Isaac Asimov
Book Review, Non-Fiction, Recently Posted, Science fiction

I Asimov written by Isaac Asimov

Asimov-Cover2 To fans of classical science fiction, Isaac Asimov holds a position of one of a trinity – along with Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke. Of course there have been many more talented writers in the golden age of science fiction who arguably should be a part of an extended trinity – Philip Dick, Harlan Elision, Fredrick Pohl come to mind immediately. But we like symbolism and simplicity, so three it remained.

But speak of science fiction today and Asimov rings the most bells than anybody else. Partly the reason is his prodigious output. He penned hundreds of books, articles, anthologies, science books for kids – his influence extended across all major science and science fiction during his time. As popular a science fiction writer as a contemporary science writer, he was and still is one of the most widely read author.

But his major appeal, according to me, is his engaging writing style. It is highly accessible and there is always a humour underlying his work. Asimov’s writing, according to his own admission, has been to bring science to a much wider audience. Conscious to steer away from typical science writing of his time, which usually assumed scientific literacy for the reader, Asimov adopted a highly readable form of science writing. And his science fiction also reads the same way. The concept of psychohistory and laws of robotics, in the hands of another, would have assumed a mystical aura. In Asimov’s style, the concepts became crystal clear and natural. In fact, the real world of robotics assumes the Asimov’s laws – another powerful indication of how science fiction actually creates reality!!

I became a fan of Asimov on reading his powerful short stories – “The Last Question” and “Nightfall” and it has been an insatiable passion ever since. So, I picked up “I, Asimov”, his autobiography, without hesitation.

And it is a rollicking ride. The first thing that strikes you as the first pages go by is the very different structure of the book. Usually autobiographies and biographies follow a linear chronological pattern.

“I, Asimov”, on the other hand is like a collection of short stories, each two to three pages long. Collected together, they are vignettes of Asimov’s thoughts and opinions on almost everything he had ever encountered – to his opinion of having kids, his contemporaries, his marriages, his work, his religious beliefs (or lack of it), his political beliefs and his own opinion of himself.

“I, Asimov” reads much like all his work – highly readable and accessible with sparkling wit. And for an autobiography, it is a surprising page-turner – the reader is never under pressure to remember dates or events but goes along with the story, the ‘story’ is Asimov’s life. It is only roughly chronological and by the end of the book, the reader easily forms a very fair idea of Asimov’s life.

Asimov weaves his life story beautifully within these short pieces. And what comes across in the pages is a man who is witty, loyal to his ideas, full of life and passion for his work. He also comes across as stubborn and cocksure and supremely self-confident. But he admits to these freely. Usually owning up to non-flattering parts of your own character leads to explanations or self-pity. Asimov does not fall in either pits. That is one of the most endearing part of the book.

He is also one who can be truly generous. He rates many writers, including Heinlein, to be much better writers than himself. He is surprised that many times he was awarded Hugos or Nebulas while much better writers were overlooked. This quality of generosity or self-critique is rare in anybody, more so in writers…

It is as if, in the last autobiography he wrote (he wrote two before), Asimov wants the reader and the world to know exactly who and how he was. He does not dress up his prejudices and does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. He comes across as forthright and frank without ever resorting to taking himself seriously. Even when he talks about death, there is no morbid philosophy. Even though he had only a few years to live (in fact he did not live to see this book’s publication), the inevitability of his death is told in a faintly ironic and humorous tone – “I expected to die at sixty and then at sixty five and then to my surprise, I reached seventy – more than anyone ever reached in my family”

The taste that you take away from this book is of a man who is sparkling, witty and entirely sure of himself. It shows also a man who can be full of warmth towards some people and cold towards some other. Someone who did not care too much of societal niceties. A man who stuck to his ideals and his philosophy, inspite of everything he faced.

Pick up this book. This is an autobiography unlike any you may have read. If you haven't read Asimov yet, this book may actually be a good place to start – you will want to read him. If you have already read Asimov, you might realize why you enjoyed his work so much

 

Some quotes –

“Once, when a religionist denounced me in unmeasured terms, I sent him a card saying, "I am sure you believe that I will go to hell when I die, and that once there I will suffer all the pains and tortures the sadistic ingenuity of your deity can devise and that this torture will continue forever. Isn't that enough for you? Do you have to call me bad names in addition?”

“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

“I am not a Zionist, then, because I don't believe in nations, and because Zionism merely sets up one more nation to trouble the world. It sets up one more nation to have "rights" and "demands" and "national security" and to feel it must guard itself against its neighbors. There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity. ”

“I have never, in all my life, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual void. I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so.”

“The age of the pulp magazine was the last in which youngsters, to get their primitive material, were forced to be literate.”

“Having reached 451 books as of now doesn't help the situation. If I were to be dying now, I would be murmuring, "Too bad! Only four hundred fifty-one." (Those would be my next-to-last words. The last ones will be: "I love you, Janet.") [They were. -Janet.]”

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Book Review, Non-Fiction

El Diego – Diego Maradona

maradona

This is a book that any lover of sport, not only football, should read. Not only because its an honest book about and by one of the greatest sport icon of the century but also because its about a time period in the sport of football when commercialization was creeping into every respect of the game and changing its very nature – from a people’s game to one of sponsors and big money.

Into this ferment of change was born one of the genius of the game – Diego Armando Maradona, a man who became a legend in his own time and whose clash with authority and whose very human failings both endeared him to people and led to his vilification. Indeed, when taken a vote, Maradona will even today win the best footballer of all time hands down. Pele will be known for his finesse and but he will be known as a diplomat who said and did the ‘right thing’ but Maradona would be remembered as the combative team player who stood up for what he believed in, was outspoken, allied himself to the common people and became a sort of Robin Hood for the fans of the game.

The book is written as ‘spoken’ by Diego to Daniel Arcucci and Ernestomaradona_aktion_1994_en;property=original Cherquis Bialo, journalists, who had a series of interviews and talks with him. The writers and the translator have tried their best to remain faithful to the manner of Diego’s speech including some of his self-invented terms – like ‘bronca’ (loosely translated as anger which gave him strength), ‘vaccinate’ (fuck both figuratively and literally – vaccinate a woman and vaccinate a goal) and so on…the terms are given at the start of the book. This is the first indication that the book’s manner of narrative is going to refreshingly different. The flow of the words in the book is as if Diego is himself talking and swearing at things that made his bronca rise!!! and that makes the book and the man much more accessible and ends up making the reader come close to the footballer and the man behind.

The language is honest. The first indication of this is when Diego starts off the book with his childhood which starts off in Villa Fiorito, a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. A lesser man than Diego would have tried to win the sympathy of the reader by dwelling on the poverty and the desperation that would have existed then, maybe going to the extent of glorying his rise but Diego takes it as a matter of course, commenting simply on the lack of even basic facilities but stating firmly that this was the best that his parents were able to give him with their meagre resources, for which he was forever grateful to them. He, instead, chooses to speak on the relationship with his father and mother – on their support and unconditional love throughout his stormy career.

This book is primarily about football, which was every inch his life and maradona_04_1755_sq_large his place in it. He charts his rise from the local clubs, from his playing for Boca to quickly rising up the ladder due to his astonishing talents to become a part of the national team. His unhappiness at being left out of the 1978 squad, when he was sixteen, being a part of the 1982 squad where he made an impression on the world stage, His love-hate relationship with Napoli – his club, his stormy rise to captaincy and the struggle to hold together a talented but low on morale team that eventually won the 1986 world cup against all odds, the tragedy in 1990 finals and finally the greatest blow of all – the ban handed down in the 1994 world cup. Its all chronicled here with anecdotes in politically incorrect language where he does not mind taking potshots at important figures in the footballing world – from Pele to Havelange to Passarela to Platini to the military junta that ruled Argentina to the English (of the Hand of God fame). He is scathing in his attack on modern players who do not shown any sense of loyalty and go to the highest bidder without concentrating on improving the game – his comment on Ronaldo in the 98 world cup being a case in point. It is these parts that makes this book a joy to read.

Diego also talks in between about other issues close to his heart – us_maradona player rights for which he was a vocal supporter, rights of fans to enjoy a non-commercialized game. He talks about his admiration for Fidel Castro (which is well known) and for Che, his views on some political issues close to his heart (Falklands war and Cuba for example). In all of these, he aligns himself firmly with the people around the world whom he felt he represented out on the field.

hand_of_god_goal-orig One of the most enjoyable passages in the book is of course the famous match against the English in 1986 world cup. Unlike other politically correct commentators, he firmly subscribes to the view that the match was much more than a game of football. It was literally a war with the English and a revenge for what the English did to the Argentineans in the Falklands war. He in fact dedicates the match to the fallen and the scarred youth of Argentina. He called the ‘Hand of God’ goal as pickpocketing the English and he revels in describing the incredible goal of the century in the same match.

This is not history book but is a personal chronicle and is thus subjective from the point of view of the one of the most temperamental player ever to grace the field. He lashes out angrily at all the injustice that he felt was meted out to him and defends his position as one of honour and dignity in the face of people who just wanted to use him for their needs. The reader would enjoy being taken down these passages of angry outburst and would find himself siding with him because of the innate honesty and because facts prove him right.

In the end, its a very honest account where the man they called as God himself does not shy away from describing the mistakes he made in his life and does not bother if the mistakes make him look all too human. For that alone, its an unique book. This is the footballing history from the unique perspective of the man who made most of that history.

 maradona(1) There can be no better ending than the ending he himself dictates at the end of the book – “I am proud of having always been faithful to my convictions, my virtues and my defects. I can look everybody in the face. I haven't fucked anyone over except myself. I don't owe anybody anything except my family…Tome, it felt like I, El Diego , had been taken out of Villa Fiorito and given a kick in the arse that landed me on top of the world. But I was still wearing the same pair of trousers as always, my only ones, the ones that I wore in winters and in summers, that corduroy pair…I know I’m not one to change the world but I’m not going to let anybody into my world to tell me what to do. To dictate how my match is going to go, to dictate my life. Nobody will ever make me believe that my mistakes with drugs or in business have changed my feelings. Nothing. I am the same as always. I’m me, Maradona. I am El Diego.”

At the end, he can say as did his famous idol – “History will absolve me”…I believe in that…

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