on 23 August 1999
I have been a fan of Asimov's fiction as well as his science essays since childhood. I've read his Foundation novels, Robot novels, and various unrelated fiction and factual material. While most of his works have usually appealed to me, I can say with little reservation that "The Gods Themselves" is my favorite Asimov novel - and certainly earns a prominent spot in my personal "Top 10".
One of the things I like about this novel is the way the Friedrich von Schiller quotation "Against stupidity, the [very] Gods themselves contend in vain" is worked into the story. The three phrases that make up this quote - "Against Stupidity...", "...The Gods Themselves...", and "...Contend In Vain?" are used as chapter titles - and, what's more, these titles are quite appropos to the theme of each chapter.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the novel is the second chapter, which portrays a most unusual, and wholly believable and consistent alien race. Science fiction authors often struggle with the difficulty of portraying an alien race that is different enough from humans to be believable as aliens, yet similar enough to make their motives and culture graspable by a human reader. Asimov succeeds brilliantly in this task, something I can say for only a few other SF titles.
At the risk of sounding PC, I was also pleased that Asimov introduced a strong female supporting character, something not usually found in most of his works. The "Selene" character introduced in the third chapter is reminescent of the strong female leads found in many Heinlien novels.
Any fan of Asimov's works - or, for that matter, any fan of good science fiction should add this book to their essential collection. There is a good reason why this novel was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards after it's initial publication. Unlike many modern winners of these awards, "The Gods Themselves" is both a good AND entertaining story. It's clever and stylish enough to appeal to the "artsy" types that issue such awards, while being entertaining enough to appeal to the meat-and-potatoes reader.
on 1 October 2013
You are going to love The Gods Themselves completely, or not at all. But you cannot deny its cleverness and ambition.
It is an essential addition to the SF canon because it is stylistically different from almost any other novel: a triptych of mysteries, tied together by an entirely whimsical scientific premise. The unfolding of this bizarre thought experiment is sublimely elegant and the whole story is about scientists and the nature of science.
There are three parts to this story, each in a different style. Part One is written as the journal of an academic whose discoveries are suppressed by his seniors when he inconveniently points out the risks of a seemingly limitless source of cheap, clean energy. Part Two made this book famous; we step over into a parallel universe, the source of the energy exchange that allows the scientific revolutions described in Part One. There are two mysteries in this second section: The key mystery is investigated by Dua, the protagonist, a jellyfish-like alien who becomes a self-taught scientist and discovers the sinister motive behind the exchange of energy with the human universe. The second mystery is for us; what is the true nature of the alien race we are confronted with? We see through this one pretty quickly, and it's a shame that Asimov didn't add a bit more biodiversity to his oceanic otherworld to make it less obvious, but nevertheless, it's all very neat and satisfying when the mystery is revealed.
Both of the first two sub-stories work well in Asimov's characteristic style; logical, professorial exposition, simple characters, and little need for description. ...The gears grind a little in the third act; Part three is a more traditional sci-fi story about a human researcher, visiting a space colony on the moon. This section is essential for tying up the plot, and it is rounded off so neatly that you forgive Asimov his missteps, but nevertheless this is the least successful of the three acts, with some awkwardly-played romance elements.
In spite of its failings, this is Asimov's greatest achievement as a writer and one of the most individual and worthy pieces of hard science fiction that will ever be conceived.
It seems incredible that with around a hundred titles published in the SF Masterworks series, this is the first novel by Isaac Asimov. But I guess it's better late than never. The Gods Themselves was first published in the early 1970s and won both Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel, a rare double which was richly deserved.
The novel is written in three sections, the first concentrating on the concept and invention of the Electron Pump, a potential solution to the World's energy problems, by exchanging material with a parallel universe where the laws of physics are subtely different. However the resultant changes in the strong nuclear force may be more immediate than predicted. The alien counterpart in the parallel universe seem aware and may be trying to warn of future catastrophe. The second section concentrates on the problem from the perspective of the alien intelligence, and the final section presents a solution to humanity.
In my opinion the mid-sction contains the most unique and intriguing portrait of an alien species and alternative universe found in any work of SF. The concepts of the Electon Pump and the Pionizer are also amazing in their concepts and prescience, bearing in mind the speculation in theoretical physics about the existence of alternative universes with different values for the fundamental forces.
As ever, great SF is ahead of it's time.
The good doctor, over his lifetime, wrote more books than many people read in their lifetimes. Many were excellent explanations of various aspects of science written in language that a layman could understand. Some were good analyses of literature, such as Shakespeare and the Bible. But it is his science fiction works, from his vision of a Foundation to Robots imbued with Three Laws, that guarantee him a place in the hearts of fans of the genre, and a fame that spreads well beyond its boundaries.
This book was something of a departure for him, not being related to any of his other SF works, but still shows his sure hand at plotting and his deft melding of real science with a literally out-of-this-world idea. The story is told in three completely different segments, related only by the commonality of the scientific idea that drives this book, the Electron Pump, a device that can, apparently, deliver infinite free energy by trading material with a universe that operates on slightly different physical laws than our own.
The first segment is a beautiful glimpse into the sometimes not-so-nice world of the academic researcher, into who gets credit (not necessarily the deserving one) for an idea, how animosities begin and are nurtured, about the crassness of public policy being determined by those who do not and cannot understand the basics of the science that delivers the technological goodies.
The second segment is the part that makes this book deserving of its Hugo Award. Shifting from our universe to the para-universe that initiated the transfer that began the Electron Pump, Asimov invents a truly alien race that is at once believable and violently different from our own. Here we meet Odeen, Tritt, and Dua, who each form one part of tri-sexed whole. Each of these beings becomes a real person, from Tritt, the stolid, stubborn parent, Odeen as the absent minded thinker, and most especially Dua as the feeling, capricious, different one. Part of what makes this section so seductive is that Asimov has not just stated that this was tri-sexed species, but shows just how such an arrangement could work, and then throws in something I don't think I saw elsewhere till some of Ursala K. LeGuin's stories - just what constitutes the no-no's, the 'dirty' aspects of their sex lives. And these aspects, when viewed in terms of the whole life cycle of this species, make sense! A truly remarkable achievement, and I wish he had written more about this remarkable universe and its inhabitants.
The third section returns to our universe, and deals with how free investigation into reality guided by leaps of intuition can overcome even two separate hide-bound organizations, and naturally leads to the resolution of the problems introduced in the earlier sections. This section is not quite as strong as the other two, but does definitely develop one of Asimov's points: the characteristics of the universe we live in are determined by several seemingly random constants, from the strength of quark-quark interactions to the speed of light, and changing any of them would result in very radically different universes.
A strong novel, with some excellent characterization within each section, and based on a solid bedrock of real science. This is possibly the best stand-alone fiction work that he wrote, and should be placed on your shelves right next the Foundation and Robot series.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
on 30 June 2016
Another of Azimov's most brilliant, award-winning SF novels! Where did he get his amazing ideas from? He really did think 'outside the box' for this one! Another gripping tale throughout, and another reason that Isaac Azimov is my very favourite SF author of all time!
on 3 October 2015
I rate this book very highly. Let's have an AUDIO BOOK of it PLEASE. Satisfying on every level. Also, it introduced me to one of the most useful sayings that I have ever come across... that 'against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain'... wow! isn't THAT just the truth.
on 5 August 2014
As a fan of Asimov I was quite pleased to find a book that I had not yet read. It is rather good. There is a fantastic few chapters describing how an alien race acts and thinks from there prospective and then how they interact with our world. I would have liked to have read more about them which is why I did not give a full five stars. But an excellent sci- fi read all the same.
on 13 August 2013
The story goes that Isaac Asimov was once challenged by a "critic" that he cannot write about two things.Alien races and sex.He was ,of course,right,but only in part.I.A.had pesrsistently stuck,to that date, to the concepts of "humans only universe" and "no sex whatsoever"in all his works.
But one should never interpret "I don't want to" as "I cannot do it".
The result is this masterful novel.Which not only introduces a brand new idea-getting unlimited energy from another universe-but also a totally new concept of what an intelligent race could be like,and how it procreates.The triad !It does,also,include one of the sexiest scenes ever written-but only if one is an alien !
A master is a master - and he can prove it when the need arises!
I did enjoy this novel immensely.And the phrase that inspired the title,"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain("Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens")by Friedrich von Schiller ,poet ,historian and playwrite, (1759 - 1805))became one of my all time favorite mottos !
on 6 September 2014
Excellent yarn,well up to Asimov's usual standards, Really enjoyed reading it again - foolishly lent my copy of the paper back to someone, and never got it back; Kindle was the answer. Would recommend it to any SF fan
on 9 January 2014
One naturally expects great things of Isaac Asimov and in this case, one is not disappointed. This is a gripping, thought provoking story of the struggle against human arrogance and self deception. I must confess that once I picked it up I found it very difficult put down again and I finished it within 3 days.
The book is split into 3 parts, and the middle part is some of the most imaginative story telling I have ever come across. It describes a dis-functional family of totally alien beings, with their distinct society, physical drives, biological mechanics and three sexes, set in another universe where the fundamental physical laws differ from our own. The relationship between these beings and our own universe is one of the chief plot devices in the book.
An important aspect for me personally in a Sci-Fi story is that the inevitably made-up science is relatively sensible, and Asimov does not disappoint. If you have a degree in Physics then you may be able to poke a few holes in the underlying theories, but in general the science is very well thought out and well presented.
This is a real Sci-Fi classic.
The only problem that I did have with this book was that I found the ending to be slightly underwhelming. There was some tension building - both scientific and political - throughout the last third of the story and I felt that this tension was swept under the carpet. The climax which I had been expecting never really happened and everything just sort of turns out fine.
But still. A cracking read.