by Isaac Asimov
“The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.”
Winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards, The Gods Themselve is one of Dr. Asimov’s most highly respected novels and is broken up like three interconnected novellas.
In the first, a bizarre exchange of electrons has been noticed by an inept radiochemist, who goes on to become the world’s leading scientist due to the discovery. The electron exchange with another universe has resulted in free, limitless energy for Earth. Another scientist looks closer at the reactions and believes the growing energy imbalance may overcharge the sun, causing it to explode in mere decades. His theory is substantiated by contact with an alien intelligence from the para-universe which initiated and controls the exchange, but he is discredited by a world grown addicted to free power.
Earth spirals toward its doom, but he’s powerless to stop the process. (5 stars)
The second takes place from the perspective of the aliens on a world consisting mainly of flowing, amoeba-like, partially substantial beings that group together and procreate by forming a triad. What’s most interesting about the combination is each member of the triad is so alien to us physically but so recognizable to us emotionally as one member is a Rational, capable of and responsible for math and science; another member is a Parental, specializing in and responsible for the care of children; and the third is an Emotional, a being of pure feeling that helps bind the Rational and Parental.
One alien, an anomaly of an Emotional, begins to figure out the danger the electron exchange poses to the parallel universe, our universe, and investigates. (5 stars)
The third takes place on the moon and is a decades-later continuation of the story of Ben Desinger, the discredited scientist from the first part. Exiled from the scientific community, Ben immigrates to the moon, which is now home to the greatest scientists of the time. With an aim to continue his experiments, he meets Selena, a second generation lunar native, and the two of them work for proof of the danger in an environment well-suited for scientific exploration. (4 stars)
There’s a lot going on in each of the three stories. The first section is heavy on the physics but is almost a thriller, as a scientifically oriented struggle to save the planet against the natural enemy of humans: humans.
The exploration of the alien race in the second section is captivating and plays out more as a drama, with each of the alien species so clearly representing parts of our own makeup and societal values. It’s a frank look at how we operate, and may seem a little dated to modern understanding, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The third section is neither thriller nor drama. There’s no Armageddon-like race to save the planet at the last possible minute, and despite the connection between Ben and Selena, it’s not much of a burgeoning love story. Conspiracy elements are present, but this section defies easy categorization. It’s an apt conclusion to the previous two while seeming far removed from both, but it evokes the idea of living on the moon so naturally and logically you feel a real sense of the conditions and can live there for a while.
When assembled as a whole, The Gods Themselves is an inarguably brilliant example of complex, very hard science fiction serving an apocalyptic narrative and features a new, fully-realized alien life form with emphasis on the exploration of human nature. It may not always be easy to process, but this is one hell of a story regardless of one’s proficiency with physics and comes very highly recommended.
“There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.”