Today I stumbled upon the text of Paul Krugman's introduction to a new collectors edition of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. He has remarkable insight on the inner workings of these stories. Asimov's own view was rather simplistic - that they were a galactic retelling of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It's also a far cry from what we SF fan boys/girls love about the series. The best thing of all is how well Krugman nailed it. I read what he had to say and lights went on. Not only do I now understand Asimov just a bit better, but I understand my own writing better as well.
All writers can point to things they did in their formative years that shaped how they write. Asimov did that himself. He was a pulp fiction and science junkie. I have to admit that my SF addiction started at the age of 7 (or was it 8... hard to say when it caught me) with Star Wars. I have the Brian Daley Han Solo books that I bought at school from one of those book catalogs. I have a stash of the Marvel comics, yellowed with age and dogeared and torn from frequent reading. But I really have to point to that Science Fiction Book Club hard cover compilation of the trilogy (back when it was just those three books) as when my world exploded. Star Wars was great, but Foundation, Dune, and so many other worlds opened to me from that one well read, now water damaged, volume.
Asimov was sparse. He stuck to the story and didn't get distracted by too many descriptions or too much back story. He was a scientist with a fertile imagination and it shows. But he did concentrate on the characters, however flat they may seem to some. His stories are all about people. Even the Foundation Trilogy, with it's epic saga of a dying galactic empire and the two foundations that will save civilization, is told in vignettes of what people do to make it happen. I'd like to think I have come away from reading his stories with that same urge, to tell stories about people. I hope I learned from him better then I did from some of my classes in school.
One of the wonderful things about Asimov and modern technology was finding a treasure trove of old interviews with him on YouTube. I compiled a playlist of 17 of those videos that I would urge everyone to watch. They explain a lot about his characters. He was warm and personable and funny - most of which comes through in his characters. I've never seen them as flat, but his writing is sparse in character details, he only told just enough for what the story needed. His characters certainly came alive in my mind as I read, and evidently for Krugman as well. The man was a genius and it shows, both in his writings and in interviews with him. I don't consider Asimov one of the greats, I consider him THE Greatest, the Master of the genre.