Book Review: The Gods Themselves

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The Gods Themselves - Isaac Asimov
The Gods Themselves

Hugo, Nebula Awards for 1973

So I’m torn when it comes to this story. I liked it, more or less, but I don’t really get why it won any awards, much less both a Hugo and a Nebula, other than perhaps the author’s name.

Let’s back up a bit.

This is one story, but it’s really also three (which I believe is how it was originally published). The first is about the discovery of a “magic” device that basically functions as an energy pump between two parallel universes with slightly different physical laws. It mixes in academic and some real-world politics, and convincingly builds up frustration and tension for the main character, as well as predicting.

The second takes place in the alternate universe, focusing on the family unit of a slowly dying out tri-gendered species, one member of which is very loosely part of the research project that produced the energy pump, or at least is the student of one of its important members. Here, we get a species faced with the knowledge of its own slow extinction and the drive to survive at any cost with the moral quandaries that go along with it.

The third story is almost more an exploration of what kind of society might develop if the moon was colonized solely by humanity’s best and brightest. But this is where we fix the problem, or the original protagonist does, decades later, more or less by realizing there are more than two universes.

At its heart, The Gods Themselves is an idea story, a what if story, a gadget story. Or three of them fitting together into a loose single storyline. And it’s a good one, just not a great one.

I don’t find the tri-gendered species as convincing as I would like. Arguably, aliens were not Asimov’s specialty, but their reproductive cycle seems to only just provide for replacements. Eventual extinction is guaranteed, even if their universe isn’t winding down. We also learn that they don’t much care about the inhabitants of the other universe (ours) providing the energy to forestall the slow death of their universe. Well, one of them does, but she is certainly an exceptional member of the species.

The characters are a little on the two-dimensional side without a lot of growth for almost all of them and the stories themselves are actually a little on the dull side. There’s not really all that much action, and the stress and tension is either intensely personal or background and affecting the entire universe without much to tie the two levels together and missing the entire ground in between.

Overall rating: 2.5 stars. It’s not a bad read, but it’s not really a good read, either. Only one of the characters really showed some major change due to events and actions affecting them. Sadly, the general sexism infusing things isn’t made up for that one character being female and completely integral to the way that particular chunk of story plays out. Written with the maturity Asimov should have had at this point, with a clear view of the 1960s and women as actual human beings behind him, I expected more.

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