Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Lowdown: A tale about the ease with which comfort can make us turn a blind eye to danger.
Prior to me starting to read Asimov's The Gods Themselves, the biggest question on my agenda was whether I have already read it or not. While I am still not in a position to provide a reliable answer to that question, I'm glad to say I have read/re-read the book; it is a classic Asimov, meaning an excellent book.
The Gods Themselves is a science fiction book made of three parts. The first tells the story of humanity in a hundred years or so, when aliens from a parallel universe contact humanity and inform it of a way to seemingly gain energy out of nothing by transferring material from one universe to the other. Thing is, what seems like a free lunch on paper may not turn to be the case after all as the story follows a renegade scientist realizing the free lunch's price is our world becoming more and more like the parallel universe, with the implication being our sun may explode. Armed with this suspicion, he goes to warn humanity of the impeding danger.
The second story tells us what takes place in the parallel universe. There Asimov depicts a detailed account of a completely alien society to ours, eventually focusing on the similarities between us and them when it comes to dealing with free lunches. The third story takes place on the moon and wraps the package up in a neat way.
Asimov is famous for his social science fiction (a term I may be twisting a bit here, but who cares): that is, writing science fiction stories that are an analogy to our society, portraying extreme imaginative cases that imply on our real life society. Thus the blind eye turned by humanity in the book to the dangers of free energy acts as a very good analogy to the way humanity has been dealing with global warming this day and age. On top of that there is a lot of criticism thrown in by Asimov to the way science conducts itself: In The Gods Themselves the scientist who first established contact with the aliens acquires such an iconic status no one can say anything contradicting his words, even if they do use the scientific approach. While the particular scenario doesn't apply because we are yet to be contacted by a parallel universe, the problem itself very much applies: For example, physicists (to name but one example) often complain that those who do not accept the String Theory are cast aside. My point is simple: there is a lot to take from The Gods Themselves.
What most science fiction fans will treasure in The Gods Themselves are the detailed of the future's society and the society of the aliens. These are not just briefly detailed; they are so well specified, with reasons for the way things are explained and discussed thoroughly, that it all feels very real and authentic. This is no fantasy tale; this is heavy, classic, science fiction (with emphasis on "science"). There is a catch, though: Through the thoroughness things can get somewhat tedious. I know I'm opening myself here to a lot of criticism from the ranks of the serious science fiction fans, but I due to my lack of free time I seek matter of factness; The Gods Themselves is somewhat lacking in this department, opting instead for the detailed descriptions. I guess without the descriptions the book would lose most of its credibility, but the problem still remains: I was left somewhat wanting.
Overall: Classic science fiction, classic Asimov. 4 out of 5 stars.


Uri said...

I don't know if you've read it before, but you didn't borrow my copy.

But some segments may have been familiar to you from reading Opus 200.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I checked my Hebrew copy of Opus 200 and you're right. Not that I doubted you, but I doubt I remember much out of there; I suspect I never read the book but was familiar with it because of its acclaim (very justified acclaim).