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Isaac Asimov – The Gods Themselves

Title: The Gods Themselves
Author: Isaac Asimov
Year: 1972

Yes, I am astonished that I give four and a half snails to this book. I have somehow decided that I dislike Asimov strongly, but considering what I have read so far, I have only disliked Foundation. Come to think about it, I have actually given two more recommendations of books at least partly written by Asimov (I, Robot and The Positronic Man). So, I guess I will have to face the facts and review my opinion about Asimov, especially since The Gods Themselves was really inspiring.

This story was originally published in three parts and according to Wikipeida, it originated in a discussion with Robert Silverberg in which he referred to an arbitrary isotope, which happened to be Plutonium-186, which, Asimov pointed out, do not and cannot exist. But what if it could? Asimov extrapolated this idea to create a parallel universe with different physical laws in which the isotope would be stable. He also managed to connect it to our universe by means of a technique which would be very beneficial to mankind in the short run, but absolutely catastrophic in a longer perspective. He also, somehow, managed to make it credible.

The connection takes the form of clean, limitless and almost free energy. In the first part of the book, we are introduced to this fantastic scientific achievement by means of a critical explanation of its discovery. The narrator is convinced that the innovation will lead to the destruction of mankind, but everybody else, unwilling to give up their wasteful way of life, is too complacent and selfish to believe him. The title is derived from a poem, which, translated into English, runs: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain” and is very fitting indeed for the atmosphere of large parts of the novel.

The brilliance of the book starts with chapter two, in which Asimov changes focus to the parallel universe. I have never encountered such an alien world and yet been able to feel with the creatures who inhabit it (believe me, I am no fan of such literature). The life forms in focus are so strange that I would normally have written them off as too different to be interesting, but somehow Asimov gets away with it.

Added to this, I must admit that Asimov is a very skilled writer. I like the way he writes, or at least the way he wrote late in his life (I still think Foundation is dull). Normally, I tend to think that hard science-fiction (Wikipedia article) is too dull, but even though I did have low expectations on The Gods Themselves, it turned out to be very good indeed.

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  1. Aubrey’s avatar

    I am a fan as a reader of his fiction, but having read some of his non-fiction about real science I was less enamoured. Asimov had a naive almost-blind inclination to stand up for the self correcting capabilities and honour of “big science”.

    I wrote about a small part of this a few days ago in another context
    Asimov and self delusion