The Gods Themselves Essay - Critical Essays

Isaac Asimov


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This novel, which won both the 1973 Hugo and 1972 Nebula awards for best science-fiction novel of the year, is notable for Isaac Asimov’s believable and yet utterly alien aliens. He had not previously attempted creation of an alien world on this scale. Asimov manages the difficult feat, in the novels second section, of portraying an alien civilization from the perspective of the aliens themselves. The third portion of the novel, in addition to furthering and completing the plot, contains a short but well thought-out portrayal of Lunar society, including extrapolation of cultural and sexual mores that would likely come into being in an enclosed, low-gravity environment.

The novel is also a fascinating fictional commentary on the process of scientific inspiration and discovery from an author who had firsthand personal experience inthe field. Asimov approaches satire in his description of Hallams petty and jealous reaction to questioning about the possible dangers from his discovery, as well as to suggestions that it was the para-men of the para-universe who really discovered the principles of the Electron Pump. In all three societies that Asimov portrays, authority figures with narrow self-interest utmost in their minds serve as obstacles to the resolution of important problems.

The book reflects the belief, expressed in much of classic science fiction, that rational application of scientific technique and the scientific method can surmount all obstacles and serve human progress. An inventive technological solution is found for the trans-universe environmental dilemma posed by the quest for cheap bountiful energy.

The Gods Themselves represented a welcome end, for science-fiction fans, to Asimov’s hiatus in writing novel-length science fiction, a pause that lasted from 1958 (when he published the juvenile novel Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn under the pen name Paul French) until 1972, unbroken except for the minor work Fantastic Voyage (1966), which was a novelization of the film of the same title. Although The Gods Themselves may not be the work for which Asimov is ultimately most remembered (the Foundation series and his robot stories undoubtedly vying for that honor), there is room for argument that this short (288 pages) gem of a novel is his most polished literary work. It is his only book that is a true singleton, unrelated to other works.