Opus 100 is Isaac Asimov’s one-hundredth book in a twenty-year writing career! In part an anthology of selections chosen by the author from his first 99 works, it affords a generous sampling from every area in which he has written. It is also a most engaging literary biography that intimately acquaints the reader with the man responsible for such an extraordinary body of work, for in the prefatory remarks interwoven with the selections Isaac inadvertently and unselfconsciously reveals why it is that he has such a host of devoted friends who feel completely at east with him even though, as it happens, he is a genuine genius.
Professor George Gaylord Simpson in reviewing Wellsprings of Life said, “Asimov is one of our natural wonders and national resources,” and indeed he might well be declared a National Monument. He is one of the world’s most famous science fiction writers. He has written books on astronomy, anatomy, biochemistry, etymology, geography, and mathematics, not to mention the Greek myths, the Bible, the Benjamin Franklin. Recently he has embarked on a series of volumes which may well encompass the entire history of the world.
Isaac’s own enthusiasm for whatever subject he is tackling immediately infects the reader with a spirit of intellectual adventure. As a result, reviewers customarily greet each new publication with such adjectives as “brilliant,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” and “sparkling.”
Opus 100 is no exception. To read this book is to spend a relaxed evening in the company of a warm, ebullient, very human being who delights in every aspect of life and has the capacity to make any subject he writes about both understandable and entertaining.
This is book is a sheer delight from start to finish.
Written in celebration of Asimov’s publishing 100 books in the course of twenty years and the breadth of that writing, the book is divided into eleven sections showing off some of the diverse topics on which Asimov has written. Each section contains a number of passages from various books by Asimov illustrating his writing on that topic, all surrounded by sprightly and entertaining commentary on the topic, on the process of writing on the topic, and very often on the books themselves.
At the end of all this is an actual list of the First Hundred.
(One cannot express what that list meant to people who lived before the days of the Internet and Ed Seiler. Here was an actual list, from the typewriter of the Good Doctor himself, listing all of his first hundred books! What a boon for collectors! What a joyous day that was for me when I finished getting all the books on that list!)
The biographical information in the book is no longer one of its key features, as it was in 1969 when it was published or in 1974 when Asimov told me to read it and not bother him with pesky little questions about his life. Books like I. Asimov, In Memory Yet Green, and In Joy Still Felt have superseded it in that respect. Opus 100 is, however, a book about Asimov’s writing, and not Asimov himself, and for the fan of his writing, it remains invaluable.
The passages included are also worthwhile in and of themselves. We get some of Asimov’s best fiction, such as “The Last Question” and “The Feeling of Power” entirely reprinted (plus the delightful “The Holmes-Ginsbook Device,” which I don’t believe is anthologized anywhere else). We get essays like “Twelve Point Three Six Nine,” which is perhaps my very favorite of all Asimov’s F&SF essays. We get key selections from books like The Neutrino, The Universe, and other Asimov perennials. And we get the sometimes hilarious stories about how these books came to be.
If the book has any flaw—and it doesn’t—it’s the fact that Asimov lists at the end some of the projects he was working on at the time: a book on the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople, the Forgotten Empire, check), a big book on Shakespeare (Asimov’s guide to Shakespeare, Volume One and Asimov’s guide to Shakespeare, Volume Two, check)—and a book on sex for teenagers (honest!) for which I am still waiting, long after the point where such a volume might have been relevant in my life. (At least one of my children is still a teenager…)
The fan of only Asimov’s fiction may find this volume disappointing, since it generally uses his fiction to illustrate his ability to write on other topics, and since the emphasis is very definitely on non-fiction here—but any Asimov fan who restricts their reading to his fiction is depriving themself of something more than worthwhile.