Friday, March 1, 2013

Whither Asimov!?

It probably comes as no surprise, but as a youth I was really into reading science fiction and fantasy books. What's really cool to me as an adult is how many of the things that were super far fetched are now not just common place, but the guesses as to what the future would be like have in some cases been too conservative. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that we still aren't doing, here in good old 2013. What happened to our space odyssey in 2001, Dave? And why didn't we manage to make contact in 2010?  (Okay, technically that second one is from the name of the movie.) Maybe it's all just a government conspiracy that the men in black are hiding from us? But I digress (as usual)....

Today, as with most Fridays since we moved to our new home, I picked up my daughter from school and stopped by the library on the way home. The deal is that she can pick up as many books as she wants, but I get to pick one book that she has to read. I try to pick good books that I think she'll enjoy -- recently I got her The Princess Bride, which she loved (and I need to watch the movie with her still -- she doesn't know about that part). Today, I decided she needed to experience a good science fiction book. So, I turned to one of the classics: Isaac Asimov. I figured I would pick up the first book of the Foundation trilogy (which turned out to be something like seven books I think).

I wandered through the adult sci-fi section and didn't find anything; in fact, Asimov wasn't even there. Hrm. Well, maybe he's over in the sci-fi section? So I went there and looked. Nada...not a single book by Asimov. Okay, he's a classic, right? Maybe all the copies are just out right now; let me go check out the computer and see if I can get a copy sent to the local branch of the Timberland Regional Library. I first looked for Foundation, and while I got a few hits, the only one for Isaac Asimov that showed up was the trilogy; there was one copy of that available, six checked out, and the copy was at a different location. As for the first book, Foundation, I eventually found an entry with the note, "No copies currently available." What!? There was a sound recording available, but that's not actually reading so let's just forget that.

Thinking maybe I was just missing the correct entry, I decided to just to straight to the author, Isaac Asimov. I remember there being a shelf full of Asimov books at the library when I was a youth, and I probably read all of them (at least, the fiction ones -- I never touched his non-fiction writings). Under author Isaac Asimov, some 25 years later, I found a list of 90 books, but about a third of them are sound recordings and there are even some that show up that are from other authors (go figure). Limiting the search to books by Asimov, there are only around 70, with about a third of those being duplicates (e.g. paperback and hardcover, or a digital version).

Can I just say how depressing this is? With a bit of effort, I'm sure I can get most of the Foundation and Robot series books from the library, but many are only available as a digital copy, and there are definitely some that are missing. How about another classic sci-fi writer, Robert A. Heinlein? Total number of books (including duplicate formats) available: 31. I can't tell you how many of his books are missing.

These are classic sci-fi authors; they practically invented the genre! And here we are in 2013 and you can hardly find most of their works at the public library. I'm sad now, and I'm going to go drown my sorrows in sweat by going for a jog. Heh. Wish me luck...and while you're at it, pray for our poor children that are missing out on the classics of sci-fi. :-(

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