A Question of Balance

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, published by Doubleday, original © 1972. (Originally published in the Galaxy Magazine and the World of If magazine in 3 installments.)B Gods Themselves

Even today, after reading, and re-reading, Asimov for almost 40 years, I still encounter a book by him that I haven’t heard of before, which is not too surprising since he wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books over his lifetime, and not surprisingly, the new finds always turn out to be very good reads. This book is a great read and one of his most interesting and original sci-fi stories.

In 1957 Asimov published The Naked Sun, his last original, adult sci-fi novel until 15 years later when The Gods Themselves was published in 1972. Asimov had lost his confidence in writing science fiction in the late 1950s, believing that the genre had passed him by, but fate and circumstance stepped in early in 1971, at a New York science fiction convention, to bring him roaring back to his natural calling and eager fans.

Asimov describes his inspiration and determination to write a new sci-fi novel in the introduction of a reprint:  A Dedication of Some Length to The Gods Themselves published by Easton Press in 1986:

…Then, on January 24, 1971 at a science fiction convention held in New York City, I was in the audience listening to Robert Silverberg and Lester del Rey carry on a public duologue on the subject of s.f.  In the course of this, Bob had occasion to refer to some chemical isotope — any chemical isotope — to make some point, and after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Plutonium-186.”

Naturally, when the duologue was over, I accosted Bob, in order to tell him (with considerable glee) that there was no such thing as plutonium-186 and could not be.  Bob did not, however, wilt under this demonstration of his scientific illiteracy but said stolidly, “So what!”

“So this,” said I. “Just to show you what real ingenuity is, I will write a story about Plutonium-186.”…

Having thrown down the gauntlet, Asimov sets out to produce a novel that the sci-fi community agrees is one of the best, and rightly so, original science fiction novels ever written, winning both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for that years best novel; a binary feat reserved for the crème de la crème of the genre’s writers.  Asimov, to add an exclamation point to the awards and his fan’s acclaim, states that this novel is his favorite work of fiction: quite a statement for such a prolific and successful writer.

In the 22nd century everyone is running out of energy, the Earth, red giants, the “Energizer Bunny”, parallel universes: everyone. In The Gods Themselves, a seemingly win-win solution comes from an alien world in a parallel universe; the exchange of mass between their universe and ours, due to the differences in the governing physical laws, creates unlimited and free energy. As usual, altruistic motives do not apply, and the exchange of matter, as it turns out, for the not-so-free energy, will cause the eventual, and uncomfortably soon, destruction of Earth.

The novel is divided into 3 parts; the first part is an Earth perspective with, as Asimov describes, a bluesy “downbeat”, a vision of an alien existence in the second part with another bluesy “downbeat”; and the 2nd part truly does contain some of the most original and imaginative sci-fi narrative ever written, and a third part described from the moon inhabitant’s viewpoint, ending the novel on a jazzy “upbeat”.  “A wonderful read, is The Gods Themselves” claims Yoda, draining the force of its negative energy.

Calling Collect?

The Listeners by James E. Gunn, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, © 1972.

James Gunn presents, successfully and almost convincingly, a fictional account of theB The Listeners emotional, the psychological aspects of searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life: the prerequisite human attributes that a project of this scope requires for a conclusive outcome; mainly the possibility of multiple human lifetimes of tediously seeking something that may not be there.  Gunn postulates the persona needed to continually believe that we are not alone in the vastness of space, someone with the temerity to risk his fruitful years in a quest that will likely fail, his ability to stay the course through countless days and nights of monotonous failure, of a nothingness convulsing his cerebral core to a mush of hopeless sadness.

Gunn illustrates the personalities that it may take to forge ahead with a SETI project of interminable searching, a human that believes he is right in searching the heavens for intelligent life, a human that believes we are not alone in the universe, a humane that believes that all that is needed to succeed is perseverance.

This works in Gunn’s fictional world because the searchers find what they are looking for, an advanced civilization 45 light years from Earth that wishes to impart their collective wisdom to us.  The aliens cryptically convey to us, in their initial message, that they are dying, and as a consequence, pose no threat to our species or planet, allowing humanity to respond with impunity, without risk of triggering an apocalypse.  It’s fiction and everyone does love a happy ending.

The technical side of this novel doesn’t work so well, but sci-fi novels read, coincidently, 45 years after they are published rarely do. Steam turbine powered cars, humongous computers with silly parts, the Arecibo radio telescope with 18 light years of reach capturing 45 light year distant messages, are a few of the distractions, but in the end the visceral concepts are credible suppositions even if the mechanical details of future life lack ingenuity and artistry. A confusing, and possibly superfluous, message presented in the novel is of fictional economic societal solutions, amounting to not much more than welfare, instituted to foster stability and peace, coupled paradoxically, with a prescient passage from a 1968 techno-predictive book, The Year 2000, by Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener concerning an individual’s responsibility to society:

The year 2000 conditions could produce a situation in which illusion, wishful thinking, even obviously irrational behavior could exist to a degree unheard of today. Such irrational and self-indulgent behavior is quite likely in a situation in which an individual is overprotective and has no systematic or objective contact with reality. For example, there are probably many people for whom work is the primary touch with reality. If work is removed, or if important functions are taken from work, the contact these people have with reality will be to some degree impaired.  The results-minor or widespread-may become apparent in forms such as political disruption, disturbed families, and personal tragedies-or in pursuit of some “humanistic” values that many would think of as frivolous or even irrational.

Contributing to this book’s bond with its reader, and cementing its science cred, are non-fictional extracts from the author’s contemporaneous big thinkers on extraterrestrial life, such as Freeman Dyson and Carl Sagan, liberally sprinkled throughout the “even-numbered chapters”.  One of these excerpts, embedded in the “2nd chapter”, a remark from Frank D. Drake from 1960, can serve as the basis for the book’s plot:

Those who feel that the goal justifies the great amount of effort required will continue to carry on this research, sustained by the possibility that sometime in the future, perhaps a hundred years from now, or perhaps next week, the search will be successful…

Everyone Gets An Upgrade

The Atlantis Gene (The Origin Mystery, Book 1) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2013B Atlantis Gene

The Atlantis Plague (The Origin Mystery, Book 2) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2013

The Atlantis World (The Origin Mystery, Book 3) by A.G. Riddle, published by A.G. Riddle; © 2014

Science Fiction is replete with original, creative and amazing stories of the future and future’s past; Herbert’s feudal future checked by a hulking nematode in his Dune series; Asimov’s stories of future doom and mitigation in the Foundation series; Card’s tales of adolescent potency and adult deception in his Ender’s series. RiddleB Atlantis Plague‘s Origin Mystery trilogy is not one of these original and creative stories.

The trilogy explores an alternate history of mans origins, portending a simple plot of who controls who and for what purpose, but quickly gets lost in extraneous details and insignificant sub-plots.  Reading Riddle is the printed expression of ADHD, character development is stunted and dribbled out in brief disconnected chapters that come back together eventually, after they have slipped from your memory, only to bifurcate again; sub-plots within sub-plots within plots, tentacles going everywhere and nowhere, impulsively going off on tangents to explore another unnecessary point. B Atlantis World

Originality and gifted writing does not live in this book.  Most of the topics and plots have been done before and usually better. Dialog and narrative are 1 and 2 dimensional.

…Dorian rushed forward and struck Ares, killing him in one blow. The Atlantean hadn’t expected it, and Dorian fought like a feral animal with nothing to lose.

Striking one blow and fighting like a feral animal are not congruent actions.

…Dorian rushed forward, killing Ares again…The cycle repeated twelve times, and twelve dead bodies, all Ares…on the thirteenth resurrection, Ares stepped out and held up his hands…Dorian rushed forward and killed Ares again.

Occasional changing up the verbs keeps the monotony away and Live Die Repeat, the movie, already did this scene – creatively better.

Steven King’s greatest achievement, The Dark Tower series is a captivating and deliciously fun 5000 pages of dystopian fantasy that will go down as one of literatures greatest creative endeavors. The punitive sin in the entire series was the creation, the introduction of a new character, Patrick, the destroyer of Mordred, in the last 100 pages of the series, solving King’s plot dilemma with an eraser.  Riddle pulls the same amateurish stunt towards the final chapters of his trilogy, introducing the god-like Sentinels, a deceitful writing ploy, but thankfully it euthanized the tale.

Riddle should have kept this to a single volume, forcing a simpler, crisper plot line.

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