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The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories

Isaac Asimov

The Prime of Life

  Dedicated to:

  Judy-Lynn del Rey,

  And the swath she is cutting in our field

  Here I am with another collection of science fiction stories, and I sit here and think, with more than a little astonishment, that I have been writing and publishing science fiction now for just three-eighths of a century. This isn't bad for someone who only admits to being in his late youth-or a little over thirty, if pinned down.

  It seems longer than that, I imagine, to most people who have tried to follow me from book to book and from field to field. As the flood of words continues year after year with no visible signs of letting up, the most peculiar misapprehensions naturally arise.

  Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I was at a librarian's convention signing books, and some of the kindly remarks I received were:

  "I can't believe you're still alive!"

  "But how can you possibly look so young?"

  "Are you really only one person?"

  It goes even beyond that. In a review of one of my books [ASIMOV ON CHEMISTRY (Doubleday, 1974), and it was a very favorable review. ] in the December 1975 Scientific American, I was described as: "Once a Boston biochemist, now label and linchpin of a New York corporate authorship-"

  Dear me! Corporate authorship? Merely the linchpin and label?

  It's not so. I'm sorry, if my copious output makes it seem impossible, but I'm alive, I'm young, and I'm only one person.

  In fact, I'm an absolutely one-man operation. I have no assistants of any kind. I have no agent, no business manager, no research aides, no secretary, no stenographer. I do all my own typing, all my own proofreading, all my own indexing, all my own research, all my own letter writing, all my own telephone answering.

  I like it that way. Since I don't have to deal with other people, I can concentrate more properly on my work, and get more done.

  I was already worrying about this misapprehension concerning myself ten years ago. At that time, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (commonly known as F amp; SF) was planning a special Isaac Asimov issue for October 1966. I was asked for a new story to be included and I obliged [That story was THE KEY, and it appears in my collection ASIMOV'S MYSTERIES (Doubleday, 1968). ], but I also wrote a short poem on my own initiative.

  That poem appeared in the special issue and it has never appeared anywhere else-until now. I'm going to include it here because it's appropriate to my thesis. Then, too, seven years after the poem appeared, I recited it to a charming maiden, who, without any sign of mental effort, immediately suggested a change that was so inevitable, and so great an improvement, that I have to get the poem into print again in order to make that change.

  I originally called the poem I'M IN THE PRIME OF LIFE, YOU ROTTEN KID! Edward L. Ferman, editor of F amp; SF, shortened that to THE PRIME OF LIFE. I like the longer version much better, but I decided it would look odd on the contents page, so I'm keeping the shorter version. (Heck!)

  The Prime of Life

  It was, in truth, an eager youth

  Who halted me one day.

  He gazed in bliss at me, and this

  Is what he had to say;

  "Why, mazel tov, it's Asimov,

  A blessing on your head!

  For many a year, I've lived in fear

  That you were long since dead.

  Or if alive, one fifty-five

  Cold years had passed you by,

  And left you weak, with poor physique,

  Thin hair and rheumy eye.

  For sure enough, I've read your stuff

  Since I was but a lad

  And couldn't spell or hardly tell

  The good yarns from the bad.

  My father, too, was reading you

  Before he met my Ma.

  For you he yearned, once he had learned

  About you from his Pa.

  Since time began, you wondrous man,

  My ancestors did love

  That s. f. dean and writing machine

  The aged Asimov. "

  I'd had my fill. I said, "Be still!

  I've kept my old-time spark.

  My step is light, my eye is bright,

  My hair is thick and dark. "

  His smile, in brief, spelled disbelief,

  So this is what I did;

  I scowled, you know, and with one blow,

  I killed that rotten kid.


  The change I mentioned occurs in the first line of the second stanza. I had it read, originally, "Why, stars above, it's Asimov," but the aforementioned maiden saw at once it ought to be "mazel tov. " This is a Hebrew phrase meaning "good fortune" and it is used by Jews as a joyful greeting on jubilant occasions-as a meeting with me should surely be. .

  Ten years have passed since I wrote the poem and, of course, the impression of incredible age which I leave among those who know me only from my writings is now even stronger. When this poem was written, I had published a mere 66 books, and now, ten years later, the score stands at 175, so that it's been a decade of constant mental conflagration.

  Just the same, I've kept my old-time spark even yet. My step is still light and my eye is still bright. What's more, I'm as suave in my conversations with young women as I have ever been (which is very suave indeed). That bit about my hair being "thick and dark" must be modified, however. There is no danger of baldness but, oh me, I am turning gray. In recent years, I have grown a generous pair of fluffy sideburns, and they are almost white.

  And now that you know the worst about me, let's go on to the stories themselves or, rather (for you are not quite through with me), to my introductory comments to the first story.

  The beginning of FEMININE INTUITION is tied up with Judy-Lynn Benjamin, whom I met at the World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1967. Judy-Lynn has to be seen to be believed-an incredibly intelligent, quick-witted, hard-driving woman who seems to be burning constantly with a bright radioactive glow.

  She was managing editor of Galaxy in those days.

  On March 21, 1971, she married that lovable old curmudgeon Lester del Rey, and knocked off all his rough edges in two seconds flat. At present, as Judy-Lynn del Rey, she is a senior editor at Ballantine Books and is generally recognized (especially by me) as one of the top editors in the business. [You may have noticed that this book is dedicated to her. ]

  Back in 1968, when Judy-Lynn was still at Galaxy, we were sitting in a bar in a New York hotel and she introduced me, I remember, to something called a "grasshopper. " I told her I didn't drink because I had no capacity for alcohol, but she said I would like this one, and the trouble is I did.

  It's a green cocktail with creme de menthe, and cream, and who knows what else in it, and it is delicious. I only had one on this occasion, so I merely graduated to a slightly higher than normal level of the loud bonhomie that usually characterizes me and was still sober enough to talk business. [A year or so later during the course of a science fiction convention, Judy-Lynn persuaded me to have two grasshoppers and I was instantly reduced to a kind of wild drunken merriment, and since then no one lets me have grasshoppers any more. Just as well!]

  Judy-Lynn suggested I write a story about a female robot. Well, of course, my robots are sexually neutral, but they all have masculine names and I treat them all as males. The turnabout suggestion was good.

  I said, "Gee, that's an interesting idea," and was awfully pleased, because Ed Ferman had asked me for a story with which to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Fantasy and Science Fiction and I had agreed, but, at the moment, did not have an idea in my head.
br />   On February 8, 1969, in line with the suggestion, I began FEMININE INTUITION. When it was done, Ed took it and the story was indeed included in the October 1969 Fantasy and Science Fiction, the twentieth-anniversary issue. It appeared as the lead novelette, too.

  Between the time I sold it, however, and the time it appeared, Judy-Lynn said casually to me one day, "Did you ever do anything about my idea that you write a story about a female robot?"

  I said enthusiastically, "Yes, I did, Judy-Lynn, and Ed Ferman is going to publish it. Thanks for the suggestion. "

  Judy-Lynn's eyes opened wide and she said in a very dangerous voice, "Stories based on my ideas go to me, you dummy. You don't sell them to the competition. "

  She went on to expound on that theme for about half an hour and my attempts to explain that Ed had asked me for a story before the time of the suggestion and that she had never quite made it clear that she wanted the story for herself were brushed aside with scorn.

  Anyway, Judy-Lynn, here's the story again, and I'm freely admitting that the suggestion of a female robot was yours. Does that make everything all right? (No, I didn't think so. )