Anniversary by Isaac Asimov

The short story Anniversary by Isaac Asimov is an example of life imitating art and an imaginative author’s ability to predict some of the technical advancements and legal issues of over fifty years in the future.

I believe this is the first time I’ve posted reviews from the 1969 little red book The Best of Amazing so close together. But seeing how editor Joseph Ross chose to follow Isaac Asimov’s very first publication Marooned off Vesta (reviewed here last week) with Ike’s aptly titled sequel Anniversary, it made perfect sense to examine the story’s continuation while the original is still fresh in our minds.

Anniversary revisits the trio of survivors (sorry for any spoilers) from the original story. On the twentieth anniversary of the tragic collision between the Silver Queen and an asteroid, the three men now face being “marooned in oblivion” as the accident is all but forgotten in the public eye. But when it is discovered that after all these years, the insurance company has still been sweeping for debris from the wreckage, the celebration quickly changes to an investigation. If they can solve the mystery, their historic story may once again make headlines.

I could discuss the literary elements and the clear-cut character development within the story, but this was written by Asimov. You also don’t need to read the original story Marooned off Vesta, but it does enhance the experience and highly recommended. Let’s just take it for granted that Anniversary is a good piece and well worth the read. But there is much more to this story than meets the eye.

Amazing Stories cover March 1959
Amazing Stories cover March 1959

Anniversary was published in the March 1959 issue of Amazing Stories, exactly twenty years after the original publication of Marooned off Vesta (both stories appeared in the 1959 issue). Life imitating art or maybe just planned timing, the premise of historical figures living in obscurity is still quite intriguing. But what makes Anniversary even more compelling today are a couple elements of art imitating life over fifty years later. The story takes the science fiction view “what if” of yesterday and turns it into the reality of today!

During their investigation, the trio uses a “new” technology called a Multivac. Asimov uses the device in a few other stories as well, but it seems to stand out more for me here because of how it is used by the characters. It reminds me of my first time on a PC. The Multivac outlet is a typewriter like machine used for contacting an enormous “super-computer that was the repository of all the facts known to man.” The regulation of information released by the Multivac is far more restrictive than the interweb we all know and love, but not too farfetched when considering the security concerns in today’s political climate. Still, the mere premonition of a worldwide information source is enough to earn Asimov a firm pat on the back.

Asimov also displayed a keen eye for legal concerns evolved from space travel. With the insurance company spending unthinkable resources to salvage everything from the accident, the three characters in Anniversary find themselves at issue over ownership of personal “souvenirs” they had secretly kept for themselves. What makes this so interesting? On September 12, 2012, President Obama signed the bill H.R. 4158, allowing past NASA crew members to retain “full ownership rights” to the mementos they collected. Again, Asimov anticipated a critical issue that not only influenced the plot of the story, but it also had an impact on the current space program half a century later.

Anniversary by Isaac Asimov is more than just revisiting characters from his first published story. Anniversary is more than a timed look at fame and fortune (or lack there of) twenty years later. Anniversary is an example of life imitating art and an imaginative author’s ability to predict some of the technical advancements and legal issues of over fifty years in the future. Boy, that Ike guy sure did know how to play the “what if” game.

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