So I’m trying to brush up on some of the classics that I never got around to reading. Issac Asimov is one of those authors that I’ve heard fantastic things about but never actually picked up. So I went on amazon and Wikipedia to try and see what I should read first, and I have to admit that I’m confused. Would anyone here be able to offer a recommendation on 4 or 5 of his best works? Can I dive into I,robot without reading through his foundation series? Any suggestions on where to start (or what order to read them in?) Thanks in advance!
Are you thinking mysteries or science fiction? Or both?
You don’t have to read his works in order, other than a couple of the SF mysteries that feature a sentient robot, and the Foundation series.
Avoid the collaborations, and the books that were written by someone else using Asimov’s characters and settings.
Asimov was one of the great ones, but he wasn’t the best at creating characters, especially female characters.
I wasn’t actually aware that Asimov did mysteries. I was thinking of his science fiction but I’d be open to reading his mysteries if they are any good. So if you could pick 3 or 4 of his overall best which ones would you suggest?
I enjoyed his Black Widowers mysteries. I enjoyed all his short stories, mysteries and science fiction. I am a very casual reader, though, and I know there are others who are really knowledgeable on this board.
I Robot is a collection of short stories. It’s a good place to start the Robot series. It starts with Robbie, the first Robot story. The Foundation series is trickier because they weren’t written in the chronological order of the fictional universe. I started with Foundation, because the prequels weren’t written yet. I can’t say if you are better off starting with Prelude. Everybody should read the original short story Nightfall. I wasn’t all that impressed with the novel version though. I think you’ll enjoy reading many of his works in any order.
ETA: Seeing the question about mysteries, several Robot shorts and all(?) the novels are mysteries.
There’s a collection called The Early Asimov that details the first year or two of his writing career. That’s as good a place as any to start (some love his chatty introductions, some hate them, but they can be skipped if you’re of the latter persuasion), followed by I, Robot.
Asimov wrote a series of mundane (not SF) mysteries, the Black Widowers series. A lot, if not most, of his SF had mystery in it.
Keep in mind that Isaac wrote over 200 books, in every area of the Dewey Decimal system. Where to start is completely up to you. That said:
Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation*. Stop there.
I, Robot, The Caves of Steel
Then just dabble. His autobiographical works are funny as all get out.
I, Robot, Foundation Trilogy are both really good places to start out.
I also highly recommend the commentaries on The Bible, Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan.
I’d start in a library or some bookshop like structure.
I’d disagree. Some of his earliest stories were pretty dreadful, as he was the first to agree.
I Robot is a good place to start, and I’d read the Foundation books in publication, not chronological order, since the writing style changes so much. In any case, the Hari Seldon of the prequels is hardly the barely seen Hari Seldon of the original series.
The random short stories are good also - the early ones. I found him being excessively cutesy nearer the end.
Asimov’s best work was in short stories like “The Feeling of Power,” “I’m in Marsport without Hilda,” “Pate de Foie Gras,” “Death of a Foy*” or “The Last Question.” The Foundation trilogy was uneven (it was a fix-up – several short stories combined to be marketed as a novel).
Much of his work was lightweight entertainment, and he was often very talky (though it was entertaining and provocative talk). Some stores just consist of a philosophical dialog.
For his mysteries, my favorite were the Wendell Urth stories – “The Singing Bell,” “The Talking Stone,” “They Dying Night,” “The Dust of Death**,” and “The Key.” Urth was one of Asimov’s best characters – smart, yet agoraphobic.
*The greatest feghoot ever written.
**Though Urth is not the main character.
Though your results may vary, I’d say that “The Caves of Steel”, “The Naked Sun”, and “The Robots of Dawn” are as good a place as any to start. The series works well both as science fiction or mysteries, and from there you can move on to Foundation, robot short stories, or other short stories as you please.
I don’t know about “especially female characters”-- His best character by far was Dr. Susan Calvin. Characters are definitely secondary to idea in his stories, though.
Back to the OP, I, Robot is probably the best place to start. From there, you could move on to the robot novels (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn) or the Foundation trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation). After that, he started trying to merge those two series, so the books after that (Robots and Empire in the robots series and Foundation’s Edge, Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation, and Forward the Foundation in the Foundation series) should be read (if at all) only after having finished the first trilogy of both series. But it’s not a bad idea to skip them: The merger of the two series is pretty clumsy, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of other Asimov to read.
Other than those two series, most of his works stand alone. Pebble in the Sky, The Stars, like Dust, and The Currents of Space are often lumped together as “the Galactic Empire books”, being set in between the robot stories and the Foundation stories, but there’s really no connection at all between them. And there are other robot short stories (most of them collected in The Rest of the Robots), but aside from (almost) all of them using the framework of the Three Laws, they’re pretty stand-alone, too.
For mysteries, the Black Widower stories and the Wendell Urth stories are pretty good, but don’t bother with either of his non-SF mystery novels (A Whiff of Death and Murder at the ABA). The former, I figured out who the murderer was halfway through, just from the fact that it’s the one person the protagonist doesn’t suspect, and the latter, the protagonist notices a crucial clue early on that conclusively reduces the suspect pool to exactly two people, comments on it, and then comes to the conclusion that it’s probably completely irrelevant and ignores it until the big reveal.
His best work is probably actually his nonfiction. He wrote essays on a wide variety of topics for magazines, which were then collected into books. You can start with pretty much any of those: Any given book will contain a dozen different topics, so there’s bound to be something that’ll interest you.
I’d start at page 1. Jumping to the middle will just be confusing.
Personally, I think Asimov is overrated and his work has not aged well.
But I’d agree with others that I, Robot is a good place to start - it’s quintessential Asimov so you’ll get a good feel for whether or not he’s an author for you.
My favorite Asimov is a short story collection called Asimov’s Mysteries which contains many of these.
The Gods Themselves is one of my favorite of his novels (and it includes an extremely sympathetic female–albeit alien–character) but I’m most fond of his short stories.
How about his non-fiction book Asimov on Science Fiction. You can read his thoughts on the topic and see if his own SF lives up to his own standards.