Other Asimov Novels of Interest

While Asimov wrote a lot novels that were all brought together in the giant Foundation/Robots universe, he wrote a few other novels that are of interest. These are pretty much stand-alone novels, though there can be tenuous connections to the Foundation/Robots universe. We will only look at the novels for adults here. There is a juvenile series called Lucky Starr, but it is nothing special, and there are other authors who have done better juvenile novels.

The End of Eternity (1955)

In Foundation’s Edge there is a hint that this novel is set in the Foundation universe and precedes all of the material in that giant collection, but nothing in this novel supports that tie, and I think it can very nicely be read as a stand-alone novel. The protagonist, Andrew Harlan, is a member of an organization called Eternity that exists outside of time and can travel “upwhen” and “downwhen” in devices called kettles, and when they arrive, re-enter time. They do this in order to police what happens and to promote human happiness by making small actions that cause “reality changes”. But there are limits to where Eternity can go. They cannot access anything prior to the 27th century, which is when the temporal field that supports Eternity was created. And there are so-called “hidden centuries” that they cannot access.

Andrew Harlan is sent to the 482nd century on a mission and falls in love with someone there, Noÿs Lambent. When he realizes that the reality change will affect her century, he breaks the rules of Eternity to take her out of her century and hide her within Eternity, taking her to the empty sections of Eternity that exist within the Hidden Centuries. Meanwhile, he is also teaching a new person, Brinsley Sheridan Cooper, all about the Primitive Times, i.e. everything from today through to the 27th century. He has been given this task because he is something of a nerd about that old history, but eventually starts to suspect that there is a reason for this assignment. He researches the temporal mathematics behind Eternity, and starts to suspect that the inventor of the temporal field had to have had help from the future. This is confirmed by the management of Eternity, and it becomes clear that Cooper is learning about Primitive Times because they are sending him back to become the person who invents the temporal field, thus keeping the circle intact.

Harlan is starting to be a bit suspect to the management, so they lock the controls of the kettle used to send Cooper back in time, but Harlan breaks the controls and sends Cooper back to the 20th century instead of the 27th. But when Eternity continues to exist, management decides that all is not lost, and send Harlan to rescue him and bring him to the correct time, and he agrees but only if he can bring Noÿs with him. When they get there, he finds the crucial clue, an advertisement in a pulp magazine that contains a mushroom cloud, but the magazine was published several years before the first atomic bomb, so it has to come from Cooper. Then Harlan confronts Noÿs and says she had to come from the Hidden Centuries. She admits to that, and then tells him that they had developed a different time travel technology, one which allowed them to see different futures. They found that in many of these futures, the human race went on to colonize the Galaxy, but in every one where Eternity arose, the race eventually died out never leaving Earth. By tweaking reality to make everyone happier, Eternity had sapped the vigor of humanity. They decide it is better to not rescue Cooper, and in that moment Eternity disappears.

You can see a distinct thematic relationship here with the idea of the Spacers in the Robot series, whose reliance on robots to give them comfort also sapped them of vigor. This is a fun novel and worth a look.

The Gods Themselves (1972)

This was Asimov’s first original work of fiction in 15 years. He had turned to science writing following the Sputnik launch and mostly abandoned fiction, though he did write the novelization for the movie Fantastic Voyage in 1966. In any event, his return to fiction was welcomed and this novel won both a Nebula award and a Hugo award. The difference between them is that the Nebula awards are voted on by writers, and the Hugos by fans, but both are considered prestigious in the science fiction community. It is a very interesting novel in three parts, each of which was first published as a story in a science fiction magazine before they were collected as a novel.

Part 1 is set on the Earth, and is entitled Against Stupidity. A scientist develops what comes to be called the Pump, which exchanges Tungsten-186 for Plutonium-186 in a swap with a parallel universe. This yields a great deal of power. Then about 25 years later another scientist figures out that the initiative for this exchange actually came from the parallel universe, and invites a linguist to join him. They then inscribe symbols on strips of tungsten-186 and develop a method of communication across universes. Meanwhile, they work out that the process used by the Pump is changing the strong nuclear force in the Sun making it likely to explode, and making the corresponding Sun in the parallel universe grow colder and dimmer. They cannot get anyone to believe them, though (kind of like how difficult it was at first to get people to believe global warming, though that is changing). So they beg the people in the parallel universe to stop, but it turns out they have been conversing with dissidents there who cannot stop it, and they beg the Earth people to stop.

Part 2 is set in the parallel universe and is entitled The Gods Themselves, and it may be the most creative story telling Asimov has ever done. First, the physical laws of this universe are different from ours, and because this section is from the viewpoint of the natives of this universe, they take for granted things that make us go “Huh?”. Next, the inhabitants of this parallel universe, or at least the ones we are dealing with in this novel, have three sexes, and each chapter in this section has three subsections, each from the viewpoint of a character within a Triad, which is their equivalent of a married couple. Asimov later pointed out that some people had criticized him for writing novels that contained virtually no sex, and in this section he goes at it. Only it is weird alien sex. I would say the entire novel is worth reading just for this section, to see how a Master can handle truly alien topics.

Part 3 is set on the Moon back in our universe and is entitled Contend In Vain?. Some other people have worked out what the Pump is doing to our Sun. Lunar society has diverged from Earth society in interesting ways, and they continue researching the Pump and discover a third universe that is in a pre-Big Bang stage, which they call a Cosmic Egg, or cosmeg. It has exactly the opposite properties to that of the Triad universe, and they work out a way to balance things between the three universes so that disaster is avoided.

If you put the titles together in order, you get a quote from Friedrich Schiller: Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. And Asimov in several places has said that it was his favorite of all his novels, and his best writing.

Nemesis (1989)

This novel is very loosely tied to the Foundation universe by a reference in Forward the Foundation by Hari Seldon about a 20,000 year old story. The background to this story does not need anything from the Foundation universe, however. It is known that over the millions of years of the Solar System’s history, the Oort cloud periodically gets disturbed and comets rain down. One hypothesized cause of this has been called Nemesis, a dim companion. In this novel, it is a red dwarf star that is simply passing by, but it is given the name Nemesis due to the theory on comet disturbances. And it definitely has the potential to destabilize the solar system. A recently discovered technology provided advanced propulsion at a significant fraction of light speed, so a space colony was moved to the system, where it took up a position around the moon of a gas giant planet orbiting the star. This moon was called Erythro due to the red light illuminating it.

They eventually discover that the bacterial life on this moon, is actually a giant organism capable of telepathy, which is reminiscent on some ways of Gaia from the Foundation universe. This presents them with a problem, since this is the first “other” star system Earth people have visited. Should they colonize on Erythro, or instead look to the asteroid belts of the Nemesis system? But then another breakthrough on Earth develops faster-than-light drives, and now the whole galaxy is open to colonization.

This is just an average Asimov novel, but that means it is still good. And with this, we have concluded our look at the worlds of Isaac Asimov, the first of the Big Three of the Golden Age. Next up in alphabetical order is Arthur C. Clarke.

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