HE wrote mysteries?! Isaac Asimov

   

We think of Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) first and foremost as the father of modern science fiction.  He’s especially well-known for his Foundation Trilogy, and his Robot series.  Even outside the world of science fiction fandom, I, Robot is recognized as a blockbuster film, and many of the ideas we have about robots came from him.

Asimov in 1965, before the muttonchops. Image via wikimedia.org

 

Asimov fans may also know that he used to be a biochemistry professor, was friends with writers such as Harlan Ellison, gave advice to his good friend Gene Roddenberry on the making of Star Trek: the Motion Picture (and appears in the screen credits), and had an asteroid named after him.  (For more cool info on Asimov, click here).

 

 

 

But we’re going to focus here on his mystery writing.  Most of his mysteries took the form of a short story series, known as The Black Widowers Club.  The Black Widowers Club is a male-only group that meets monthly over dinner in a private dining room.  Asimov’s first short story, “The Acquisitive Chuckle,” describes the group:

…the Black Widowers, who monthly met in their quiet haunt and vowed death to any female who intruded – for that one night per month, at any rate.

Each month, one member brings a guest for the evening, who is treated to a fine meal for the price of presenting a real-life puzzle (that he knows the answer to) which the members must solve.  The group is modeled after a society that Asimov himself belonged to, The Trap-Door Spiders (basically guys getting away from their haranguing wives on a Friday night; very little mystery-solving was involved with the real group).

The first Black Widowers story was published in 1971 in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, with 65 more to follow – some published in EQMM or other magazines over the years, others collected into volumes (although all were eventually collected into anthologies).

Asimov was a big fan of the ratiocinative (thinking) armchair detective, rather than the fists-first, hard-drinking P.I.  He enjoyed Agatha Christie’s detective, Hercule Poirot, and was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a club comprised of Sherlockian aficionados.  So it’s no surprise that his Black Widowers stories are in the style of cozy armchair puzzles.

image via books.google.com

There’s a definite formula to each of the stories:

  • Opens with banter/light discussion between the regular members (of which there are 7 – plus the waiter, Henry), with a quick set-up of their various professions/quirks
  • Introduction of guest
  • drinks are served; dinner is served
  • Guest is asked the following question: “How do you justify your existence?”
  • Guest answers in some fashion, as a segueway to the puzzle to be presented.
  • Puzzle is presented
  • Henry is clearing the plates and listening
  • Back-and-forth between members and guest to clarify points.
  • Members make guesses, but are wrong/stumped.
  • Members turn to Henry, who (very modestly) solves the puzzle, but doesn’t accept praise, claiming that the members had a hand in it by eliminating all of the other possibilities.

Asimov also wrote a full-length mystery novel, Murder at the ABA (1976), with detective Darius Just, who was modeled after writer friend Harlan Ellison.  (Asimov often created characters in the likenesses of friends and associates).  There are various “cameos” of famous people (including himself, which sort of makes this a work of metafiction): Carl Sagan, Muhammad Ali, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., among others.  Check out the wikipedia entry for more info.

Want more information on Isaac Asimov and the Black Widowers’ Club stories?

SHOTS: Crime and Thriller EZine

Asimov Online

Black Widowers (Wikipedia)

imDb – Isaac Asimov

 

Are you an Isaac Asimov fan?  Care to give the Black Widowers’ Club stories a try?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

 

4 people like this post.

22 thoughts on “HE wrote mysteries?! Isaac Asimov”

  1. Sylver BlaqueSylver Blaque

    Interesting read. Didn’t know about his ‘famous cameo’ characters…

  2. Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy

    I didn’t know this about Issac Asimov. Since I’m also a fan of cerebral mysteries, I’ll have to check out some of the Black Widowers Club stories.

  3. Alicia StreetAlicia Street

    I’ve read just about all of Asimov’s SF as well as some of his non-fiction science books, but hadn’t realized he’d done this series. Thanks for blogging it, Kathy.

  4. shannon espositoshannon esposito

    I did not know this! I’m going to have to go find the Black Widower’s Club mysteries! I actually started out writing sci-fi and then switched to mysteries. Thanks for the head’s up!

  5. Natalie HartfordNatalie Hartford

    I had no idea. You are totally opening up an entirely new reading genre for me. Love it. I think I’d totally give the Black Widower’s Club a try….amazing! Thanks for sharing Kathy…always love your posts.

  6. August McLaughlinAugust McLaughlin

    Woah. I had no idea! Very intriguing stuff, Kathy. Thanks for opening our eyes. 🙂

    I haven’t read any of Asimov’s books, but I’d be more inclined to read his mysteries… And I love his quotes about writing, like this one: “A poor idea well written is more likely to be accepted than a good idea poorly written.” (Great inspiration for writing fabulous query letters and pitches, hey?)

  7. Renee Schuls-JacobsonRenee Schuls-Jacobson

    Kath! TechSupport LOVES Asimov! He just read I, Robot and loved it. I had no idea that he based his fiction series on a real life club. That’s awesome information. Meanwhile, why didn’t people just look at Henry after the 20th time and realize he was the smartest dude in the room?! 🙂

  8. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    My husband has several times suggested I read Isaac Asimov, but for the life of me I could never get that interested in his sci-fi works. Now I have something of his I can read!!! I’m an Poirot and Sherlock fan too, so this sounds right up my alley. Thanks, Kathy! You’re a mystery maven indeed.

  9. Sonia G MedeirosSonia G Medeiros

    I didn’t know he wrote mysteries. Sounds intriguing. Will have to check them out now. 😀

  10. Amy Kennedy FosseenAmy Kennedy Fosseen

    Fascinating. I love Asimov, but didn’t know this. I want to belong to a group like that (except it would be women), and maybe we wouldn’t solve mysteries…we’d plot them!

  11. Karen McFarlandkKaren McFarlandk

    Okay, I have heard of the Black Widowers Club, but I didn’t know anything about it until now Kathy. You’ve solved the mystery. Interesting man. Thank you! 🙂

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