Asimov on Science Fiction

This is an excerpt from the introduction to the collection of stories (Nebula Award Stories) below (edited by Isaac Asimov). Asimov remains one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written everything from textbooks, science fiction, literary critiques to just about everything else. Asimov also authored a ‘guide to Shakespeare’ – which is considered by many to be one of the most useful references of its kind. What does Asimov have to say about challenges unique to science fiction? 



Nebula Award Stories 8 (Eight)


Start of Excerpt

Science Fiction’s Appeal

“Most forms of literature have as their climax an act – the gun, the fist, the baseball bat, the kiss.. An exception is the classic mystery in which the great detective has a thought. In good science fiction, there may be much action and violence, but the crucial factor is the idea. Science Fiction, as a literature of ideas, appeals particularly to those who value ideas and find pleasure in considering them.”

Why Science Fiction is Difficult to Write

“As it happens, Science Fiction is a particularly difficult form of writing. To see why this is so, consider that every form of fiction has both its foreground and its background. In the fore-ground are the characters, who are thinking their thoughts and doing their deeds. In the background is the society or sub-society in which the characters live and against which their thoughts and actions have meaning.”

“In a good work of fiction, the characters must not obscure the background and the background must not drown the actors. Both must have their fair share of weight. The writer of the ordinary kind of fiction is greatly helped by the fact that the reader knows the background. The writer can depend on this knowledge. No writer has to describe an automobile or an airplane or go into great detail about city streets, hotels, mountains or cows. Even when a specialized bit of society is involved, a coal-mining society, a 16th century English society, the writer can count upon a substratum of basic knowledge.”

“Not so in science fiction. There, the background, by the very nature of the field, is unfamiliar to the reader. It must be explained to the reader, almost from scratch and without interfering with the action. Conversation must be natural and yet somehow illuminate the background for which the speakers themselves require no illumination.  References outside conversation must be complete and yet not intrusive.”

“A good science fiction writer can, very probably, write anything else he wishes, if he decides to take the trouble to do so.”

“Am I talking through my hat? Am I just boosting my own field?”

“No! In this one case, i am the world authority.”

“I began by writing science fiction, yes, and for over 30 years, I’ve been considered a leading writer in the field. But, in line with what I have said, I found that my training in science fiction made it possible for me to write anything. I have written mysteries, both novels and short stories, for instance. I have also written non-fiction books on every branch of science, both popularizations for the general public, and textbooks at both the graduate and the grade school level. I have written history books, discussions of the Bible, Shakespeare, Byron and Milton. I have written satires and joke books. I have written about 150 books as of now and I tell you that of all the different things I write, science fiction is by far the hardest thing to do.”

Why do people still write Science Fiction?

“If science fiction is so hard to do and pays so little – why do it?”

“Haven’t you been listening? Because it’s important, and because the difficulty of the challenge makes it fun. Most of all though, because there is no audience in the world more appreciative, more enthusiastic, more intelligent, and all in all, more satisfying to reach than the science-fiction reader. And when we do reach them, then, money or not, we are rich.”

End of Excerpt


End of Excerpt from Asimov’s introduction to Nebula Award Stories Eight. I thought Asimov’s description of why science fiction is difficult to write – as well as it’s appeal to its fan base,  was brilliant. Your thoughts, comments?

Cloud Advisory Services | Security Advisory Services | Data Science Advisory and Research

Specializing in high volume web and cloud application architecture, Anuj Varma’s customer base includes Fortune 100 companies (, British Petroleum, Schlumberger).

All content on this site is original and owned by AdverSite Web Holdings, Inc. – the parent company of No part of it may be reproduced without EXPLICIT consent from the owner of the content.

Anuj Varma – who has written posts on Anuj Varma, Technology Architect.

Leave a Reply

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