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22 April 2009 @ 07:51 am
Asimov's Altered Dedication to The Currents of Space  
Yesterday's mail brought a copy of Tor's hardcover reissue of Isaac Asimov's The Currents of Space, a novel which was originally published in 1952, and which I likely first read in the late '60s. I haven't read it since. I have no idea whether it would hold up today, or how differently its story would be perceived by the adult me as opposed to my teen self.

But what I'm thinking most about isn't any possible changed reaction to the novel, but rather my very different reaction the dedication.

Asimov dedicated the book—

To David, who took his time coming, but was worth waiting for

Isaac's son David was born in 1951, the year before The Currents of Space was released. When I first read those words, I probably paid them little attention. What teenager would? But I can now imagine Isaac having written the words to that dedication while filled with a father's pride, and with hope for the future they would have together, not knowing that their relationship would turn out to be a rocky one.

According to Michael White's Isaac Asimov: a Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction:

Some have claimed that Isaac was unable to have a proper fatherly relationship with his only son, David. It is certainly clear from his own writing and comments that he absolutely doted on Robyn, while sparing little talk or ink on his son. Close friends of the family have suggested that Isaac found his son too mundane a character, that he lacked intellect, and therefore had become almost an embarrassment to the world-famous polymath and internationally acclaimed writer. Father and son did not see much of each other in later years, and some friend believe that Isaac did not care about his son simply because he was not his intellectual equal.

One thing that Isaac luckily did not live to see was that in 2001, David was found guilty of possessing child pornography and sentenced to six months' home detention with electronic monitoring and three years federal probation.

And so as I opened this new edition of The Currents of Space, I was frozen by the sight of that dedication, unable to move on to the novel itself. How poignant those words seem today, knowing what we all know now, in a way that they couldn't possible have been to the teen Scott Edelman who first encountered Asimov and fell in love with science fiction.

I'd never thought much about it before, but it's not just books that change their meaning and message as time passes—dedications do, too. I'm sure there are dedications out there to friends who have become enemies, lovers who have become strangers, spouses who have become angry exes. Authors must surely wince over this, and while casual readers don't even notice, knowing readers nod.

I write up these thoughts today not to dig up old dirt, but to mourn for what Isaac and David never had, and to share my sadness at the altered meaning of those hopeful words. It was painful for me to read them.
The Texas Triffid Ranch - Odd Plants and Odditiestxtriffidranch on April 22nd, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I dealt with a lot of that when I was going through the proofs for both of my books. It was really painful realizing that I was going through that same sea change over and over between, say, 1998 and now. (On the bright side, at least two people who used to be enemies are now good and dear friends, and I cherish that more than the friends I lost.)
jamietr on April 22nd, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
I read Asimov's autobiographies (In Memory Yet Green, In Joy Still Felt and I. Asimov) every April. This is the 14th year in a row that I have read them. Granted, Asimov was the source for these, but he always seemed to be more or less upfront about his relationship with David. (Especially in I. Asimov, written shortly before he died.)

To say that Asimov didn't care because he was not his intellectual equal is unfair, I think. For one thing, who was his intellectual equal. (He used to say that Carl Sagan and Marvin Minsky were the only two people he would admit were smarter than him.) For another, he often pointed out that others who he was very close with were not his intellectual equals (his brother, Stan, for instance). Also, in I. Asimov, he says quite plainly in reference to David that he'd rather have a son who was a "happy gentleman of leisure than an unhappy physicist." Sometimes, fathers and sons just don't have good relationships.

I agree, however, that it was a good thing he didn't see what became of his son.

Isaac also once pointed out a similar thing about dedications. He quoted someone (I can't remember who) as saying (upon finding out a book had been dedicated to him), "That is a deadly power the author wields". Or something like that.

coppervalecoppervale on April 22nd, 2009 01:45 pm (UTC)
Ayn Rand originally dedicated ATLAS SHRUGGED to both Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden.

In later editions, Branden's name was removed.
Melopoeia, Metoikosmelopoeia on April 22nd, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Wince or look back and say "Hmm, who was I then?"

mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)mabfan on April 22nd, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Was David actually found guilty? Even if so, I seem to recall that the tapes were a tiny part of his whole collection, which was mostly innocent, and that's it's possible he didn't even know what he had.
scottedelmanscottedelman on April 22nd, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Before saying so here, I made sure to check various online sources—newspaper articles, that is, not just wikipedia—to make sure I wasn't just passing on innuendo, and it seems certain that he was convicted.
(Anonymous) on April 23rd, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
I remember noting early in my Asimov reading that he told plenty of Robyn anecdotes but almost no David ones after his very early childhood, and knowing that there had to be something wrong there.

Asimov was, for all his volubility, a very close-mouthed autobiographer; I remember one early memoir where he suddenly said, "My marriage had been limping for a number of years, and it now failed..." Which, in a memoir, would have been nice to mention earlier.

From what I understand, Robyn was his daughter, David was Gertrude's son, and that extended to the split in the family.

I also understand that on those occasions where the adult David accompanied his father to public appearances, he had nothing to talk about with the people he met there except his problems with his father. So it was mutual.