3 stars for the general reader, perhaps 4 for an Asimov fan
Sixty-six essays spanning the years 1980-1986 are collected in this book. All are taken from "Asimov's Science Fiction", which was a 10 issue/year magazine. I haven't really counted them out, but, knowing Asimov, and what with his other essay books (which I have not read), it is safe to say that he left nothing out. Most of the essays are 1400 words or less, and many contain a short afterword, which is sometimes only three sentences long. The subtitle is "Reflections on Science Fiction", but many essays really have nothing to do with that topic and others touch it only tangentially.
The essays are largely insubstantial, and many are even self-referential.
Asimov talks about how he writes so much,
What it is like giving so many signatures,
" " answering so much fan mail,
" " having a best-selling, widely lauded, Hugo award-winning book (Foundation's Edge--the worst S.F. book I ever wholly read)
Though I.A. has a big ego, he's not above poking fun at himself. One of the highlights is a bawdy letter questioning his manhood, which he suspects came from Arthur C. Clarke.
Sometimes he is quite funny; other times he seems uninspired or is just recycling from other books. Overall, his writing style is not bad for someone who claims to never write a second draft. Although, I must admit, his dialogue and characterization are generally atrocious, there is really none of this here. Similarly, because this is not really a history, you don't have to suffer through the almost schizoid number of names and dates that he would throw at you, if it were one.
Two or three of these essays are quite irritating. Perhaps, it is only because these touch upon politics, but I feel he loses the sympathy of the reader in brainless rhetorical questions, a la the "Star Wars Defense System"--his words: "Is the fun of killing Russkies worth it?" He also comes across as partisan and uninformed. He says he does not remember the "Republican right" ever moving to limit the number of nuclear weapons. Actually, Mr. Asimov, every single Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower--that is to every Republican president since the bomb was developed--approached the Soviets with that specific goal. Of course, they did not move to do so unilaterally, which would have been about as stupid as heck.
He also says that the Republicans would tell the Soviets to elect Republicans, once Star Wars was developed. He further says they (the Republicans) might just do a first strike. Partly, I thought he was being ironical or slipshod, but, in the afterword to this essay he says the Soviets love peace because of WWII (in which they invaded Poland, the Baltic countries, and Finland, before they were even at war with the Nazis), but because the continental US has not been invaded since 1814, and because of Stallone and the Duke (and seemingly because of Republicans) the good ol' USA is much more likely to cause nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps, the Good Doctor should have done a history on Communism. To be generous, maybe he was writing ten books in 1956 when the Soviets invaded Hungary, another ten when they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, and another ten in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
In fairness, this is in only one essay, but it is so glaring, that I feel I must correct it. Interestingly, Reagan, whom Asimov seemed to hate so much (in this one essay and in some of his other writings) was possibly the most popular president ever. He won both elections in landslides--the second time he set an Electoral College record--Mondale only won his home state. Also, his much lamented "Reaganomics" saved the country from double digit inflation under Carter, and, far from spending us into a hole, he actually came very close to being able to pass a Constitutional Amendment to balance the budget (Alas! It was the Democrats who stopped him--even though a good number of them voted for it.) In retrospect, the Soviet Union's attempts to match Star Wars was one of the leading causes of their collapse, but would Asimov have approved? I would have thought so before, but, after reading this essay, I'm not so sure.
A second point of annoyance for me is when he gets involved in semantics, as in another essay, when he argues that we should not use the word galaxy because its root origin means "Milky Way." This seems utterly stupid to me. It is hard to tell if he is being ironic and only has the intent to educate, or if he is being totally specious. I mean, if he really felt that way, would he (or perhaps just his editor) have picked the title "Asimov's Galaxy?" Would not he have called it "Asimov's Very Large Star System" or something?