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Old Isaac Asimov Interview

Continuing the old interview theme, here’s another one: a 1980 interview with Isaac Asimov. Again this is by eco-mag Mother Earth News. Interesting how both Asimov and Frank Herbert mention terrorism. Some juicy bits:

PLOWBOY: Can you give me a good definition of science fiction?

ASIMOV: Every science fiction writer defines it differently. For instance, John Campbell—the great, late editor—said that science fiction stories are those that science fiction editors buy.

PLOWBOY: But what is your own definition?

ASIMOV: I think science fiction is the very relevant branch of literature that deals with human response to changes in the level of science and technology. And such writing goes to the heart of matters that trouble us now, because the world is changing at whirlwind speed. Moreover, any person who is, let us say, between 15 and 30 years of age today is likely to live well into the twenty-first century. The world is going to be completely different then!

Now you may think that’s a pretty obvious truth, but it isn’t at all! Very few people realize that change is inevitable and that it will occur more and more rapidly as time goes on. So it’s absolutely essential to consider the future in making our decisions . . . and to face that future with daring and guts.

PLOWBOY: Are you implying that science and technology can solve all our problems?

ASIMOV: I think technology can save us, if it’s used properly. I don’t know for sure . . . some of our problems may prove insoluble even for science and technology. But if those two tools fail us, nothing else will succeed.

PLOWBOY: In your opinion, what are mankind’s prospects for the near future?

ASIMOV: To tell the truth, I don’t think the odds are very good that we can solve our immediate problems. I think the chances that civilization will survive more than another 30 years—that it will still be flourishing in 2010—are less than 50 percent.

PLOWBOY: What sort of disaster do you foresee?

ASIMOV: I imagine that as population continues to increase—and as the available resources decrease—there will be less energy and food, so we’ll all enter a stage of scrounging. The average person’s only concerns will be where he or she can get the next meal, the next cigarette, the next means of transportation. In such a universal scramble, the Earth will be just plain desolated, because everyone will be striving merely to survive . . . regardless of the cost to the environment. Put it this way: If I have to choose between saving myself and saving a tree, I’m going to choose me.

Terrorism will also become a way of life in a world marked by severe shortages. Finally, some government will be bound to decide that the only way to get what its people need is to destroy another nation and take its goods . . . by pushing the nuclear button.

And this absolute chaos is going to develop—even if nobody wants nuclear war and even if every body sincerely wants peace and social justice—if the number of mouths to feed continues to grow. Nothing will be able to stand up against the pressure of the whole of humankind simply trying to stay alive!

PLOWBOY: So your solution to our present problems is based on humankind’s continuing to expand its territories?

ASIMOV: Always, always. All through history, humanity has stretched its range, and it’s still doing so today. One of our problems now, however, is that the rate of population increase has—at least temporarily—outpaced our possible range expansion. In fact, it’s very easy to calculate that in a few thousand years—at our present rate of procreation—the weight of human flesh and blood would be equal to that of the entire universe!

PLOWBOY: So you consider expansion into nearby space to be essential.

ASIMOV: Yes. We’ve reached the stage where, if we don’t transcend the Earth, we’re going to destroy it. And I think that—over the next couple of centuries—it will be necessary for us to expand into the solar system generally. I don’t see that goal as the end, either. Eventually we are going to make all of space our own!

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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