Welcome to the celebration of approximately Isaac Asimov’s one-hundredth birthday, and thank you all for coming. I’m Flash Sheridan; my wife Olga Miroshnychenko and I are the organizers of this meetup. Our thanks to City Tech for hosting us, and to Professor Ellis and Dean Vazquez-Poritz for their help for this Meetup, as well as for the annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium.
I said “Approximately” because there were no records of exactly when Issac Asimov was born in Russia. January 2nd was the possible date which Dr Asimov chose later in life, and which we choose to follow.
First perhaps I should explain what I’m doing here. I have been an Asimov fan since the age of eleven. He was the first science fiction writer I ever met, at a book signing, at Baird Searles’ old Science Fiction Shop, in Greenwich Village.
Olga is also an Asimov fan. This is not entirely coincidence, though I would like to point out that it is not the only reason I married her. When she was growing up in the Soviet Union, she was able to obtain some of his books, though this is not the only reason she became a biochemist.
So when, on Dr Asimov’s ninety-ninth birthday, I searched the web to find out who was organizing his centennial celebration, and found a discussion thread on the topic, I was quite surprised to find out that the answer turned out to be us. We were honored, though, that such distinguished Asimovian guests agreed to join us. I will now briefly introduce them. Each will say something about Dr Asimov. Then they will have a discussion, followed by questions from the audience.
The one guest who should need no introduction in this company is Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, who worked with Dr Asimov for ten years.
Our next guest, in one of his manifestations, may need no introduction to many of you. He may indeed be the reason you are here: In the guise of Erwin S. Strauss, he is the the author of the Science Fiction Convention Calendar in Asimov’s magazine. I am extremely grateful to his listings, not only for bringing some of you here today. (Here I will need to tread carefully, to avoid taking sides in one of New York fandom’s legendary factional disputes.) But also for letting me know about the existence of one local science fiction convention: HELIOsphere, after Lunacon, the elder New York science fiction convention, was cancelled.
In his more colorful incarnation as renowned filksinger Filthy Pierre, I am also grateful to him for introducing me to the song version of Dr Asimov’s Caves of Steel. This was one of the highlights of my first Boskone, the Boston science fiction convention.
Andrew Porter is the Hugo-winning editor of several fanzines and semi-pro-zines, including Algol, Starship, and The Science Fiction Chronicle, from which I learned much of what I know of the science fiction community. One additional bit of history I hope to learn more about from him is Dr Asimov’s FBI file, which he discovered in his researches and may be sharing with us today.
Last, but to my way of thinking, decidedly not least, is Professor Olga Miroshnychenko, a biochemist who lectures here at City Tech. She will discuss how, even a generation after his death, Dr Asimov’s scientific writing still helps her convey knowledge, to a new generation of students.
Before I turn over to the panelists, I would like to demonstrate the breadth of Dr Asimov’s accomplishments by mentioning a couple of fields outside the areas covered by any of them:
I found Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, despite my high school English teacher’s disapproval, exceedingly helpful, and keep a copy on my shelves for whenever I watch a BBC Shakespeare video. Unlike my English teacher, I needed to know what happened in reality to the characters in Shakespeare’s history plays. (Let that be a lesson to anyone who tries to dismiss Dr Asimov as a writer of escapist literature.)
And finally, I would like to show you the program from a recent performance by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Iolanthe: The star, James Mills — splendidly portraying the Lord Chancellor — was supported by the Twenty First Isaac Asimov Award for Artistic Achievement.
And now I turn over to Sheila Willams.
Ms Williams’ editorial states:
Isaac was very ill and had been hospitalized. The doctors had agreed that he could leave the hospital to attend the party…
But in the third part of his autobiography, he confesses:
that afternoon I quietly sneaked out of the hospital. Janet pushed me in a wheelchair and my faithful internist, Dr. Paul R Esserman, came along.…
Fat chance! It was an amused item in The New York Times the next morning and everyone knew. The nurses lectured me. Lester del Rey phoned me and called me names because he said I had risked my life. …
Three days later there was the sixtieth anniversary of ASF and I had been slated to give a talk, and that time I did not dare try to get out, so I had to miss it. That was one of the times I was very sorry for myself. I felt as though I had betrayed John Campbell.
Excerpt from I, Asimov,