How large is a cell? How do we know we’re intelligent? What are life and death? These are some of the heady topics Isaac Asimov investigates in this anniversary retrospective, a tribute to his 30 years of science columns in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Faced with a limitless supply of ideas, Asimov’s essays encompass all subjects—science, history, literature, philosophy, geography—and the interrelationships of all these disciplines.
Asimov brings a touch of humor to his most serious subjects and lends a sense of importance to even the most trivial topics as he discusses everything from the inequality women face in the world today to the usefulness of knocking on plastic instead of wood in order to bring good luck. A gifted genius, a skilled scientist and a master storyteller, Asimov’s charm and acclaimed wit shine forth in this tour-de-force of his writings, one which will readily engage readers of all backgrounds.
This book is a celebration of Asimov’s thirtieth year as a science columnist for F&SF and comes within a hair of being “the best of Asimov’s F&SF essays.” Two factors work against that—one, the column did continue, albeit only for three more years, and two, the collection is structured artificially.
As with The Asimov Chronicles, the approach here is to take the best essay from each individual year of Asimov’s column. This has the same impact here as it did in the earlier anthology—years with more than one really terrific essay get to squeeze only one essay in, and years with no really terrific essays have to put the best they can offer in. Fortunately, the latter is far less a problem than the former—none of the essays here are really clunkers in any way. And I think it does come close to including all of my very, very favorites.
Unlike Asimov on Astronomy and its cohorts, however, the essays here have not been significantly updated (although there are afterwords), and there is no index, so this is slightly less useful as a reference volume— but it is still a terrific collection, easily the individual best of all the F&SF essay collections, and that’s saying a lot.