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Review: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
~Friedrich Schiller, The Maid of Orleans, 1801

Even the gods cannot fix stupidity.  So contends Isaac Asimov in his Hugo and Nebula award winning science fiction novel The Gods Themselves.  There are three sections to The Gods Themselves, each one concerning different perspectives and time frames relating to the discovery of a new form of energy caused by the transfer of mass between two universes . . . and the ultimate possibility that this may cause the Sun to go supernova, destroying all of humanity.

Against Stupidity . . .

Part one deals with the discovery of the para-universe, communication with the aliens there, and some theoretical physics involved with the workings of an “electron pump.”  This pump involves transferring matter between two universes yielding a nuclear reaction and a transfer of energy.  In the case of this story, from the alternate universe to our universe, which gives humanity an almost limitless supply of energy once the electron pump is optimized and scaled for energy production.

The problem?  This process changes the strong nuclear forces in our universe, including inside our own Sun . . . which could go supernova.  Alternatively, the process may cause the Sun in the alternate universe to cool . . . a fate just as deadly to its inhabitants.  Two physicists struggle with one another on the discovery and whether to tell the rest of the world of the potential risks of using a large scale electron pump.

. . . The Gods Themselves . . .

Part two of The Gods Themselves is told from the perspective of the para-universe aliens.  Now, this part of the book is confusing, plodding, and boring.  The alien society is made up of “hard ones” and “soft ones,” each group comprised of Rationals, Emotionals, and Parentals.  This third of the book is made up of passages told from the perspective of three different alien viewpoints, talking about energy, melting, merging, alien sex (of some kind?), and a small amount of storytelling dealing with a rebellious Emotional trying to shut down the electron pump on their side.

. . .  Contend in Vain?

Part three takes us back to our universe where the electron pump has been built and it’s risk to our Sun is actually realized and revealed.  A scientists travels to the moon and discovers a way to create energy equilibrium using a third universe, but in this case the new electron pump causes an exchange of momentum between the universes.  This results in the discovery of a new method of space propulsion without the need for rockets.

[box type=”warning” align=”” class=”” width=””]The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov“In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands:  an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by aliens.  But even free energy has a price.  The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of Earth’s Sun — and of Earth itself.

Only a few know the terrifying truth — an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun.  They know the truch —  but who will listen?  They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy — but who will believe?  These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to the Earth’s survival.”

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
Genre:  Science Fiction
Awards:  1972 Hugo & 1973 Nebula
Media:  Book, 293 pages
Cover Art:  Dominic Harman
First Published:  197
2 out of 5 stars

One thing you may notice from my description of The Gods Themselves is that I don’t mention any characters.  That’s because this book is not about characters.  This book is about concepts, specifically hard science concepts.  I’m a huge proponent of balancing fiction with science.  When writing get too out of balance a book can come across as feeling like a textbook disguised as a novel.  That’s the case here.  The Gods Themselves didn’t give me the entertainment value I look for when I read a science fiction novel.  I feel like Asimov is giving me the old nudge, nudge, wink, wink when I’m read this . . . like he’s pulling a trick on me, getting me to read his treatise about electron pumps, quasars, and alternate universes described as a novel populated by flat characters.

Fans of hard science fiction (notice the emphasis on hard) will like The God’s Themselves.  The only comparable hard science fiction works that I’ve read were authored by Robert L. Forward, who prided himself on the scientific credibility of all of his novels.  While they were imaginative in their own right, they do not make for good storytelling, and neither does The God’s Themselves.

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