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Archive: Other Books > [Poll Ballot] The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov - 4 stars

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Joy D | 3429 comments The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov - 4 stars - My GR Review

"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." – Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, The Maid of Orleans

The overarching storyline involves a method by which matter is exchanged between our universe and a parallel universe, resulting in what at first appears to be an unlimited supply of free energy to both. The process has been initiated by otherworldly beings, but Dr. Hallam, a scientist from earth, takes credit for it, to great acclaim. Later, a lone dissenter, Dr. Lamont, believes the exchange may cause our sun to explode, but faces tremendous opposition from Hallam and those who are enjoying the unlimited free energy and don’t want to give it up. They say there is no proof of an upcoming explosion and dismiss Lamont as a crackpot.

This is hard science fiction. In order to fully enjoy it, the reader will need to internalize the overall concept and follow the scientists’ trains of thought, and in order to do so, will need to have a certain level of interest in scientific detail. It does not require advanced knowledge of physics or chemistry, as the principles and processes are described in layman’s terms. For example, it references such topics as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, radioactive isotopes, electrons, protons, fusion, fission, electromagnetism, quarks, and the like. Here’s an example of what to expect:

“We are faced with a substance, plutonium-186, that cannot exist at all, let alone as an even momentarily stable substance, if the natural laws of the Universe have any validity at all. It follows, then, that since it does indubitably exist and did exist as a stable substance to begin with, it must have existed, at least to begin with, in a place or at a time or under circumstances where the natural laws of the Universe were other than they are. To put it bluntly, the substance we are studying did not originate in our Universe at all, but in another—an alternate Universe—a parallel Universe. Call it what you want.”

It is divided into three sections, which are related only by the overall story arc. Section 1 sets the stage, beginning in the year 2070. It shows how the universes interacted initially to establish the energy exchange, and how the rivalry between Hallam and Lamont developed.

Section 2 is my personal favorite. It describes the lives of the beings in the para-universe, comprised of “hard ones” and “soft ones,” who have differing levels of ability to move through each other. The “soft ones” live in triads: one rational, one parental, and one emotional, who bond together in a reproductive process called melting to produce offspring. A “hard one” is assigned to each triad as a mentor. Dua, an emotional “soft one” is the protagonist of this section. She is an atypical emotional, and anyone that has ever felt “otherness” will easily identify with her. She brings up the ethical questions of what the energy exchange is doing to the two universes.

Section 3 takes place on the moon, with one of Hallam’s discredited rivals, Dr. Dennison, doing research in conjunction with the Lunarites (humans born on the moon) to either prove or disprove Lamont’s hypothesis regarding whether or not the sun will explode. It provides an engaging picture of what life on the moon is like and how that proof is obtained.

As with all great science fiction, it not only tells a great story, it imparts plenty of observations about our own time. People with power are not easily persuaded to release it, even for the greater good. People live in denial and engage in short-term thinking, even when the results could be disastrous. I’m thinking specifically of the climate change debate. I find it amazing that it was published so long ago (1972) and yet the themes are still very relevant.

message 2: by annapi (last edited Jan 26, 2020 02:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

annapi | 4973 comments This might be my absolute favorite of all Asimov's novels - I re-read it not long ago and it's still great!

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