Isaac Asimov

James Randi (geller-hotline)
Mon, 6 Apr 92 16:26 EDT

[While not strictly on the subject of geller, Asimov was a great
leader of the skeptical movement and certainly an enemy of the
irrationality Geller represents. I felt all readers of this list
would be interested in reading this tribute to Asimov from James
Randi. Apologies to all those who feel it might be inappropriate. sdb]

The news came this morning that Asimov has died. His passing has
to be a loss to the community of skeptics, and I feel that I should share
with you a few observations on the phenomenon he represented.
In recent months, Dr. Asimov suffered greatly from depression.
He'd undergone a triple bypass operation some two years ago, and I'm told
that depression often follows that procedure. He'd given up writing and
even corresponding with friends. My last card from him says merely, "I'm
very ill, and unable to become involved in new projects." That was very
unlike Isaac.
A prodigious talent, he possessed the ability to express clearly
and concisely the beauty of science and technology while also sweeping us
away with grand, fabulous scenarios set on imaginary planets in remote
and wonderful galaxies. Isaac probably wrote more lucidly to express
science to the layman, than any other person we can think of. Everything
from the Sun to the Bible came under his analytical eye and was the
better for the experience. All of us were certainly well served by our
teacher.
He had an ego. A prodigious ego. But I've often said that the
man had a perfect right to it. He was paradoxical in some respects;
while he freely wrote of faster-than-light space vehicles streaking among
the stars, he had a life-long fear of flying here on Earth, and could
often be found standing in New York's Grand Central Station consulting
train schedules, rather than at an airport.
Years ago, when I timidly wrote him to ask for an introduction to
one of my first books, he graciously replied by postcard (his favorite
form of postal communication) and merely asked how many words would be
required. Having just seen Isaac on a television interview in which he
used a triple redundancy ("Some authors only write one book or poem, but
it becomes an eternal classic for all time"), and in a feeble attempt at
pulling his side-burns, I wrote back. "Perhaps," I said, "one who uses
such figures of speech might not be capable of writing an introduction
for my new book!" Almost instantly a postcard response was before me.
"Then tell me, sir, what horse's ass, when he wished to say, `The
unkindest cut,' would say instead, `The most unkindest cut of all'?" I
surrendered the field quickly, having been unwise enough to attempt
fencing with Zorro.
The man will always be with us through his books. That is his
immortality; he can never be truly gone from among us. And, for all we
know, that fear of flying may not have kept him from now soaring among
the nebulae and perhaps chasing down an interesting comet for closer
examination. Thank you for being here, Dr. Asimov, and sharing your wit
and wisdom with us all. We cannot forget you.
JR