Isaac Asimov, whom I’ve written about before, here, is a true master of story telling. His 1972 book: The Gods Themselves is evidence of this. I started this book on Thursday and read 20 pages of it here and there for a few days. I was telling a friend, yesterday, that it was good, but that I just wasn’t into the actual task of reading it, and I worried if I would have it done by the Wednesday. Well, I went home and (with the intention of reading two or three more chapters) blitzed through the rest of the book. Spent about 8 hours total on it. I read till 2 in the morning. Damn was it good.
The book is split into 3 sections and has some interesting chapter breakdowns. The Part 1: “Against Stupidity” Follows begins with the discovery of the possibility of trading materials with another dimension. A scientist, Frederick Hallam, discovers that by trading specific materials, those materials, which are unnatural in the opposite universe become radioactive after a time and can be used as a source of energy. He does not create the idea, he just notices that the switch has been initiated by the other side. What he does create is a system called an Electron Pump that improves the process. The scientist is not a brilliant one, but it brings him recognition and power within the science community. So much so that he can make or break the career of whoever he likes.
When he squashes the theories of historian/theorist – Peter Lamont, the theorist goes on a quest to ruin Hallam’s standing in the community. Unable to destroy his reputation, he turns his focus on the effectiveness of the pump. Looking for flaws, he discovers that the pump is actually detrimental to the stability of space over time, but that it is even more harmful to the stability of the sun, which is likely to blow up if this continues.
Part 2: “The Gods Themselves” is a brilliant piece of writing, and by far the better section of the book. In it, Asimov paints a picture of a world, the parallel universe which is dying, of a species that have 3 genders, are fluid or gaseous in body and live among a group of people called “the hard ones” who sound a little more human. The each chapter is split into 3 sections and follows the goings on of a triad (3 in a marriage) of beings named Odeen, Dua, and Tritt. He describes each as being as having a specific role in life and in the marriage. Odeen is a Rational and spends his time learning, Tritt is a Parental and raises their 3 children. Odeen and Tritt can’t have freaky alien sex (a concept very prominent but essential to the story) without an Emotional, Dua. They both care for Dua, but care more for each other. Dua is an Emotional but acts more like a Rational and also learns as much as she can, she learns about the material trading and is also able to figure out the dangers it causes to earths sun. The danger is not relative to their side because their sun is too small and close to extinction.
One thing I did take away from this was from Dua’s gender identification. She was an Emotional who identified more as a Rational. It wasn’t until she was treated as a Rational that she really started to get anything out of her relationship with Tritt and Odeon. She became truly happy. I’m not sure if this was the original message or just something that I am getting out of it, but it made me think about gender identification in our own culture. They didn’t originally have an open mind about it, and it was not good for her, she needed someone to accept her for who she was. I’m sure the same can be said for real life. It’s a reminder that we just need to be accepting and not judging based on our own preconceptions.
Part 3: “Contend In Vain?” Reintroduces a minor character from the first section, Dr. Denison, who has moved onto the moon. This is mostly a love story. He slowly develops a closer and closer relationship with Selene Lindstrom, who was originally his tour guide but was sent with him to guide his work. In the end they do find a solution to the problem which is to find another universe, one at the brink of a Big Bang and had no life to destroy, trade back what was being built up in the sun and then everyone is happy.
The solution makes sense to me. It reminded me of a scene in Geoff Johns/ Brad Meltzer’s JLA/JSA crossover where Mr. Terrific plays simultaneous games of chess against Green Lantern and Black Canary. Rather than focusing on two separate games, he simply plays each of his opponents against each other. He makes the move against one opponent that his other opponent played against him. this makes the end result either a tie and a tie or a win and a loss, but he comes out even in the end. Brilliant solution to what seemed an unsolvable problem, at least to me.
After the solution is discovered it is revealed why Selene had been sent to work with Denison. She was to guide him towards wanting to use the energy from the electron pump to distance the moon from the earth, as the moon had become a society of its own and didn’t want to have to rely on the earth or be interfered by its people. Neither Selene nor Denison want this and the idea is shut down.
The three stories are only loosely connected to each other and were published originally in Worlds of If and Galaxy Magazine as such. The title of each chapter comes from a quote from Friedrich Schiller’s The Maid of Orleans “Against Stupidity The Gods Themselves Contend In Vain”. The book was quite successful and won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973.
Originally, I had a difficult time getting into this book, as I mentioned. I had read a little of the first section. I finished the first section, and was a little weirded out by all the sex stuff in part 2. I had no intention of reading Fifty Shades of Grey Aliens. So I figured, read it quick and get it over with, you’ve started you have to finish, so just get it done. and I did. I quickly realized why everything was necessary. And everything was necessary. Asimov didn’t leave clues and hints as to where he was going. He told a story with many facets that seemed to fit into place where they were. and when everything seemed to be done, he brought everything into play again. In a few short paragraphs he tore apart everything we had been lead to believe and rebuilt the reality around us. He pulled the rug out from underneath characters, and when he was done, he pulled the rug out from underneath the us. And left us hanging. Rarely have I felt THAT exhilarated after reading something. At that point I had no choice but to keep on keeping on and I blitzed through the ending. I am boggled but how intricate Asimov was able to create this tale. Not only did he create a great story, but to do so created a whole new world, with a new species, and new customs, and new genders. Props to him, I can’t wait to read more.
Thanks for reading!