As I was saying. . . .

My first assignment as an assistant editor at Starlog Magazine was to edit an essay by the great Isaac Asimov on the possibility of actual faster-than-light travel. I read through its 5 or 6 typewritten pages, made some notes, and went back to my publisher.

He approved the edits. Then I told him I had a list of questions for Dr. A. “Great,” said the publisher. “Here’s his number—call him.”

Big gulp. Hear racing, I dialed his number (and  yes, it was a rotary phone).  I introduced myself to Asimov, “Howard Zimmerman, assistant editor at Starlog,” and told him I had some questions about his essay. “Shoot,” he said.

I read him the first one. He wrote blah-blah-blah, but my research says it was actually yadda-yadda-yadda. “Fine. Make the change,” he replied. I moved down the list. But not too far, because when I got to item three, Asimov said, “You said you were an assistant editor over there, right?” I confirmed that was correct.

“Good,” said Asimov. “Then edit.” And he hung up.

Over the following years and decades, I had the opportunity to work with Asimov several times, both at Starlog and at Byron Preiss Visual Publications. And he told me his dirty little secret.

“Howard, I never rewrite. Anything. I have no time. Therefore, I am only as good as my editors, and I depend on them to make sure I don’t look foolish in print.”

Asimov still holds the record for most books written in the English language (it’s in Guinness, you could look it up). He never worked on fewer than four or five things at once, usually including at least two books he was writing simultaneously. So he famously never wrote a second draft. Of anything.

And he was indeed as good as his editors’ skills would allow.  There is more to this story. . .