An Asimovian Surprise

PebblecoverOkay, time to set the Wayback Machine. The year is 1984. I’m fourteen. My parents, my older sister, my two little sisters, and I are up visiting my grandparents in New York. My dad is reading the paper one morning and says, “Hey, Aaron, there’s a science fiction convention in town! Do you want to go?” Now, this is one of the cool things about my parents—neither of them were all that big into genre themselves (although my dad is the one who introduced me to Doctor Who) but they knew I was and had no problem with that. Case in point: the aforementioned exclamation. I, of course, say, “Wow, really? Yeah!”

Next thing I know, my parents are dropping me off at the convention—they give me money for a one-day pass and tell me when they’ll be back to pick me up. Yeah, I know, but different times and all that.

I spend the next few hours wandering the show. It was in a hotel downtown, I don’t remember which one anymore, but it had an enormous ballroom and that’s where they put the dealer’s room. I go from booth to booth, gawking at videotapes and patches and comics and books and posters and action figures and so on. It’s great—I’ve never been to a convention before and I absolutely love it.

Time’s getting short, though, so I start making my way toward the exit, when I see a sign: “Isaac Asimov signing this way.” Wait, what? I’d read Caves of Steel and Foundation and I, Robot and probably a few others, and let’s face it, Asimov was THE MAN. And he was here, at the same con as me? And signing? I had to go for it.

So I find where he’s signing, which happened to be basically a large landing off a staircase that led outside, and I get in line. I don’t have anything for him to sign, mind you—I came to the con with absolutely nothing in hand—but I figure I’ll hand him a flier, a scrap of paper, my shirt, whatever.

I’m still in line when my sister finds me. “Mom and Dad are outside,” she says. “We need to go.”

“I can’t!” I tell her. “It’s Asimov!” And I point to him.

YoungAaron1To her eternal credit, my sister doesn’t scoff. She says, “I’ll tell them,” and leaves. She’s back a few minutes later. “Okay, they’re circling the block.” And she waits with me.

I’m almost to the front when I make a confession: “I don’t have anything for him to sign,” I tell her.

My sister wordlessly reaches into her purse and pulls out a battered paperback copy of Pebble in the Sky. She just happened to be reading it on the trip. She hands it to me.

I have never loved my sister as much as I did at that moment.

My sister and I get to the front, and there’s the man himself. Asimov. He smiles at us, says hello, and holds out his hand for the book. When he takes it he gets this fond look on his face like “ah, hello, old friend!” Clearly this is a book that has been well read. He signs it and hands it back with a thank you. Which blows me away. It’s ASIMOV! And he’s thanking me!

I’m pretty sure my sister had to guide me out of the building and into our parents’ car; I was too stunned to move on my own.

Now I’m an author myself. I’ve written a whole lot of books. I often sign books at conventions. And whenever I do, I always think about how this pioneer of science fiction took the time, not only to sign for fans, but to say hello to each one and to thank them for coming, for reading his books, for liking them.

That’s the kind of man I want to be. It’s the kind of man I hope I am.

And I wonder, from time to time, if my sister still has that paperback. She kept it—it was her book, after all, and she hadn’t finished reading it.

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