The One With the Asimov Post Card

About five years after I spoke to Isaac Asimov on the phone, I sent him a fan letter.

I was now living in State College, PA, and the previous year, in April 1970, Dr. Asimov had made an appearance on the Penn State campus to speak at Schwab Auditorium about a week before the first Earth Day. I, of course, attended.

Dr. Asimov’s lecture was sponsored by Penn State’s Science Fiction Society, whose faculty advisor, Philip Klass, provided the introduction. This was fitting and proper since Klass and Asimov were old friends, and Klass actually wrote excellent science fiction stories himself under the pseudonym William Tenn.

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Schwab Auditorium at the Penn State campusSchwab Auditorium at the Penn State campus

Schwab Auditorium at the Penn State campus

There was only one problem. Professor Klass proceeded to give Dr. Asimov possibly the worst introduction anyone has ever received.

By that I mean he went on and on for at least fifteen minutes, and he was absolutely hilarious!

He first listed some of Dr. Asimov’s many achievements, and the many and varied fields in which Asimov had expertise, and then he said: “But I don’t want you to get the idea that Isaac Asimov is a renaissance man. Let me list some of the things he hasn’t done!”

And as he brilliantly listed the many accomplishments Asimov had not yet achieved, he had the audience in stitches. For example, he said, “Isaac Asimov has never performed Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera.”

How could anyone possibly follow such an introduction?

Finally, Professor Klass finished, and he turned the podium over to his introductee. As Asimov reached the podium, he turned to the audience and in his rich baritone sang: “Bella figlia dell’amore…” The opening line of the great quartet from Rigoletto.

And he brought down the house.

The rest of the evening Asimov had the audience in the palm of his hand as he spoke extemporaneously on a variety of subjects loosely framed by the topic of the slow historical adoption of lightning rods due to religious objections.

Anyway, it was the following January that I decided to send him a fan letter in which I referenced the lecture, and I expressed my pessimism about the future of humanity because of religious and other absurd belief systems. I also noted that in recent years he had become more outspoken in his writings, making clear his atheism and his support for certain liberal causes such as women’s rights, and I wondered if this might have alienated any of his audience. After adding a few additional compliments, I concluded with a firm wish that he continue writing in his current vein.

I knew from the phone call that he lived in Newton, Massachusetts, and I further recalled reading somewhere that he actually lived in West Newton, so that’s how I addressed it.

And then I pretty much forgot about it.

Until a few weeks later I received a post card from Dr. Asimov with a post mark from New York City. Clearly, he had moved on. And fortunately, the Post Office had forwarded his mail.

His reply was short and gracious:

2 March 1971

Dear Mr. Troutman,

Thank you for your kind words. As far as I know people aren’t mad at me.

But let’s hope for the best for the human race.

Isaac Asimov

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