Isaac Asimov

Which Asimov book to read first? [Asimov’s suggestion]

Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer, he wrote or edited more than 500 books. That’s a lot of books to read. Actually, a significant portion of these books are non-fiction, written on scientific topics. Asimov has written far more scientific books than science fiction ones. Nevertheless, for many people, Asimov is known as a science fiction writer, and his fame comes from his science fiction books. His identity as a science fiction writer far surpasses his identity as a writer of scientific books.

Moreover, despite being far fewer in number compared to his scientific books, the number of science fiction books Asimov has written is still quite substantial. This can confuse someone new to reading Asimov’s work: which Asimov book should be read first?

Asimov’s suggestion on the reading order of his science fiction books

In the Author’s Note of Prelude to Foundation, Isaac Asimov provides a suggested reading order for his science fiction books, intended to give readers a coherent experience of his interconnected works. This order begins with The Complete Robot (1982) and/or I, Robot (1950), both collections of short stories that introduce the concept of robots, and the Three Laws of Robotics, which are foundational to his universe. Here is Asimov’s suggestion as a list:

  1. You should start reading The Complete Robot (1982) and/or I, Robot (1950) first, according to Asimov himself.
  2. Following these, Asimov suggests reading the robot novels (known as The Robot Series): Caves of Steel (1954), which introduces the partnership between detective Elijah Baley and the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw; The Naked Sun (1957), which continues their adventures; The Robots of Dawn (1983); and Robots and Empire (1985), which bridge the gap between the Robot and the Empire series.
  3. Next, Asimov recommends moving on to his Galactic Empire novels: The Currents of Space (1952), The Stars, Like Dust (1951), and Pebble in the Sky (1950). These books are set in the same universe but focus on different characters and events in the Galactic Empire’s history.
  4. Prelude to Foundation (1988) follows, providing a prequel to the original Foundation trilogy. Although Forward the Foundation (1993) was unpublished at the time of the note, it was intended to be read after Prelude to Foundation.
  5. Finally, Asimov’s suggested order concludes with the original Foundation series: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953).
  6. These are followed by the later additions to the series: Foundation’s Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1986), which continue the story of the Foundation’s efforts to preserve knowledge and civilization in the galaxy.
Isaac Asimov: The Currents of Space
My copy of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Currents of Space.’ Published in 1952, it is the second novel in his Galactic Empire series and one of the first books to be read to enter Asimov’s science fiction universe.

My personal recommendation: The first Asimov novel I read was “Caves of Steel.” I was probably 13 or 14 years old. It had a profound impact on me. By chance, I had picked the perfect book to enter Asimov’s science fiction world. The book is both the first in the Robot series and features two of the most important characters in the Robot (and Foundation) series, Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, who appear for the first time in this novel. Additionally, it has few references to other series, making it ideal to read as a standalone novel. You can start with it and then continue reading in the order Asimov recommended.

Isaac Asimov: The Caves of Steel
My copy of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Caves of Steel’. It was the first Asimov novel that I read when I was still a child. It is an intricate melding of detective noir and science fiction, laying the groundwork for characters and narratives that span the vast reaches of the Robot and Foundation series.

Other than that, I also advocate starting with I, Robot, and/or The Complete Robot. Many references in the Robot series are better understood if these books are read first, especially the references to Dr. Susan Calvin and the story “The Bicentennial Man.” The Foundation series, on the other hand, is better understood after reading the Robot series, and I have written an article on this topic. Asimov’s suggested order completely aligns with the order I personally recommend (I didn’t know this when I wrote the article, so it was a pleasant surprise for me).

After reading I, Robot and/or The Complete Robot, you can proceed to the Robot series. The Robot series helps to better understand the Galactic Empire novels.

To better understand Asimov’s Foundation universe, it is beneficial to read the complementary books first. These are also standalone novels that can be read independently. The Currents of Space (1952), The Stars, Like Dust (1951), and Pebble in the Sky (1950) are, in my opinion, essential reads before the Foundation series.

Another point I completely agree with Asimov on is that the Robot series should be read before the Foundation series, and the Foundation series should be read in its internal chronological order.


M. Özgür Nevres


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