Isaac Meets a Fan

Isaac Asimov01

In the second volume of his autobiography, In Joy Still Felt, Isaac Asimov relates a story of meeting a fan at a convention while he was suffering from a kidney stone.

I was going alone, by train, and I had made arrangements to room with Harry Stubbs. Harry made the ideal roommate (if one overlooks the fact that he is male). He didn’t drink or smoke or carouse; he slept quietly without the trace of a snore; he was gentle and agreeable at all times.

Rather it was I who was the pest, involuntarily. I, too, didn’t drink or smoke or carouse. I am told I snore, but Harry slept too soundly to be bothered by it. No, my problem was my kidney stone. It didn’t have me in agony, but there was a dull pain associated with it that made it very hard for me to be pleasant, vivacious, and effervescent. Worse yet, the stone managed to get itself into a position where it activated the “I have to urinate” button, and I was up all night long trying to urinate, and failing. No amount of intellectual awareness of the fact that the bladder was empty kept me from the bathroom. What’s more, the function rooms were not air conditioned, and therefore we had a very hot and humid weekend (don’t tell me there’s no connection), which didn’t raise the level of my spirits.

Nevertheless, I did what I could. I met science-fiction writers Walter Miller and Mildred Clingerman for the first time. Randall Garrett and I shrieked it up in fashion reminiscent of Cleveland, whenever I could forget my kidney stone long enough to allow it.

Sunday, September 2, 1956, was my worst day. During the afternoon, I stood in the ballroom, signing books with a scowl on my face, for I was in agonizing discomfort.

Attending the convention (for that day only so that she and her brother could attend the banquet that night) was a young woman named Janet Opal Jeppson, who had just turned thirty. [I have this story from her, for I don’t remember it at all.]

She had been introduced to science fiction by her brother, John (who was going to turn twenty-one later that month). Janet fell in love with science fiction as a result of reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End—and he was guest of honor, which accounted for her interest in the banquet. She then went on to my books and loved them as well. 

Seeing me signing books, Janet rushed to the huckster room to get something for me to sign. (Every convention has a huckster room where small dealers sell their secondhand magazines and books, and science-fiction-related paraphernalia.) She obtained a copy of Foundation and Empire and waited in line.

Finally, she reached me, rather put off by the fact that I was scowling and looking angry. She had no way of knowing I wasn’t angry, but suffering torture.

I took the book from her, without looking up at her, and said, “What’s your name?” so I could inscribe it properly.

“Janet Jeppson,” she said, spelling it.

I signed appropriately, and said, making conversation, “And what do you do?”

“I’m a psychiatrist,” she said.

“Good,” I said, quite automatically, for, believe me, I was in no mood for dalliance, “let’s get on the couch together.”

Janet stalked off, furious, deciding that while my books were great, I was, personally, a “pill” (her most extreme derogatory term for anyone) and someone whom she never wanted to see again, lest repeated exposure to my nastiness spoil her pleasure in my books.

That was my first meeting with Janet.


Seventeen years later in 1973, after his divorce from his first wife was final, Isaac and Janet were married.

Isaac and Janet Asimov

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