by Isaac Asimov
As one of the true giants of Science Fiction, reading any of Asimov’s books for the first time brings with it a certain expectation and, for me, some trepidation.
I have read “classics” before and sometimes found them disappointing. So, as I slowly work my way through the Gollancz Masterworks series, of which this is part, I have learned to keep my expectations realistic as not all books are as good as the critics claim. In this case though I needn’t have worried.
First published in 1972, The Gods Themselves represents a change in style for one of Sci-Fi’s most prolific and best loved writers. Whilst scientific theories remain at the heart of the story, the focus of this book switches between the all-too-human preoccupations of politics and self-preservation and look at a very non-human life cycle. The book is in three parts, each focusing on a separate set of characters.
The first concerns the invention of the Electron Pump, an apparently free and inexhaustible supply of energy that revolutionises humanity. However, not everyone is convinced about the process which involves isotopes with a parallel universe. But is the negative voice driven by something other than science, or is more personal? With the Pump’s inventor seen by the bulk of humanity as some kind of savior, dissension cannot be tolerated and no one wants to consider that this new era for mankind has any kind of price tag attached.
Part two moves to the other side of the exchange. Here Asimov looks at life in a universe where the laws of physics are different from our own. It is this deference that lies behind the Electron Pump. The life forms here are very different from ourselves, but it seems that the desire to survive is just as strong, even if it threatens the very existence of our solar system.
The final part moves to the Moon and continues the seemingly impossible quest for the truth in the face of institutional resistance.
At every turn, self-presentation, greed and an almost ostrich-like denial of anything that throws doubt on the established position question the credibility of those who dare question the Pump and what it has done for humanity.
Isaac Asimov is a respected and much loved writer for a good reason – he is one of the twentieth century’s great visionaries and a damned good storyteller as well. He has avoided the kind of detail that could so easily date a book of this type and period. In fact, I only found one reference (to tape) that could be considered out of place now. It is a reflection of his skill that the book is as relevant today as it was in 1972.