Asimov The New Jules Verne… For Beijing, Anyhow

I can’t say I’m a fan of Isaac Asimov. I know, it’s weird, I’m into SF and I don’t like Asimov. Well, okay, wait a minute, I don’t like The Foundation books. I, Robot was okay when I read it one afternoon a year or so ago. But Asimov, he’s just… his writing is just… well, it’s just not good, in my opinion. He’s clear and straightforward but almost all of characters that I’ve encountered have the consistency of cardboard, the personality of a soup pot, 250px-Isaac_asimov.jpg and the prose has the style of some PhD dissertation. He may have been a pioneer, but from where I’m standing, it’s all sod houses, somewhere I don’t even like to visit. (Though I am planning on giving Foundation another go in a few months and seeing what I think about it then… at least the main trilogy.)

Still, the news from China is at least worth mention. Danwei and Mutant Frog are reporting that not only has the full Foundation series finally been translated into Chinese, but an interview with the man himself—he died in 1992, mind you—has been published in Chinese, as well. Danwei writes that this is “something else”:

Asimov addresses the royalties he wasn’t paid in 1973 for a Chinese translation of his 1958 science text The World of Carbon, the Will Smith adaptation of I, Robot, and, um, Al Qaeda, which shares a name in Chinese with the Foundation series.

And yes, the Chinese translation for the title of Foundation series is the same as the translation of the name of the group Al Qaida. Then again, that’s the title the Foundation series has in Arabic, so it’s not surprising.

Mutant Frog mentioned something interesting I didn’t know about Asimov’s fans: Shoko Asahara, the lunatic who led the AUM cult in Japan—yes, the whackjobs who attacked the subway with sarin nerve gas—fancied himself a kind of Japanese Hari Seldon, and his followers the scientists of the Foundation.

It’s not such an unusual theme these days, so perhaps it’s timely: I sometimes think the idea of scientists going underground is a good one: let the idiots fight over whether evolution will be taught in classrooms. Anyone who cares will seek out the truth, and it’ll be available. Intelligent people have better things to do that fight off theocratic morons. But in China, I have no idea what the significance of translating Asimov would be. Maybe it’s just a surge in SF readership in general? Ah well, maybe, finally, Lu Xun’s dream of proper SF being translated into Chinese is coming true? Maybe it won’t “modernize” society as he imagined—seems it’s a bit late for that, really—but I rather think Asimov’s a poor trade-in for old Jules Verne, who I’ve read was the first SF writer translated into Chinese and (I’ve also read) is still the most famous, the iconic SF author if you will. Verne’s stories and characters have always just been more fun to me, somehow, in a Saturday-afternoon-serials sort of way.

Okay, so everyone knows that Asimov is dead, but does everyone know that he died of complications due to AIDS? There’s a dispute, apparently, about whether it was the doctors or his daughter who wanted that kept under wraps, but anyway, it was AIDS that killed him. Contracted, apparently, from infected blood he got from a blood transfusion during heart surgery. You can read about this and more at his Wikipedia entry, here. Woah, he was afraid of flying, and only flew twice in his life! Weird.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *