All posts by tseng

One Year to Go…

Happy birthday, Dr. A.!

I have traditionally written an entry to celebrate Asimov’s putative birthday—putative, because his actual birthday was unknown. For one thing, Asimov was Jewish and not ethnic Russian. For another, Russia had only recently switched from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian. Finally, record keeping in early communist Russia was not exactly at its highest pitch. The actual date was probably somewhere between early October 1919 and early January 2010; January 2 was always the day he celebrated. 

To get back to the point—I have traditionally celebrated Asimov’s birthday by writing a blog entry suggesting reading for the day. I missed last year accidentally. I actually had an entry ready but forgot to post it. I’m making doubly sure not to miss this year.

There are really two ways (say I) to celebrate Asimov’s 99th birthday. The first is to pick a book whose official book number is a multiple of 99. The other, which is new to this year, would be to read a book whose last two digits in the official list are “99.”

With the first technique, we have:

This is a hard choice. On the one hand, if you have access to the Story-a-Month™ Calendar—and gaLAXy but you’re a lucky dog, you—the sheer rarity makes it attractive.

Life and Time is an F&SF essay collection. They’re always easy reads and among his very best non-fiction.

Still, I’d have to go with the Guide to the Bible. Asimov was a secular Jew and atheist/agnostic, and by no means a Biblical scholar; but the Guide to the Bible is still top-notch and an excellent introduction to the historical background first century Christianity. For a general audience interested in the New Testament, it’s top-notch. 

(I will profess to being prejudiced here. Not only is it the only book on this list from my own “golden age,” but I’m going to be teaching an adult Sunday School class on the New Testament this year. It will be handy.)

As for the second algorithm:

This is another hard choice. I love #199 dearly, but it’s forty years out-of-date, and considering how much we’ve learned about the outer solar system since it was published, it’s badly out-of-date. How Did We Find Out About Computers? is part of the “How Did We Find Out” series, which are all excellent but for children. 

The real problem here is Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 25. Again, it’s excellent. For the purposes of reading top-notch science fiction from the period between 1939 through 1963 the series is unmatched. This is the very last in the series, too, which gives it a melancholy air. In the end, because Asimov’s involvement in the editorial process was minimal, and because none of his own fiction appears therein, I’d have to recommend giving it a pass. 

Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Volume Two it is, then. My own paperback copy is in bad shape, since I tripped and fell while walking home from the bookstore after buying it. (A neighbor’s dog seems to have decided that I was spending too much time walking upright.) 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a nice mug of hot chocolate, curl up in my favorite comfy chair, and get to reading.

Book of the Day and Administrivia

The Good Doctor would have been 96 today, and so we should contemplate what to read in celebration of the fact.

Book 96 is The Shaping of England, book 192 is One Hundred Great Science-fiction Short-short Stories, book 288 is Intergalactic Empires, book 384 is Our Milky Way and Other Galaxies, and book 480 is Norby and the Court Jester. There is a surprising amount of competition this year, as The Shaping of England, One Hundred Great Science-fiction Short-short Stories, and Intergalactic Empires all get 3/3 ratings. If I were to limit myself to only one of the three, I would probably go with One Hundred Great Science-fiction Short-short Stories, because it’s the most light-hearted and therefore marginally to be preferred for a celebration.

I should also take advantage of the opportunity to apologize to anybody who has tried to contact me at any point in the last year or so. 2015 is not going to go down as one of the better years in my life, and there was a lot going on that kept me from paying much attention to an awful lot of things, not just this site. I am keeping my fingers crossed that 2016 will be better.

So, How Do You Pronounce “Noÿs,” Anyway?

Over the weekend, I listened to the audiobook of The End of Eternity, one of Asimov’s best novels (if not the best), and while doing so, I found myself eager to see if it would resolve one of the questions which has plagued me since I first read the novel as a Cub—how on Earth does one actually pronounce “Noÿs”?

I know I’m not the only one to face this dilemma, although I suppose there are people to whom it is obvious. Strangely, I never wrote Asimov to ask him when he was alive, nor can I recall a place where he addresses it in his writings. As a pre-teen first encountering the name, I was completely baffled by the two dots over the y and so half-heartedly pronounced it as if the two dots weren’t there, that is, like “noise” (/nɔɪz/, 𐑌𐐬𐐮𐑆*)

The reader of the audiobook, Paul Boehmer, consistently used the pronunciation “noy-ess” (/ˈnɔɪˌɛs/, 𐑌𐐬𐐮𐐯𐑅). Although inclined to believe the professional reader, I would nonetheless dispute his pronunciation of Mallansohn (/məˈlɑnˌsən/, 𐐣𐐲𐑊𐐪𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌 [or maybe /məˈlɔnˌsən/, 𐐣𐐲𐑊𐐫𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌, as I speak a dialect of English where the cot-caught merger has taken place and can’t easily distinguish the two—instead of / ˈmælənˌsən/, 𐐣𐐰𐑊𐐲𐑌𐑅𐐲𐑌, which seems to me obviously correct), among other names, so I’m not at all sure.

Looking seriously at the name, we need to figure out the two dots. Asimov spells his made-up names according to English spelling conventions, and English doesn’t make extensive use of diacritic marks. In general, in the Latin scripts, two dots aligned horizontally over a vowel is one of two diacritics, either a diaeresis or an umlaut. The latter indicates a shift in vowel sound and is not used natively by English. The former is used natively by English (albeit rarely), and indicates a vowel is explicitly pronounced when you would expect it to be part of a diphthong (as in noël and zoölogy) or to be silent (as in Brontë).

Since this is an English spelling, the dots would have to be a diaeresis and indicate that the name is pronounced with two syllables, “no-ys.” That gives us the first half easily enough, “Ys” as an English syllable is still a bit of a puzzle, but there is a legendary city named Ys whose name is pronounced “eess” (/iːs/, 𐐨𐑅) in English, and that should solve it.

“Noÿs” is pronounced with two syllables, “no-eess” (/ˈnoʊˌiːs/, 𐐤𐐬𐐨𐑅).

There is an interesting corroboration available via other languages. I do not happen to own a non-English copy of The End of Eternity, but it was made into a film in the USSR in 1987 as Конец Вечности. The Russian Wikipedia article on the film helpfully includes a cast list, making it simple to find that one Вера Сотникова played a character named Нойс Ламбент, the given name being pronounced  “no-eess” (/ˈnoʊˌiːs/, 𐐤𐐬𐐨𐑅).

So there you go.

*I am contractually obligated to include the Deseret Alphabet when discussing matters of English pronunciation.


And the Nominees Are…

In celebration of what would have been the Good Doctor’s ninety-fifth birthday, I’d like to recommend the following:

There is really no contest here. Despite my fondness for Larry and his almost Encyclopedia Brown-like powers of deduction, The Key Word is pretty slight, and What is an Eclipse? even more so. Of the two anthologies, I’d go for Encounters over Wizards; but I’m loathe to recommend an anthology at all. Photosynthesis, on the other hand, is a solid and not particularly outdated science popularization written at Asimov’s peak as a science writer; and for those of us plagued with cold and snow, it’s a good reminder of what will be in just a few months’ time.

The award, then, clearly goes to Photosynthesis.

Good Advice from the Good Doctor

io9 added an article yesterday of advice entitled “Twelve quotes from authors to remember when starting your first book.” Quote number 11 (“It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.”) is from Asimov, but the article makes up for this low position on the list by illustrating the article with a very nice painting from the 1980’s of Asimov at his Selectric typewriter working his magic. Share and enjoy.

The 2014 Asimov Birthday Book Candidates

In honor of what would be the Good Doctor’s 94th birthday, we have the following book choices:

There really isn’t much of a contest this year. What with Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the innumerable other Mars probes which have been working hard for the past decade or so, Mars, the Red Planet is definitely showing its age. Thirteen Horrors of Halloween is fine—but not in January. Christopher Columbus: Navigator to the New World—not if you’re over seven.

So that leaves Words from History and Other Worlds of Isaac Asimov. Both are good choices, but if reading a book to honor Asimov, Other Worlds of Isaac Asimov is definitely the better choice, if a bit much to do in one day. It would be almost perfect if it were an ebook.

Living in the Future

Slate published an article yesterday (which I didn’t see until this morning) in celebration of National Science Fiction Day. It’s tied in with Asimov’s birthday and even includes a classic photograph of Asimov from the 1950s—the one that often appeared in hardback editions of his books and is presumably the most public-domainy of the pictures of Asimov on the Web.

The article, called “Celebrate National Science Fiction Day by Learning To Live in the Future,” argues that we should be using the new technologies available to us to explore the universe more deeply. I certainly agree with the sentiment, but I don’t understand what this “Facebook” thing is the article mentions.

A Day of Universal Celebration

The Good Doctor would have turned 93 today. For reading purposes, that gives us:

Book #93: Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Volume One

Book #186: The Hugo Winners, Volume Three

Book #279: Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 10, 1948

Book #372: Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 17, 1955

Book #465: How Did We Find Out About Pluto?

Of the five, How Did We Find Out About Pluto? is easily the least worth re-reading. There isn’t anything particularly bad with it, but it was published nearly a quarter-century ago, and that’s a long, long, long time in astronomy. Our understanding of Pluto has not unnaturally—well, let’s say changed in the interval.

The three anthologies are solid enough, but nothing spectacular. That leaves the Guide to the Bible as the book of choice. It’s perhaps a bit much for one day, but definitely worthwhile. (And forty-four years is not nearly as long in Bible studies as a quarter century is in astronomy.)

The best thing is that the Universe is joining in the celebration this time around. The Earth reached perihelion this morning at 4:38 a.m. (UT). This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, but a nice bit of lily-gilding nonetheless.