Themes Explored: energy preservation, alien culture, sexuality, physics, scientific ethics, morality, space exploration, parallel universes, scientific advancement, parenting
Synopsis: In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands: an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by the aliens. But even free energy has a price. The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of Earth’s Sun—and of Earth itself. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
Review: Originally published in 1972, The Gods Themselves earned Isaac Asimov his first Hugo and Nebula Award. By 1972 Asimov had not written a science fiction novel in almost fifteen years. For most the 1960s he focused on writing popular fiction and an occasional novella. Anyways, Asimov wrote The Gods Themselves in order to silence the critics who complained about the lack of sex and aliens in his stories. So he wrote a novel containing sex, aliens, and alien sex. Personally, I do not think this is Asimov’s greatest work. The Foundation Trilogy and Nightfall are vastly superior.
The Gods Themselves explores what occurs when humanity discovers a seemingly unlimited source of free energy. Several years before the narrative begins, humanity was contacted by intelligent beings from a parallel universe. In this universe the laws of physics are fundamentally divergent. This allows the aliens and humanity to exploit these differences by opening gaps in the fabric between the universes. These gaps allow for excessive electrons to leak from their universe into ours and for positrons to leak from our universe into theirs.
In this para-universe there exists three types of beings: a Rational, an Emotional, and a Parental. Once achieving adulthood, they form a triad and melt together in order to reproduce. This melting allows the triad to merge and achieve a joyful oneness. Asimov is quite explorative when it comes to describing alien sex, consider yourself warned. Anyways, the main narrative explores the vitality of energy and dependence upon an invention that is slowly killing the universe. The main questions raised are 1) is it a good idea to disturb the laws of physics? And 2) what would happen to the Earth if the balance of nuclear charges becomes disrupted?
Asimov is an excellent writer and this novel contains several fantastic elements. In a nice change of pace Asimov does not create a nightmare dystopian Earth. Instead Earth is in rather decent shape, except for the whole energy scarcity conundrum. Also Asimov is not afraid to teach people about hard scientific theory, though some of his concepts are now outdated. Perhaps the greatest part is that Asimov always portrays women in an intelligent and respectful manner. Which is rather rare since female characters tend to be negatively portrayed in science fiction.
Perhaps the largest drawback to the narrative is the dryness of the human part. The first part begins with all the human scientist squabbling about the discovery and use of the energy pump between universes. Most of this sequence moves incredibly slowly, but is thankfully short. The human narrative does not become interesting until everyone moves to the moon. For some reason the moon sequence reads better than all the action on Earth. Though things become weird when Asimov moves from Earth into the parallel universe and explores the alien reproductive cycle. Also the writing is lacking in subtlety, Asimov really hits the readers over the head with his prose. Oddly enough he really struggles with the descriptions of human sexuality. This might be a blessing in disguise considering the alien counterpart.
Normally Asimov did not explore alien culture, robots were more of his forte. But his depictions of the parallel universe jump off the page. I think the book could have been better if Asimov focused more on the culture over the sex. Though I doubt Asimov would have won the awards without it, for some reason alien reproduction was popular in 1970s science fiction. Asimov never fully describes the aliens. Based upon some of the hints dropped, the aliens were probably a form of humanoid beings. And it would not surprise me if Asimov chose to hide humanoids in plain sight and then slyly drop hints to the reader. Overall, this is an interesting and slightly bizarre read.
The Gods Themselves, Millenium, 1972, ISBN 9781857989342