The Gods themselves: Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov is undoubtedly a master of the science fiction genre. The complexity and delicate intricacy that he can build into his worlds is simply terrific. I began reading Asimov with novels like ‘The big sun of mercury’, ‘Stars like dust’, and ‘The naked sun’ and I fell in love with the science fiction genre and with Asimov. Then later I read the Foundation series and was awestruck by the brilliance of this work. The Foundation series turned into something like a climax to my science fiction reading season, and I did not read much of it after that. Just a few days back I was discussing science fiction books with a friend who also likes this genre, and I felt an impulse to read a good book laden with mysterious universes and unbelievable technologies. Naturally I went to my favorite author Isaac Asimov and picked his Hugo award winner (1973) ‘The Gods Themselves’.

‘The gods themselves’ is a set of three stories bound by an impending calamity, but each taking place on a different world. The calamity in question is nothing short of our arm of the galaxy exploding into a quasar (not surprising since Asimov was always about very exotic disasters and their counteraction). The first part occurs on Earth in the near future where the problem of energy shortage has been ingeniously solved by an ‘Electron pump’ which exchanges material with a para-universe (a parallel universe which obeys different laws of physics). This scheme has liberated the human population from the banalities of working for energy. But unfortunately, as a young scientist discovers, this scheme is not without a dangerous side-effect – the sun will explode and form a supernova. The Pump must be stopped to avert the crisis, but no-one on Earth wishes to believe him, blinded by the advantages of the free energy. 

The second story takes place on a planet in that para-universe which is exchanging energy with Earth. This section is one stunning illustration of Asimov’s great talent. He constructs this alien ecosystem stunningly, complete with the sexuality of the complex entities inhabiting it, and their delicate emotional make up. One of the entities in this world discovers the perils awaiting the unsuspecting earth and thereby faces the morally difficult dilemma between compassion towards an unknown species and survival of its own. This section masterfully rendered is also highly entertaining. The discussion on sexuality of this alien specie and the parallels that can be drawn with ours is indeed very amusing. 

The third part takes place on the moon and brings the problem to a satisfactory conclusion. This part, to me, felt a little like an anti-climax after the second one. But Asimov does provide an interesting solution for the crisis which somewhat makes up for the plainness of this story.

Asimov has created a highly compelling plot for this novel, which keeps our attention captivated. The physics discussed is at times intricate, but this is always followed by simplified explanation which makes it easy to grasp. All the classic elements of Asimov’s writing are present in this novel. The plot is a page-turner and has many interesting ideas pertaining to nuclear forces and laws of physics. It also has some very witty references to present day world and a pertinent commentary on the follies we are committing for the sake of immediate gains. The title of the novel itself is an intelligent observation on this, inspired by a quotation by the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller - "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." 
I will happily recommend this novel to all the fans of Asimov and of the science fiction genre.

This book can be downloaded for Kindle, or can be bought from Flipkart.


Andrew Blackman said...

Nice review, Nivedita! I don't generally enjoy reading science fiction, but I have been meaning to read Isaac Asimov for a while because he is such a famous writer and acknowledged as the master of the genre. Would you recommend this book as a good one to start with, or maybe one of the others you read earlier?

Raj said...

Cool. Asimov is my all time fav. I have not read this one yet but it's only a matter of time. :)

Utopian said...

Asimov is my favorite author too. Am currently on a break from sci-fi, will get my hands on this when I get back to the genre.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Andrew,
You can certainly begin with this novel. It has a very captivating plot and the physics part is also very interesting. Do let me know how you like Asimov :)

Hi Raj,
I am sure you will like this one! The second part is especially brilliant.

Hi Malcolm,
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you return from your break soon :) Do you have any sci-fi recommendations in the meantime?

Bhagwad Jal Park said...

Asimov's "Foundation Series" is one of the best sequence of books I've ever read. I really like how Asimov gets straight to the point of the plot without beating around the bush1

Nivedita Barve said...

Yeah that is true about Asimov. You turn the first page and the action has already begun!
Thanks for stopping by Bhagwad :)

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I am so glad I have found your blog - another girl who loves Isaac Asimov! I haven't come across many female readers/bloggers who like their science fiction. I haven't read The FOundation series yet because I try to buy all my books second hand (strange I know) and its hard to find, no doubt everyone likes to keep a hold of them.

Have you read John Wyndham? Hes my all time favourite science fiction author

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Becky!
It's always a pleasure to find another science fiction fan! I am very glad you like Asimov too :) Do read the Foundation series, it's Asimov at his best.
I haven't read any of John Wyndham's work. Thanks for the recommendation! I will look out for his books :)

Anonymous said...

Back in the dark ages, around 1970, my Maltese pen friend introduced me to Asimov, and in turn I 'gave' him Kurt Vonnegut. I think we were both very satisfied.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Bookwitch,
Kurt Vonnegut is it? I will look out for his books. Thanks!