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The Cross Of Lorraine Isaac Asimov Bibliography

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was an American Jewish author and biochemist, known mainly for science fiction and for his works of popular science. Asimov was born in Petrovichi in Russia and moved to America at the age of three, where his parents ran a candy store in Brooklyn. He spent two years in the Army and completed a PhD in chemistry at Columbia in 1948. His first wife was Gertrude Blugerman; his second was writer and psychiatrist JO Jepson.

 

He wrote several mystery novels, including some science-fiction based mysteries featuring a detective called Elijah Bailey and a robot called Daneel Olivaw, and five volumes of short-short mystery stories featuring the 'Black Widowers', an all-male club which meets weekly and discusses a mystery or puzzle proposed by a guest. The sixth Black Widower is the waiter Henry, whi invariably spots the solution to the problem. Four more SF mysteries featuring the agoraphobic Professor Wendell Urth are included in Asimov's Mysteries.

 

See here for an appreciation of Asimov's detective fiction.


Mike Grost on Isaac Asimov

 

Even before his official entry into the mystery scene in The Caves Of Steel (1953), Isaac Asimov's science fiction books often exhibited mystery technique. In particular, his great Foundation Trilogy (1941 - 1950) consists of a series of long short stories, each of which has affinities to the formal detective story. Each has a complex plot, and there is usually a surprise ending which reveals hidden aspects to the situation, just as the solution does to a mystery story. Similarly, the stories contained in I, Robot are often science fictional mysteries. A robot is misbehaving: what could possibly cause this? Investigation ultimately reveals the solution to the puzzle. Asimov also wrote non series sf works in the same mystery format, most importantly, "Hostess" (1951). There are no murders or official detectives in these tales, but their status as stories in which mysterious situations are ultimately elucidated, certainly makes them close relatives of the mystery genre. The brilliant plot complexity of the Foundation Trilogy, in particular, marks it out as one of the best works of science fiction.

 

Asimov's first real novel, and his finest work in the form, Pebble in the Sky (1950) is not a mystery story, but it is a thriller. So is his next, and second best novel, The Stars Like Dust (1951). Asimov went on to combine the sf novel with an explicit formal Golden Age murder mystery in The Caves Of Steel (1953). This landmark book is not the first sf mystery novel - Asimov's friend Hal Clement wrote Needle (1949), a well done novel which is a science fictional mystery like those in Asimov's earlier short stories - but it is the first full fledged hybrid of the traditional murder mystery and the sf novel, complete with murder case and detectives. Perhaps more importantly, it is a well plotted book, with numerous ingenious surprises and false solutions before the final truth is revealed. Asimov was especially proud of the fact that neither the mysterious situation in the novel, nor its many true and false solutions, would be possible in our 20th century world, that they were entirely enabled by and integrated with the science fictional future of the novel. The book is not merely a contemporary mystery story transposed to the future, but a work in which the sf and mystery elements are totally fused.

 

Asimov wrote a sequel to The Caves Of Steel, called The Naked Sun (1956). While still being a legitimate detective story, the mystery plotting elements are weaker here, while the sf elements are perhaps stronger than those in the earlier book. He also published a collection of sf mysteries, Asimov's Mysteries, which show his storytelling skills, but which are not distinguished as Golden Age puzzle plot mysteries. More importantly, several of the tales in Asimov's best sf collections, Nightfall and Nine Tomorrows, contain mystery or thriller elements. The word "thriller" is perhaps a misnomer here, or at least too vague and imprecise. Asimov's tales are best described as melodramas, in which two sides of a dispute engage in an exciting struggle to achieve some practical result, and also to morally and intellectually justify their position. At their best, such as in Pebble in the Sky or "The Ugly Little Boy" (1958) in Nine Tomorrows, Asimov's melodramas are unforgettable stories.

 

Asimov went on to write a number of non-sf detective stories. His two mystery novels, A Whiff of Death and Murder at the ABA, are terrible, but some of his later mystery short stories are ingenious. Several of them also show personal sides of Dr. Asimov. "The Cross of Lorraine" offers metaphors for Asimov's fictional talent and its place in his personal life, just as the earlier sf "Dreaming is a Private Thing" did. And "The One and Only East" is a memorable expression of Asimov's religious views. Most of Asimov's 1970's mystery tales are written in the third person, but during the early 1980's he began to experiment with building a tale around the first person narratives of different characters, a somewhat unusual technique that recalls Wilkie Collins.

 

Asimov made so many slighting references to his own personal literary style - or his alleged lack of it - that one is afraid that critics are going to take him at his own word. Many science fiction writers write in an elaborate, image laden, complex literary style. Examples: Bradbury, Cordwainer Smith, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard. There is very little imagery in Asimov's work, and his literary style clearly has nothing in common with theirs. I strongly admire all of these writers' stylistic achievements. But I also think that there are other valid approaches as well. Asimov's work is written in a style that derives not from poetry, like theirs, but which is closer to the pure form of classical music. The rhythmic complexity of Asimov's prose is breathtaking. Each sentence plays its part in an elaborate over all structure, one that builds to complex climaxes like the music of Beethoven.

 

'Straight' mystery novels

 

The Death Dealers (1958) aka A Whiff of Death

Murder at the ABA (1976) aka Authorized Murder

 

Science-fiction based mysteries featuring Elijah Bailey and Daneel Olivaw

 

The Caves of Steel (1954)

The Naked Sun (1957)

The Robots of Dawn (1983)

Robots and Empire (1985)

 

Short story collections (Black Widowers and others)

 

Asimov's Mysteries (1968)

Tales of the Black Widowers (1974)

More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)

Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980)

The Union Club Mysteries (1983)

Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984)

The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov (1986)

Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)

Return of the Black Widowers (2003)

 

Juvenile mysteries

 

David Starr, Space Ranger (1952)

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)

Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)

Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)

Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)

Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

 

“What, the science-fiction master a whudunit writer? Certainly.“ Chicago Sun Times

“The 31 stories here…constitute an enjoyable collection.“ Publishers Weekly

“A solid, generous sampling…“ The Kirkus Reviews

The power of deductive reasoning is your key to solving these suspenseful, brain-twisting tales of intrigue. Isaac Asimov presents here his finest, favorite works:

QUICKER THAN THE EYE

OUT OF SIGHT

THE REDHEAD

WHAT TIME IS IT?

SIXTY MILLION TRILLION COMBINATIONS

DOLLARS AND CENTS

THE MAGIC UMBRELLA

HE WASN’T THERE

GETTING THE COMBINATION

THE SIGN

THE SPECK

Plus many more appearing here for the first time in book form.

This is a sister volume to The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov and not quite up to the same level as its companion. The problems are that Asimov didn’t write as many mysteries as science fiction stories (and so there are fewer to choose from) and his general quality as a mystery writer is rather below his general quality as a science fiction writer. This doesn’t mean that this book is bad—but if I had to own only one of it and The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov, I would opt for the latter without hesitation.

The book comes divided into three sections: Black Widower stories, Union Club stories, and others. The Black Widower stories are, indeed among the best and include several of my favorites, such as “The Cross of Lorraine,” “Yankee Doodle Went to Town,” “Can You Prove It?” and “The Redhead.” On the other hand, “Sixty Million Trillion Combinations” is one that has never worked for me particularly. Still, we have a good sample of general solid pieces for the Black Widower end.

The middle section, of Union Club mysteries, is perhaps the weakest. There is, of course, a smaller pool of these to draw on: those appearing in the one Union Club anthology (The Union Club Mysteries), and a smattering of previously uncollected specimens. They are shorter, more stereotyped, and less interesting on the whole than the Black Widower stories, and so there is little to recommend the middle section here.

On the other hand, the final section is perhaps the strongest. It actually includes “The Key,” one of the best of the Wendell Urth stories found in Asimov’s Mysteries, and among Asimov’s better mysteries overall. It also includes Asimov’s favorite “Larry” mystery from The Key Word and Other Mysteries (not my favorite, perhaps, but it’s nice to see Larry squeak into the volume). And it is climaxed with a cute little story, “Nothing Might Happen” which isn’t really much of a “mystery,” but is a crime story with a fun twist at the end.

On the whole, I would definitely recommend this volume for the Asimov fan as the best example of his shorter mystery writing. On the other hand, I still think that The Caves of Steel is his best mystery story bar none and would strongly recommend it over this book as an example of Asimov’s mystery writing.

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