What is the great catastrophe in Asimov's books? I'd also like to know where you found out what it is. I've read his collection of short stories, and it's not mentioned what this catastrophe was. Or at least, I don't think it was mentioned.
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I do not know if the narrative of "Stranger in paradise" fits in the wider arch of Spacians/Empire/Foundation narrative, anyway since it refers to a post apocalyptic Earth I will refer to what happens to Earth in such arch.
In earlier stories (
Pebble in the Sky /
The Stars, like Dust) it is strongly implied that Earth was affected by an atomic war, with many areas of the surface affected by radiation.
This was latter retconned in the events of
Robots and Empire, "erasing" the war and making the Spacians responsible for progressively increasing the natural radioactivity of Earth with some scientific voodoo. There were several factions in play, one using that sabotage with the intent of destroying the growing Terran Empire, the other using it to force Terrans to leave Earth and so help the expansion of the Empire.
Note that in both narratives it appears that the radioactivity started well after other solar systems were already colonized, so I would say that "Stranger in paradise" does not fit the arch and must be read as an "standalone" story.
First of all it should be noted that most Asimov stories do not share the same universe. Asimov wrote about 200 science-fiction short stories. The Insanely Complete Robot/Foundation Fiction List by Johnny Pez lists about 30 of those as part of the Robot/Empire/Foundation universe. There are a few more groups of Asimov short stories that share a common universe, most notably the Multivac stories, but most of his science-fiction short stories are standalone.
Stranger in Paradise is one of those standalone stories. While it does mention a positronic brain, it does not fit at all with the other positronic robot stories. Also the fact that biological brothers are a peculiar phenomenon and the term Homology are not featured in any other Asimov story. So we only know about the catastrophe what is mentioned in the story (which isn't much): Apparently the catastrophe was so substantial that it resulted in a new calendar. It is also mentioned that Old New York is in ruins.
The story was rejected by Judy-Lynn del Rey and by Ben Bova. The latter said to Asimov that there was too much background, and suggested to expand the story into a novel (source: The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories). It is quite likely that this would have entailed fleshing out the story of the catastrophe. But Asimov decided against writing that novel.
For what it's worth, the story The Life and Times of Multivac, written 18 months later, mentions "great catastrophes", but there is not very much information here either, except that "hordes had died in the days of the great catastrophes and it had been the computers that had saved what was left and directed the recovery". There is no indication that these events are related to Stranger in Paradise.