In "Escape!", one of the "I, Robot" stories, the robotic intelligence in the first FTL spacecraft prototype undergoes certain problems relative to the First Law and reacts to them by displaying eccentric behavior. For example, it only supplies its passengers with canned beans and milk. A diet like that should cause major problems with gas attacks.

I did not understand the joke when I read that story the first time because I am not lactose intolerant and I can drink large quantities of milk without problems. Which makes me think that Asimov might be more familiar with lactose intolerance than I am.

Asimov liked to talk about personal details in the prologues to his stories and his articles about history or science. I remember, for example, when he commented that he was going to undergo a heart operation (in which, according to his biography, he contracted HIV). Did he ever mention a problem with lactose?

  • 4
    Why do you think it's the milk and not the beans?
    – terdon
    May 16, 2017 at 11:54
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    But your question is certainly on topic; that wasn't me voting to close it. And it should be answerable. It's probably in Asimov's Guide to Enzymes for the Intelligent Layman.
    – user14111
    May 16, 2017 at 11:55
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    This question is not "off-topic". If you have voted to close it as "off-topic" please refresh yourself with what topics are on topic on our Stack.
    – Edlothiad
    May 16, 2017 at 12:02
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    Great point about the difference in perception of lactose intolerance among different people. Being mostly descended from northern European agricultural types, the very idea of not being able to drink several glasses of milk a day was simply not something that my family even considered. May 16, 2017 at 12:40
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    It would be interesting if Isaac Asimov did know about lactose intolerance, because I, Robot is a collection of stories written in the 1940s and published as one tome in 1950. Lactose intolerance as a proper medical condition wasn't really taken seriously until the 1960s, when new theories and methods of actually diagnosing it properly came in. May 16, 2017 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


Isaac Asimov was most likely not lactose intolerant.

In his third autobiography I. Asimov: A Memoir he recalls that his mother used to make him chocolate malted milk:

And often my mother would make me a chocolate malted milk under the impression that it was good for a growing boy. And it was for this growing boy. It was milk and malt and a generous dollop of that good chocolate syrup whipped into a froth that filled one and a half large glasses and left you with a mustache you hated to wipe off.

And in his first autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, he mentions a milk allergy of his son, David:

David filled our lives. We watched eagerly for all signs of development. On October 7, when he was forty-eight days old, he smiled for the first time, and had been able to follow our moving fingers with his eyes some days before that. On October 11, he consumed his first solid food.
    The one disturbing development was that he was getting strange patches on his skin which, on October 20, were finally interpreted by Dr. Ryan as an allergy to milk. He assured us it would pass but that, for a while, David would have to switch to soybean extract, which would supply all necessary nutrition and which was nonallergenic. By now he was two months old and weighed nearly ten pounds.
    By the twenty-ninth, after nine days on the soybean regimen, the patches on the skin were about gone, which demonstrated the correctness of Ryan's diagnosis.

I think if Asimov had been lactose intolerant himself, he surely would have mentioned it here.

  • 1
    This answer is as good as it can be because it offers reasonable clues appropriately based on several autobiographies. I am very glad to accept it and I thank Ubik for his work.
    – Ginasius
    May 30, 2017 at 23:05
  • But intolerance is very different from allergy, isn't it?  And allergies were known about since 1906, though I'm not sure how widely-known they would have been in the 1940s.
    – gidds
    Feb 9 at 9:40

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