if not everyone likes his books.

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I don't think it should. Some others in the thread are saying that because 1950s sci-fi movies/pulp fiction were cheesy, Asimov somehow has the right to be just as cheesy.

Sci-fi should be held to the same standard as all literature.
No one said that. What was said was that it is no surprise that science fiction from the 1950's (again, it's actually from the 1940's) feels like science fiction from the 1950's. Someone today may judge it dates and cheesy today, but that doesn't mean that it was dated and cheesy at the time it was written, 70 years ago. There is little writing about the future that won't appear dated 70 years after it is written.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:25 AM   #20
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Even when we were reading Asimov back when he was writing it we all knew that he lacked depth of characterisation. However, we loved him for the plots and the ideas and the way his stories leapt off the page.

There's more than one route to greatness, and as others have said many have built on what he did to climb higher and further.

Graham
Absolutely. Asimov's characters are two-dimensional, cardboard characters, but for all of that he is unquestionably one of the great SF authors. Why? Because of his ideas and his plots. Asimov invented the "galaxy-spanning galactic empire" depicted in his "Foundation" novels; the sweep of his imagination surpassed that of almost any other author of his day.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:33 AM   #21
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I read the Foundation series back in the early 60s. I enjoyed it. Was he my favorite science fiction writer? No. I do agree others wrote better stories. Recently my Science Fiction/Fantasy book club read Foundation. All the younger readers didn't care for it till I started pointing out some of the ideas & philosophy he was imparting. None of the club members liked the main character nor the blind following of so many people after his "death". I honestly don't think we were suppose to like the main character. He really wasn't all that likable.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:48 AM   #22
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Second the complete lack of powerful or relevant, influential female characters.
it read like a cheesy 1950's sci fi novel where all women are just "secretaries"
Make a particular effort to avoid the Barsoom stuff by Edgar Rice Burroughs, then. Unlike the recent movie (where Dejah Thoris kicks ass better than John Carter, and they wonder why it bombed) the sole reason female characters exist is to get kidnapped, so that the he-man hero can rescue her (and she will fall madly in love with him and make his babies).

And I say this as someone who has a certain apprecation for the classics.

(Could not read the one written by his son, though. From what I could tell, by the writing style, the characterization, the plotting, it was written when said son was about three years old.)
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:16 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by holymadness View Post
If we compare him to his contemporaries—Raymond Chandler, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Arthur Miller, Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck—there is really no question that he was a minor, minor figure in letters at the time. Had he not popularized science fiction along with Clarke and Heinlein, I think he would be forgotten today.

He has the merit of being a visionary, but not a particularly good writer.
It's hard to be a good writer, let alone a very good or great one. There are plenty of storytellers who lack the chops to great writers -- but are famous because they can glue you to the edge of your seat.

I think being a great visionary and storyteller is a thing in its own right -- and that a author shouldn't be dinged for lack of being a great writer.

Put another way - perhaps Vera Wang or other fashion person can't sew at all, but he/she can design and put colors and styles together well enough that it don't matter.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:18 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by taustin View Post
Make a particular effort to avoid the Barsoom stuff by Edgar Rice Burroughs, then. Unlike the recent movie (where Dejah Thoris kicks ass better than John Carter, and they wonder why it bombed) the sole reason female characters exist is to get kidnapped, so that the he-man hero can rescue her (and she will fall madly in love with him and make his babies)
And definitely stay away from anything by John Norman.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:21 PM   #25
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(and she will fall madly in love with him and make his babies).
Whats wrong with babies?
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:30 PM   #26
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I like Asimov for his exploration of ideas like the collapse of a galactic civilization, the effects of robotics (a word he invented), etc.
And psychohistory, which is (under different names) actually being developed.
Robotics as a science practically deifies him since he pretty much wrote the roadmap for the science.

To appreciate Asimov you have to appreciate ideas more than wordsmithing.
His prose is intentionally lean and accessible to make the ideas accessible (the man wrote textbooks and popular science books--he was Brian Greene before Brian Greene).

If wordsmithing is your thing, go to Bradbury and Ellison and the other New Wave/Dangerous Vision era writers. Don't expect it from the Asimov era SF writers because that is not what the *editors* were looking and paying for. (That is precisely what the Dangerous Visions revolt was all about.)

Asimov started in the 30's and wrote most of his signature works in the 40's.
For a look of what his works evolved to, you might want to look at THE GODS THEMSELVES or his latter Robot and Foundation books.

He can no more be blamed for writing 40's SF than 70's fantasists can be blame for writing Tolkienesque fantasies. He and they wrote what the market let them publish.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:49 PM   #27
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I remember an essay about science fiction-by Poul Anderson, I think. According to it the true value of science fiction isn't predicting changes in technology but predicting the social effects of those changes.
YES! This is exactly why I love science fiction, and it's what I look for. I don't look for the futuristic setting, I don't look for the character development, I look for the exploration of the ethical and moral implications. I love science fiction stories that leave you thinking and pondering right vs. wrong.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:53 PM   #28
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That's funny. I'm half way through it now (for my first time) and tried to get my 13 yo daughter to read it, but somehow suspect that even though she's an avid reader who loved Twilight she won't get very far into it before giving up, if she tries at all.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:56 PM   #29
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Stories can be dated without being overrates. I recently read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I could see how this would have been an amazing story to someone in the 1870's, when little was known of life under the sea, and when submarines were only in early prototypes. But I couldn't share that excitement, becasue I live in a world where we know a lot about undersea life, I can strap on a scuba tank or watch a documentary, and submarines are fairly routine. That doesn't take anything away from the book, even if it was less interesting to me than it would have been to a reader in 1870.
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Old 09-18-2012, 12:58 PM   #30
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Re: Bram Stoker's _Dracula_ --- an interesting alternative to that for modern sensibilities would be Fred Saberhagen's _The Dracula Tapes_.
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