Book review: The Gods Themselves

I’ve started my 2022 reading list with a bang, already finishing my first novel: Asimov’s the Gods Themselves. My thoughts below won’t give much more away than reading the back cover of the book.

What’s surprising is that Asimov doesn’t take a glowingly positive view of science. Nor does he create cartoonish villains making an Evil™ super weapon. Instead, science and technology are wielded by actual humans who are inevitably driven by greed, arrogance and vanity.

The result is a power source that provides energy to the entire earth for free—no emissions, no waste. The catch is that there’s a remote possibility the technology could cause the sun to explode.

There’s also a parallel universe that uses the same technology in tandem. Apparently, they realize it could wipe out humanity, but they don’t care because they won’t suffer any negative consequences themselves.

I don’t know Asimov’s views on contemporary issues, but I can see a lot of parallels. Most of us are unwilling to give up our comfortable consumer lifestyles, even though we know it’s destroying the planet. While Asian factories aren’t exactly a parallel universe, Europeans and Americans are blissfully isolated from the appalling labor and environmental conditions they create. And of course, the most relevant issue today is how the Science™ is more about corporate profits and vainglory.

Some quotes:

Denison turned to one side, facing her. “All right,” he said. “I have no objection to telling you. Lamont, a physicist back on Earth, tried in his way to alert the world to the dangers of the Pump. He failed. Earthmen want the Pump; they want the free energy; they want it enough to refuse to believe they can’t have it.”

“But why should they want it, if it means death?”

“All they have to do is refuse to believe it means death. The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists. Your friend, Dr Neville, does the same thing. He dislikes the surface, so he forces himself to believe that Solar batteries are no good—even though to any impartial observer they would seem the perfect energy source for the Moon. He wants the Pump so he can stay underground, so he refuses to believe there can be any danger from it.”

Selene said, “I don’t think Barron would refuse to believe something for which valid evidence existed. Do you really have the evidence?”

“Well, then, my Pionizer results can show the rate of increase of intensity of strong nuclear interaction; and the increase is what Lamont says it is and not what the orthodox theory would have it be.”

“And have you shown it to Barron?”

“No, I haven’t. And if I do, I expect [him] to reject it. He’ll say the results are marginal. He’ll say I’ve made an error. He’ll say that I haven’t taken all the factors into account. He’ll say I’ve used inadequate controls…What he’ll really be saying is that he wants the Electron Pump and won’t give it up.”

“You mean there’s no way out.”

“Of course there is, but not the direct way. Not Lamont’s way…Lamont’s solution is to force abandonment of the Pump, but you can’t just move backward. You can’t just push the chicken back into the egg, win back into the trap, the back back into the womb. If you want the baby to let go of your watch, you don’t just try to explain that he ought to do it—you offer him something he would rather have.”

Despite the fact that Asimov wrote the Gods Themselves in 1972, this could have been written about a certain person who literally said that criticism of him was criticism of the Science™ in 2021.

“He’s getting more consideration than he gave others,” said Denison, resignedly.

“It’s not for his sake. You can’t smash a personal image that has been built to a level of such importance; it would reflect on science itself. The good name of science is more important than Hallam either way.”

“I disapprove of that in principle, said Denison, warmly. “Science must take what blows it deserves”

My final recommendation: it’s worth reading the Gods Themsleves. If you ignore the the Captain Kirk feel to a parts of it, it’s a modern novel. It’s a short, easy read, but there’s a lot to think about in it.