Today I briefly described myself as a science-fiction fan at heart. Nothing new. Nothing unusual. For some reason, this time as I said it I was suddenly struck by a memory of the moment that I learned of Isaac Asimov‘s death.
Asimov died over twenty years ago. That makes it pre-internet-as-we-know-it, so I can’t be sure of the exact date that I found out. Still, Asimov wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which he celebrated on January the 2nd, so I guess that’s okay. If I had read the news online, I know I would have been reading about it on the exact day of his passing. But perhaps it wouldn’t have impacted me in the same way.
I was standing in a specialist science fiction bookshop called Galaxy. It was a little shop, but packed tight with every type of science fiction a woman could hope for.
I was browsing amongst the A books. I always stopped there first. There was Aldiss, then Anderson, then Asimov. And above Asimov’s set of star-filled words sat a small newspaper clipping. Asimov had died.
I don’t know how long I stood looking at the clipping. At one point, my hand reached out to touch the newspaper, perhaps in hope that it wasn’t real. After a time, I turned to see someone at the counter watching me. I can’t recall her exact words, but I can still see her face.
‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s just so sad.’
He’d always been there. I’d grown up reading short stories and articles by Asimov. At first, in all the astounding science fiction magazines, then later in books from libraries and bookshops. He had started writing nearly twenty years before I was born. From the Stars, Like Dust to Gold, he just kept coming. Whenever I wanted a bit of pure sci-fi, but with the finest of humanitarian sensibilities, I knew where to look.
A is, was and will always be for Asimov.
Other wonderful authors have since passed from our midst. Harrison and Dickson and Sprague de Camp, White and Norton and Sagan. Stories and authors who delighted and amazed me. None of them, though, felt quite like this.
I wasn’t there, not in this way. I felt like I was with him. Him and his books. His grainy, grey, side-burn-bearing face looking back at mine. I can still see it. I hope to never forget it.
I never got to meet him. I’ve stood in long and winding book-signing queues for other authors and I would have stood an eternity if he had ever come here. But the man who taught me to love the stars didn’t like to fly. My biggest regret is that I never wrote to him. To say how much he meant to me. He might have heard it all before, but maybe not. And he never heard it from me.
Asimov is gone, but his words will outlive both you and me. And that’s what it’s all about. His unstoppable words.
All the same, you’ll bear with me for a moment as I say this.
This is for you, Mister Asimov. This is my unwritten letter. With the warmest of affection and the greatest of admiration.
Thank you, dear Asimov. Thank you.