For those who keep track of such things, the 'roots' of science fiction fandom extend at least as far back as the 1930s, when the first fanzines appeared and the first science fiction conventions were held. Things that happened back then have influenced the fandom of today, and fandom back then was often a path to a successful career as a writer or editor. Maybe the most famous and successful fan-turned-writer from that era was Isaac Asimov, who even late in his life would still occasionally turn up at a convention. The following article is an anecdotal and amusing remembrance of him.
'I Remember Ike' by Dave Kyle; title illo by Joe Mayhew
I have lost a friend. When Isaac Asimov died in early April, the science fiction world of fan and pro alike also lost a friend.

He was quite a guy. I knew him from our teen-age years of the Futurians in the late 1930s and he was, as for many in and out of First Fandom, a huge, important part of our science fiction fannish lives. In those early days, he was known affectionately as "Ike." In later times, however, he grew to dislike the appellation 'Ike' and I didn't use it for twenty or thirty years. But a half century ago has drifted back into my mind, and that's why, lovingly, I have entitled this piece as I have.

On April 22, a memorial service was held in the auditorium of the Society for Ethical Culture, on Central Park West in New York City, around the corner from where he lived. Several relatives and friends spoke, and there were probably four hundred persons present to pay homage. The atmosphere was respectful, not gloomy, and the morning was filled with happy stories of his life. As Janet, his wife, said, "He was a joyous man. Please remember him that way."

Harlan Ellison was there. Some of the high moments of convention history were the public encounters between Harlan and Isaac. The remarks would flow fast and thick, and the audience was enthralled with their performance. Those occasions were the best attended and most memorable of all the con programming of the weekend. That Harlan should be one of the speakers at the memorial service was exactly right. And it was gracious of him, evolving from fan to pro like us older guys, to specifically single out Sam Moskowitz and me as knowing Isaac even longer than Harlan himself.

Martin Harry Greenberg (the "good" Marty Greenberg) was also at the memorial service. Marty Harry told the gathering, "He worked alone. Absolutely." According to Harry, Isaac did his own typing, personally answered his mail, did his own marketing and business. He tried to answer all his fan mail. He received a lot of fan mail, but he claimed there were only three letters he kept: from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Orson Welles, and Tommy Smothers.

How he managed to generate so much material of such high quality is almost unimaginable, unbelievable to me. Almost unbelievable except for the obvious reason: Isaac was a tireless worker. He was proud that he could type 90 words a minute. And he didn't believe in re-writing. One revision would be enough, after that it was a waste of time when he could be doing something new.

When preparing to write a book, Isaac was known to spread papers and notes and three-by-five cards out on the floor of his home and, stripped for action in his underwear, do the necessary sorting. 'Why not use a computer?' he was asked. Why? -- because he loved the chore. As Marty Harry Greenberg says, "He had enormous stamina. Writing was as natural to him as breathing. It was just pure joy."

"Writing is my only interest," was Isaac's boast. "Even speaking is an interruption." That, in itself, is remarkable. He was the best of speakers. Only Bob Bloch and Harlan Ellison approach his perfection as an entertaining performer. But even Bob could not compete with the fast thinking, extemporaneous display of verbal fireworks which Isaac could produce. Bob Bloch admits to his need for a long and difficult preparation for his guest appearances and toastmaster responsibilities. Isaac's writings are there in various forms for us to enjoy at our leisure. But gone forever is the master public speaker which he was. Those who heard him know how exceptional he was and know how irreplaceable he will be at sf affairs. One fan who heard him talk at a Philcon not so long ago admired how organized his off-the-cuff remarks were: "Immensely entertaining, suitable for publication without any need for change or editing."

I was proud to have published his first book, I, Robot, the marvelous short story collection, in 1950. He stated that Pebble in the Sky, published in 1950 by Doubleday was actually " second book!" That was technically correct by 'x' weeks -- it took the smaller Gnome Press company (just "the original" Marty Greenberg and me) longer to get I, Robot manufactured -- as we did start first. However, I, Robot is the more famous of the two, and his inscription "For Dave Kyle, who made up for this lousy title with his clever designs. Isaac Asimov. 12/2/50" was extravagant but delicious flattery. He came down from Boston on the day we Gnomes were putting jackets on the books. The three of us then went to his first autographing party, probably at Steve Takac's book store, where Isaac remembered that " was not exactly an exuberant success. About ten people bought books and I autographed them." Gnome brought out Foundation the following year.

Isaac Asimov's memory was legendary, and the notations in his lifelong diaries were copious. Stanley Asimov wrote a piece on the occasion of his brother's April 22 memorial service, which was published in Newsday as "A Man Who Couldn't Forget." He said that people "...frequently asked me how Isaac had learned everything that he wrote about. I replied that my brother had a photographic memory. He could remember everything that he had ever heard or read. When ordinary people had a memory problem, it was because they couldn't remember something. Isaac said he had a forgettery problem. He couldn't forget."

I recall the day around 1965 I visited him in his upstairs writing room at his home just outside of Boston. The room was not large, but it had the essential elements, the big powerful typewriter and the shelves of books. In fact, the shelves ran around most of the room, about four feet in height, and contained, for the most part, copies of the scores upon scores of books he had written, representing editions in many languages, from scores of countries. The room was cheerful and uncluttered with an attractive wallpaper with a rocketship motif. Gertrude, his first wife, had found the design, offered as something for a child's room, and had chosen it as an appropriate pattern for her husband.

Isaac was proud of all those books of his. He handed me The Greeks, his most recent one, handsomely produced, and was pleased to point out that for him it was unusual. "Isaac," I said, "Why the history of Greece?"

"Because," he said, "I like the period." Then he told me of how he had taken the completed manuscript to New York to his publisher. The unprepared editor was taken aback, and asked and received the same answer I had.

"Of course, Isaac," the editor said, "We will publish it, as we will any book by you, and we will do a fine job. But please, Isaac, tell us beforehand what you plan." The editor wanted no more strange surprises.

This anecdote perfectly illustrates the way Isaac Asimov approached his profession. He wrote what he wanted to write. And invariably his works were published, all with varying degrees of success. One big regret that his longtime friends had was that he virtually abandoned the field of science fiction for so much of his writing life.

However, there was something else besides his nearly infallible memory, besides that belief that he was a naturally living storehouse of knowledge. It was his dedication to keeping diaries. As he wrote, "With the new year of 1938, a turning point came in my personal life that might have seemed of the most trivial character. I started a diary...still going on today, and dozens of annual diaries stand side by side on my shelf like good and faithful soldiers... They are a series of reference books for me... The worth of the diary, however, is that it instantly proves that my own memory, excellent though it is and inordinately proud of it though I am, is not to be relied on in all respects."

A personal example of this imprecision is the date he gives, in his autobiography, as to when we first met. Isaac says that after the first worldcon on July 2, there was a Futurian meeting on July 4, 1939 -- "...a chance for the exiles to have a microconvention of their own. I met David A. Kyle for the first time at that meeting." Actually, we already knew each other, but I had been working on my family's newspapers in Monticello, New York, in 1937-38, away at the University of Alabama in 1938-39, and therefore was only occasionally a regular at Futurian get-togethers, and missed seeing him then. The teen-age Isaac admittedly was so overwhelmed by the 'celebrities' present on that first Nycon day that, like all us youths, he was too excited to recall so many of the minor attendees like myself. Isaac on that Sunday, July 2, had been allowed to filter through the organizers' 'blockade' of the Futurians who were banned from attending the con on the grounds of being trouble-makers. Isaac considered himself part of the Futurian gang, but did not believe himself to be an official 'member'. The organizers were not unaware of his sympathies, but they couldn't exclude all the 'opposition' fans, so only the arbitrarily-labeled 'ringleaders' were banned. Later in the day, he found that as a newly-published author (especially a Campbell author as of the July issue of Astounding) he himself was considered a professional celebrity of sorts rather than just a prominent fan.

One recollection I won't take issue with is his description of the "...very pretty twenty-five year old girl named Ruth Landis" at her first convention. He said, "She looked, to my dazzled eyes, exactly like Grace Kelly." How he spirited her off from me on that first day has been told in my article "Sex in Fandom" {{ ed. note: in Mimosa 10 }}, but strange to say (or perhaps not strange to say), he reported that Dave "...was completely helpless during the convention" and didn't "...manage to grab Ruth [until] after the convention," and "...Dave Kyle had the last laugh, however... eventually he married her."

A most enjoyable time in my life connected with Isaac was the time in 1974 when he visited England -- almost at the exact moment I had a brush with death. While he was sailing across the Atlantic (don't forget, he disliked travel, absolutely refused to set foot in an airplane and had only lately come to accept high seas shipping). I was undergoing an emergency appendectomy (the British have a different name for it, but I forget what it is). Therefore for many days during which he wandered around the U.K. I fretted because I couldn't assist at being his host.

Finally came the evening of June 12th when the science fiction crowd would gather at The Globe pub in central London. As promised, Isaac showed up and filled the place with excitement. That was my first time out, recuperating from my operation. How lucky I felt myself to be. So did Ruth, my wife, who Isaac embraced with as much enthusiasm as he had shown when she still was a neo-fan at the 1955 Clevention. He felt the atmosphere was that "...of an impromptu convention." The following Friday night was his scheduled appearance at Commonwealth Hall in London where he had been scheduled for an address to Mensa, the high-IQ group. The joy of the moment was not only that I was allowed to attend, hobbled as I was, but that Arthur C. Clarke, who happened to be in the country, was there and made the introduction.

I've praised Bob Bloch for his witty humor and Harlan Ellison for his sharp tongue and wit when matched with Isaac, but a meeting of the titans, Asimov and Clarke, was an exhilarating event of flashing lightning and rolling thunder. Then too, besides all my British friends and unexpected Americans like Jay Kay Klein, it was like a dry and sedate Globe gathering. Best of all, I met Mother Clarke for the first time and Fred, Arthur's brother, who has become a very dear friend.

Arthur started off by saying he wouldn't "...waste any time introducing Isaac Asimov. That would be as pointless as introducing the equator, which, indeed, he's coming to resemble more and more closely." He referred to Isaac as " ecological catastrophe. Have you ever thought of the entire forests this man has destroyed for woodpulp? All those beautiful trees turned into Asimov books." He ended his remarks by saying, "The rumour that there is a certain rivalry between us should have been put to rest, once and for all, in my recent Report on Planet Three. For those of you foolish enough not to have obtained that small masterpiece, the dedication reads: In Accordance with the Terms of the Clarke-Asimov Treaty, the Second-Best Science Writer Dedicates This Book to the Second-Best Science-Fiction Writer."

Isaac, in return, revealed "...what kind of guy Arthur is... When he saw I was perfectly at ease [on the ship from which they saw the previous year's eclipse] and had overcome my fear of traveling and was standing there with nothing between myself and the sea but some thin steel, he said, 'Isaac, at great expense I have persuaded the captain of this ship to show The Poseidon Adventure'. But let us talk about science fiction, which, after all, is what we both do -- I because I am a great writer, and Arthur because he is a stubborn writer."

There's hardly any argument in science fiction circles that the three finest contemporary science fiction authors are Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Sometimes Ray Bradbury's name is coupled with them, but, as more of a poet and fantasy writer, not often. Most thrilling and satisfying to me is the fact that all four of them were all genuine, active science fiction fans. All except Bradbury have won Hugo and Nebula awards, all have been Guests of Honor at World Science Fiction Conventions, and all were or are extremely popular with fans, not only as writers, but as warm-hearted, generous, wise, witty, and thoughtful human beings. Fandom is proud of them. It was the relationship of Clarke and Asimov which was the most remarkable in the special field of sf. They were the greatest of spirited rivals, full of admiration for each other and effervescent with delightful humor. On many occasions I enjoyed Isaac as a mixture of scholar and comic. Once he kept me wide awake with his entertaining chatter while others slept as I drove a carload of us through the Pennsylvania night back to New York from the Midwestcon in Ohio. I had a sampling of the repartee between him and Al Capp, whom I had chosen as a special banquet guest at the 1956 Newyorcon (Nycon II) which I chaired. They drove back together (with Hal Clement Stubbs) to Boston -- oh, how I wish my ears could have gone along!

Asimov could command large fees for his speaking engagements, yet in later years he did relatively few of them. Despite the gregarious generosity he displayed with his time and advice, some considered him parsimonious when it came to money. And, as well organized as his life was, he was very much a stickler for detail. Some different examples will illustrate the point. When he was issued a check for a royalty payment which was in round numbers, leaving off twelve cents, he complained: "I don't want any more money than I earn," he explained, "but I don't want a penny less." One time Forry Ackerman, as an agent and with tongue-in-cheek, sent him a pro-rated payment check, plus -- to be exact -- a half-cent postage stamp.

Here's the best story of all: After several years when he had accumulated royalties, he was owed a great deal by Gnome Press. He went to New York with a strict admonition from his then wife Gertrude to collect what Marty Greenberg (Gnome's treasurer) owed him. She indicated that he had better come back with a payment. Isaac showed up at the Gnome office. Marty confided to him that the latest shipment of books was being held up because of an unpaid bill and that if the bill could be paid the books would be released, the orders would be filled, and cash would flow again so royalties could be paid. Sly Marty could touch the right buttons. Isaac went back to Boston without any royalty payment. He had a difficult time keeping Gertrude from knowing that he had, instead of collecting from Marty, actually lent him some money.

A role which Isaac liked to play was that of "The Sensuous Dirty Old Man," an actual tongue-in-cheek title of one of his books. In keeping with his role, there was always the threat of an Asimov pinch on some resilient portion of a female anatomy. My daughter Kerry at Nebula Awards banquets was always prepared for evasive action. A young woman, Melanie Donovan, who had been raised as a neighbor of mine outside Potsdam, New York, thought Isaac was charming just on the telephone. She had gone to the big city to be an editor of children's books. Her phone discussions with him on a proposed project were sprinkled with spur-of-the-moment limericks especially for her. Ribald, of course. (His Lecherous Limericks and its companion books are legendary.) Later, when they met at an ABA convention and she introduced herself, she received the official Asimov seal of friendship -- a strategic pinch. Although he played this role, it was well-known that whereas he could be the aggressor, in earlier days on many occasions when he found himself a victim, the hunted instead of the hunter, he would literally flee. One time Judy Merril cornered him, called his bluff, and I will always remember how near terror he seemed to be.

For a futuristic and science writer, he had a strange complex. He hated to fly -- in fact, he couldn't fly. He had "profound acrophobia" -- fear of heights. His self-limiting use of modern transportation was a thing he shared in common with Ray Bradbury, who was even worse with automobiles. Now I myself, a veteran Air Force retiree, shunned air travel after World War II for a long time because it was scary. Heights still make me uneasy. That's why I was impressed by a remarkable change in him after he and Janet moved into their Manhattan high-rise apartment. Their place was big and with many large windows giving a grand view of Central Park looking east. Isaac was very pleased with this panoramic view. To show it off, he opened a door and had me step outside. We were on a flimsy, so it seemed to me, fire escape platform, all slatted steel and minimal metal railings. I moved back quickly in secret horror. "Isaac," I said, "It's like living in an airplane with a porch! How can you stand it?" He was completely blasé about my comment -- I don't remember any response. I was thoroughly surprised and have thought about that moment and his sky-high apartment ever since.

One day when I was visiting in Isaac's apartment, the telephone rang. I didn't listen to the conversation, but when he hung up, he turned to me and with great glee said, "I have just agreed to sell my Foundation series rights for three-quarters of a million dollars!" He smiled, satisfaction written all over his face. "That Marty Greenberg!" he chortled, adding an unfavorable comment. "If he had treated me right... He could have shared. Now he gets nothing." I don't remember the exact words, but I do remember the idea expressed.

I was dumfounded. Almost a million dollars! Gnome Press had originally published the Foundation trilogy in hard covers -- Gnome had scored again in publishing history, but... "Isaac," I said gently, "Remember, I was the other half of Gnome."

It didn't seem to register -- his moment was so exciting, so satisfying that he paid no attention to my one feeble, spontaneous, half-protesting comment. Isaac has gone on record with his thoughts: "Sometimes I stop to think of the money Marty could have made if he had made a real attempt to sell [the rights], and had given me regular statements and paid me on time, so that I would write still more books for him. Other authors got their books away from him eventually, and almost each one of those books were classics in the field. Marty had been sitting on a gold mine and had not been aware of it. He went for the short-term pin money."

Oh, my! I sometimes stop to think of the money I could have made, too, if I had paid attention to Marty's management while I was away up near Canada developing my radio stations. I never expected the Foundation series to become the universal success it has become, obviously. The original dust jacket, an attempt to capture the sweep of his epic tale, was one of my first published artworks since the days of my black-and-white illustrations for the old pulp sf magazines in the early 1940s.

That the Foundation series should, after so many years, bring Isaac his first Hugo was certainly fitting. He was never more proud than when he got that achievement award. He had been a fixture at sf cons for years, and during those times he had often fondled the rocketship trophies and passed them out to the winners. From time to time he would remark, with characteristic good humor, on the frustration of the moment. I remember his good-natured banter with Arthur C. Clarke when Clarke's story "The Star" won the Hugo at the 1956 Newyorcon. That day ten years later, in 1966, when he actually got one to take home, he bubbled over with pleasure: "A special Hugo for the best all-time series, Foundation."

Isaac's final words, of the dozens of millions of words he wrote, are simple and direct: "To my Gentle Readers who have treated me with love for over thirty years, I must say farewell... It has always been my ambition to die in harness with my head face down on a keyboard and my nose caught between two of the keys, but that's not the way it worked out... I have had a long and happy life and I have no complaints about the ending, thereof, and so farewell -- farewell."

Already I miss him very much.
illo by Joe Mayhew

All illustrations by Joe Mayhew

back to previous article forward to next article go to contents page