Winner of the 1972 Nebula and the 1973 Hugo, Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves does not rank very high on my list of all-time science fiction greats. I think that I have trouble with Asimov’s novels because he tends to draw his characters using a magic marker the size of a telephone pole. I find his characters to be plain, obvious, and lacking in whatever magic is needed to make them seem alive. I almost had to stop reading The Gods Themselves when Asmiov introduced four or five additional characters two-thirds of the way through; as it was I had to set the book aside for a few days to steel myself against this new onslaught. Ironically, the most “human” characters in the novel are the aliens from a parallel universe.
The Gods Themselves centers around a piece of technology that appears to provide limitless energy at no cost. Problems arise when a few people realize that the limitless energy does indeed have a cost – a very high one at that. Leaving out the details, the technology works via an interaction between our universe and a parallel universe. Aliens in the parallel universe are the creators of this technology and mankind has decided to go along for the ride. Asimov divides his book into three parts which are set on Earth, the parallel universe, and the Moon, respectively. For me, the most engaging of these parts was the parallel universe and its fascinating inhabitants. Rather than make the aliens a mystery, Asimov dives right in and gives you a first-person view of these creatures. Again, I’ll leave out the details because I’d rather not spoil anything.
Once you finish the alien section of the book, you are left with Part III which is a shoddy ripoff of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Well, perhaps that is being a bit extreme. But I did find the descriptions of life on the Moon, politics between Earth and the Moon, and the empty characters to be tedious. The diamonds to mine out of this rough are the bits where Asimov provides more detail on the technology that is core to his story, as well additional grand ideas about similar technology. The book ends with Part III’s main character getting laid. I hope that doesn’t spoil anything for you.
I’ve been railing this book a little bit, but The Gods Themselves is worth a read for the sci-fi connoisseur. Asimov’s creativity and intellect outshine his robotic characters and give you something to ponder, even thirty years after the book was first published. Asimov is a sci-fi legend and this book is one of the many that helped cement his place in the genre’s history.