Opus 300 is a feast for Asimov fans. Part autobiography and part anthology, this collection draws from Isaac Asimov’s third hundred books! As in Opus 100 and Opus 200, interwoven throughout the book are fascinating behind-the-scenes accounts of how he conceives his writings and how they relate to his life. The work is divided into subject categories including astronomy, physics, biology, humor, history, and science fiction, which are selected from scientific studies, essays, short stories, and annotations of the classics, and it features a special bonus—a brand new essay never before published.
Whether Asimov is discussing the moon or the Moral Majority, the “life” of a robot or odd facts about cities, the Bible or Einstein, the reader can sense that an extraordinary human being with monumental curiosity and enthusiasm is present. And, luckily for us, Asimov has a remarkable ability to share his zest for life. Reader this book is like spending an informal evening with an amiable and ebullient genius, one who discusses his favorite subjects with equal amounts of clarity and entertainment.
This is the last and least of the Opus books, and it isn’t hard to see why. The series didn’t do astoundingly well, and with Opus 300 following hard on the heels of Opus 200 after less than six years, it’s not surprising that Houghton-Mifflin didn’t get too excited at the idea of doing Opus 400 only four years later. (Since the semi-official book list trails off in 1991, it’s not entirely clear whether or not Asimov hit 500 before he died; if he did, he was so very ill that he probably didn’t realize it.)
Indeed, Houghton-Mifflin was obviously getting tired of the series even the time they got to Opus 300: the original hardback publication does not have a picture of Asimov surrounded by or seated on or associated with his vast writings, as did Opus 100 and Opus 200. It just has a picture of Asimov’s face.
I mention in my review of Opus 200 that one reason why the book isn’t as good as Opus 100 is that the hundred books it covers aren’t as good as the hundred books Opus 100 covers. This continues to be true, and the reason isn’t hard to see. Shortly after Opus 200 was published, Asimov started publishing anthologies of science fiction stories with Marty Greenberg, and the result is that 54 of the 100 books covered by Opus 300 are science fiction anthologies. (Three of the first hundred had been anthologies and six of the second.)
Additionally, eleven of the third hundred books are in the "How Did We Find Out About" series, two are Norby novels (Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot and Norby’s Other Secret). We’ve also got Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts , Isaac Asimov Presents Superquiz, and Isaac Asimov Presents Superquiz 2, which Asimov counted although he was more a glorified proofreader for the books than an author. And so on.
The net result is that about three-quarters of Asimov’s output for his third hundred are of comparatively little interest to the Asimov fan. Granted, there are a few books here of enormous interest or quality: In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt, for example, or Extraterrestrial Civilizations, A Choice of Catastrophes, In the Beginning, plus, of course, Foundation’s Edge and The Robots of Dawn. But that comes dangerously close to exhausting the list of "major" Asimov published in this time-frame.
(Actually, some of the anthologies are also extremely worthwhile. I am particularly fond of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 1, 1939 and its children, for example, and would strongly recommend the entire series to any fan of science fiction—but I digress.)
This all tends to pull down Opus 300 in quality. The section on “words” is abandoned, and the section on history nearly so. The net effect isn’t a bad book so much as one that pales in comparison to its older siblings, and that’s a shame. It’s definitely well worth-while for the Asimov fan and something one should not be without, but it isn’t nearly as good as it might have been.
|“1 to 999” aka “One In a Thousand”|
|“A Perfect Fit”|
|“Death of a Foy”|
|“How It Happened”|
|“A Fuller Explanation of Original Sin”|
|“The Smile that Loses”|
|“What Time Is It?”|
|“The Library Book” aka “Mystery Book”|