I like to think that I’m Isaac Asimov aficionado. I’m not, really. I just like to think that. I mean, I read the David Starr books when I was a kid, the Science Fiction Book Club introduced me to the Foundation Series, I read all his magazine essays in compilations, the Robot mysteries, and his non-science fiction mysteries were all well known to me.
Today, I read “The Gods Themselves.” I figured it was a typical human drama like Heinlein’s space pioneer books (“Have Spacesuit, Will Travel) or other Asimov books themselves, say like the Foundation Series itself, and the opening act proved me right. One scientist has discovered a way to transfer materials out of our universe, and with the help of mysterious creatures in an alternate universe, generate energy as a result. Another scientist is (quite correctly) terrified that this will lead to disastrous (on a galactic scale) results.
According to my Kindle, I was 23% of the way through the book, when Isaac Asimov blew my freaking mind. The second act started, not on Earth — where the first act had resided. Not even on the Moon, where one character had been heading. No, this act started in that alternate universe. It starred three aliens of a race so wonderfully imagined, I have not seen its equal in science fiction anywhere, although Orson Scott Card’s alien race in “Speaker for the Dead” appears to have been inspired by Asimov’s.
I don’t want to give it away, because the joy of this entire segment of the book was far, far more than the story going on — and it was an important, VITAL part of the entire story. No, the discovery of this race in my mind, as Asimov carefully placed it there, each word picked perfectly, every phrase, every minute piece of world-building and xenology (to coin a phrase, as he was wont to do). On every page in the second act he surprised me, something I did not think he could do. On every page he delighted me, and I was even more surprised and, well, delighted at that too.
As I read this, I felt “This is something special. This is something Asimov has never done before. Can he keep it up?” — Sadly, the third act returns to our universe, and wraps up very neatly, as many of his novels do. The science fiction was spectacular, but it all felt forced — as though the verdict had been decided before the words ever reached the page. Still… that second act.
When I reached the final page, I put the book down, and immediately jumped onto Wiki. Sure enough, “The Gods Themselves” had won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Locus awards that year. Asimov himself said that he believed the second act was as creative and inventive as anything he’d ever written.
I have to agree.
If you haven’t read this science fiction classic, but you love sci-fi, I encourage you to pick a copy up today. You won’t be disappointed. I also ask that you consider getting the book from my Amazon link, below. This site stays open through the generous patronage of readers like you. Thank you!