He’s two centimeters tall. He’s firey red. He has magical powers strong enough to wreck a normal human’s life…all with the best intentions, of course.
George Bitternut, an eccentric linguist and deadbeat, stumbles onto an ancient incantation that calls forth this diminutive demon of astonishing wizardly. Unfortunately, Azazel refuses to do anything for George’s personal gain—but he agrees to help out a few of his friends.
With Dr. Asimov himself as eager audience, Geroge recounts eighteen episodes of life with Azazel—disastrous, hilarious episodes that could only spring from science fiction’s most fertile imagination.
“The high jinks are abundant…in these eighteen fantastical stories by one of the kings of science fiction.”
“Readers will readily imagine Asimov’s voice over coffee and brandy as he describes in droll terms Geroge Bitternut’s dealings with his diminutive but powerful ally Azazel.…these eighteen tales (including one written specifically for this collection) go down smoothly.”
This is definitely a book which Asimov the writing of which was Asimov indulging himself. While I don’t particularly dislike these stories, neither do I generally like them very much—they‘re mildly humorous fluff, and nothing more. If I have anything against them, it is that they are the most common form of short fiction Asimov wrote in the last few years of his life (I believe). It does tend to make me sad to think that the man whose short fiction in his first decade as a writer was dominated by the early robot and Foundation stories had a last decade as a writer whose short fiction was dominated by George and Azazel stories.
The basic premise here is that Asimov has a ne’er-do-well sponge of a friend named George with whom he shares an occasional meal (for which Asimov invariably pays). George has the ability to contact a demon (or an extra-terrestrial, depending on the editor) named Azazel. Azazel is only two inches high or thereabouts, is always grumpy, and yet is always convinced by George to intervene in the lives of George’s acquaintances with invariably disastrous results.
Surprisingly, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the George and Azazel, I do remember them fairly well—I have little trouble pulling out of the dusty back bins of my memory a number of plot details from a number of the stories, which is something one cannot say about some of Asimov’s science fiction which I have read much, much more. Some of them, indeed, I really do like quite a bit—and yet the overall impression they leave is one of vague dissatisfaction.
Asimov’s writing style here is consciously modeled on the work of P.G. Wodehouse. In particular, Asimov borrows the basic structure of Wodehouse’s golf stories (as he had with The Union Club Mysteries, as well) and Wodehouse’s penchant for flowery names. Wodehouse, however, is a masterful stylist who polished his prose until it shone, and Asimov spent decades cultivating a plain, unadorned style that he could whip out without a second thought, so the results are not always felicitous.
Still, as I say, I don’t particularly have anything against these stories. Asimov had enormous fun writing them, and I certainly can’t hold that against him. They‘re light, many of them are genuinely funny, they‘re worth an hour or two of otherwise unoccupied time, and yet they remain somehow not very satisfying.
|“The Two-Centimeter Demon”|
|“One Night of Song”|
|“The Smile that Loses”|
|“To the Victor”|
|“The Dim Rumble”|
|“A Matter of Principle”|
|“The Evil Drink Does”|
|“Dashing Through the Snow”|
|“Logic Is Logic”|
|“He Travels the Fastest”|
|“The Eye of the Beholder”|
|“More Things In Heaven and Earth”|
|“The Fights of Spring”|
|“The Mind’s Construction”|
|“Flight of Fancy”|