[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”0553288105″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51U4VWpVC9L._SL160_.jpg” tag=”frontimultim-20″ width=”96″]In the “Olden Days” (which is where my youth now seems to reside) there was Clarke and Asimov. The closest modern parallel seems to be Star Wars vs Star Trek: the sweeping space opera versus the (slightly) more realistic space science. I was always more of a Clarke fan. Which is my disclaimer for talking about Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves”.

I was browsing through a Reddit topic on “The best standalone science fiction book of the past 25 years” and this was rated as perhaps Asimov’s best. Well then what better way to give him another run? (“Wait!” you shout this was written in 1972 – more than 40 years ago. Yes, but like most Reddit threads people don’t really stay on topic).

On the scale from “couldn’t finish it” to “couldn’t put it down” this one rated slightly above “meh”.

Interesting start with the pettiness of office politics well drawn, but then, just when things really felt like they were progressing we’re dumped into a pretty much irrelevant central slab of alien culture. Does it really matter what these aliens think or do? The revelation of their triad natures is of no consequence, their conversation crushingly dull. Why do we need to know anything about them at all? After dominating the central portion of the book they never appear again.

So after increasingly rapid skimming we get to the last third of the story – and another new character who’s retreating to the Moon colony after having his career wrecked. Why do we need a second “scientist with wrecked career” when the first third of the book was all about another scientist with a wrecked career? No reason I could think of. Meanwhile we discover that the Moon has become an nudist colony populated by some very smug and secretive science types.

One of the dastardly Moon scientists has come up with a truly ridiculous plan to fly off with the Moon because he doesn’t like surface-dwellers, but like all obssessed villans, his plans come to naught.

Predictably the miserable scientist becomes less miserable, his career is saved, fame returns, and he gets the young and pretty Moon girl.

This book is from the 1970s so it’s best not to be too harsh, but even for the 70s it feels cliche-ridden and disjointed. I’m surprised that it’s supposedly Asimov’s own favorite. On the plus side the human interactions are far better portrayed than the majority of comic-book characters I’ve read in many recent sci-fi works (Stephen Baxter I’m looking at you!). The central idea is also original and a fascinating concept especially in light of more recent interest in the multiverse.

On the downside are the boring, irrelevant aliens and the incredibly silly Moon plan. If this is one of Asimov’s best works, then bring me more Clarke.

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