Short Reviews – Friday the Thirteenth, Isaac Asimov

Friday the Thirteenth by Isaac Asimov appears in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. ¬†Will this review make more SF fans mad at me than getting linked on File 770? ¬†Stay tuned and find out if my reviews of the January ’76 issue (with one or two exceptions, it was really bad) turns me into Requires Hate 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Asimov is frustrating; he is revered as one of the greatest authors of science fiction, but the man just can’t tell an interesting story! Or maybe it’s me. It’s probably me. But I’ve found that while he can write non-fiction that stirs the imagination, his fiction bores me to tears. Friday the Thirteenth promises us an Umberto Eco style historical mystery and instead delivers a high school mathbook word-problem masquerading as speculative fiction.

The Hellfire Club Black Widowers, Asimov’s puzzle solving supper club, have been presented a challenge by one of their members: a (fictional) socialist would-be assassin of Calvin Coolidge is obsessed with Friday the 13th, a letter discovered posthumously is used to justify his execution, though his relative who is a member of the club argues that the letter might actually clear him. “God’s mercy for the 40 year miracle that will give us no Friday the 13th next month”.

Members of the club offer up various tricks to determine when Friday the 13ths fall and solve the Friday the 13th mystery. Whoopee.

While there’s some neat puzzle solving going on and a few things with which to impress your friends, there’s just no pay-off unless you are the sort of person who feels like coming up with the answer to a word problem somehow resolves the character arc of the guy trying to figure out how many apples and oranges he has.

And yet, for as much crap as I give Asimov’s fiction, I’ve found that some of the most enjoyable stuff in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction have been Asimov’s science columns. His wonderful and concise explanation of the chemistry behind the origins of life on earth and the 3 stages of earth’s atmosphere in this issue more than makes up for a dud like Friday the Thirteenth.