“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
WHEN I was going to college, the United States was not yet out of the Great Depression, and I knew that I was not going to get a job after I graduated in 1939. The only thing I could do was to go on to graduate work, obtain some advanced degrees, and hope that the situation would have improved by the time I was through.
Now the problem was this: In what subject was I to get my Ph.D. (assuming I could be smart enough to get it and could find the money for tuition — for in those days there was very little in the way of grants to help out the impoverished)?
I was hung up between history and chemistry. I thought I could handle either one, but there was no question in my mind that I was more interested in history.
However, practical reasoning entered the field. I said to myself, “If I get my degree in history, then the chances are that if I get a job at all, I will get one in some small college, far away from my beloved city of New York, and that I will be working for a mere pittance with almost no possibility for advancement. On the other hand” (I continued saying to myself) “if I get my Ph.D. in chemistry, I may get a job with a large research firm for an ample salary with lots of room for advancement and with a chance, even, of winning a Nobel Prize, since I am so brilliant a person.”
So I went for chemistry, and eventually, after a four-year delay because of World War II, I obtained my Ph.D. in chemistry in 1948.
The result? I went to work in 1949 as an instructor in biochemistry in a small medical school, far away from my beloved city of New York. I was working for a mere pittance and with no possibility of advancement. (Nor, I quickly realized, was there any chance at all that I would come closer than a light-year or two to a Nobel Prize.) As I frequently say: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” (Hamlet said that also, and he may even have said it first.)
Chemistry was a big flop in another way, too. I really didn’t like it and I was no good at it (except for being able to learn an encyclopedia of stuff about it, entirely because I can learn an encyclopedia of stuff about anything). What’s more, as time went on, I grew less and less interested in it and, eventually, in 1958, I was fired simply because I was so uninterested in it that I refused to do any research. (I didn’t mind teaching and writing books about it — I loved that.)
Of course, by that time I had another career, that of writing. In fact, my writing career began even while I was in college, when I was deciding what to do with myself — history or chemistry. Becoming a professional writer was a third option, but one that I didn’t consider for even a split-second.
At the time I made my decision, I had sold a story or two, but never in my wildest imaginings could I possibly have believed I would ever do more than make occasional pin-money out of those stories.
And to tell you the truth, for a long time, I never did more than that. By the time I began my work at the medical school, I had written 68 stories and sold 60 of them in the course of eleven years. That was not too bad considering that the major part of my time had to be spent in my father’s candy store, or at my graduate studies, or at a wartime job. However, in all that time, my total earnings for all eleven years amounted to $7700.
After I had been at work at: the medical school for half a year, my first novel, Pebble in the Sky, was published, to he followed soon by others, and royalties started coming in; but even at the time I was fired in 1958, my literary earnings amounted to only $15,000 a year, enough to keep me going for a while in the absence of a job, but not enough to make me comfortable. (By that time, I had a wife and two children to support, too — and I was middle-aged.)
Now let’s go back in time, to the point when I was first thinking about writing. Again, I had two choices. What I really wanted to write was historical fiction. I wanted to write a new kind of “Three Musketeers.” The only trouble was that that would mean research. I would have to spend at least three years doing research in order that I might spend one year writing, and I didn’t want to do that. I just couldn’t do that. I wanted to write, not sit around taking notes.
The alternative was science fiction. That required research, too, for I had to know science. But I already knew science thoroughly, and besides I could make up science of the future — so I began to write science fiction, and as you all know I did pretty well.
But only pretty well. What was it that made me rich and famous? I’ll tell you. As I continued to write science fiction, the urge to write historical fiction continued to gnaw away at me, and the impossibility of spending enormous time at research continued to keep me from doing anything about it — until a brilliant thought occurred to me, a thought that was at once encouraged by the great editor, John W. Campbell, Jr.
Why should I not write historical fiction of the future? I would deal with a social system, with politics, with economic crises, with everything that is to be found in history, except that it would all take place in the future and I would make it up. I wouldn’t have to do any research.
Therefore, I began writing my Foundation novels, and my Robot novels, and, in due course, I became rich and famous.
Twice I had shoved history, my one great love, to one side, and despite that, it was history, in the end, that made me. I repeat, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” (Is it possible Hamlet stole that from me?)
Indeed, the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. They say their job is to feed a man’s need for judgment-free friendship and, at times, to help him repair his broken partnership. Little wonder, then, that so many describe themselves to me as members of the “wellness” industry.
People who are satisfied and secure in themselves and don’t see a need to change the way they are generally make terrible consumers of products designed to enhance one’s self-image based on the norms these same corporations are dictating to us. So these companies expend every resource they have in their marketing arsenal to make sure we never become those kinds of satisfied people. They hate satisfied people, because satisfied people don’t make them any money! And because they control the messages about sex, they can also control the most effective way to make you insecure and dissatisfied: by causing you to wonder if you are getting laid enough, or are getting laid by enough women, or whatever.