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Pebble in the Sky

posted on April 6, 2021

 

Pebble in the Sky is the third of Asimov’s empire novels in terms of timeline, but the first in chronologically written order, and, in my humble opinion, the best. It had originally been written as a novella called Grow Old Along With Me, the title of Robert Browning’s paean to old age (Interesting to have read this when I was young, and to be reading it now in my youthful old age. Makes you pause). Anyway, the novella was rejected a couple of times and nearly lost to the dustbin of history when Asimov received an offer for it to be published if he would turn it into a novel, which he did.

This is the place where Asimov first established the fact that the Earth was radioactive (chronologically) and something he had to account for in the other robot and empire novels until he finally retconned the thing and provided the explanation in Robots and Empire. In the timeline order, it brings us a step closer to the Foundation books. The Empire is still growing and has yet to show signs of decay.

And it’s a time travel novel that also considers the practice of euthanasia on a population neutral zero sum Earth. Also, Earth as the origin of mankind has not been lost to history yet. All of this is folded into a great tale Asimovianally told. Just for grins, I read the original Grow Old Along With Me and it’s a fascinatingly different piece and kind of instructive about the art of writing if, like me, you’re into that sort of thing. The original can be found in a book called The Alternate Asimov’s. Next up on my march with Asimov through the galaxy… Prelude to Foundation.

 

The Currents of Space

posted on March 23, 2021

Much like the book that preceded it, The Currents of Space contains the capture, escape, chase elements of the popular pulps of the day. It’s distinguishing difference is Asimov’s continuing focus on the socio-political dynamics of a future Galactic Empire in it’s early stages. Whereas in The Stars like Dust, there was yet to be a unified political center to the galaxy, here Trantor has assumed that role. That being said, it only plays a small part in the story. In the tale itself, Asimov focuses on the lower castes of the developing Empire. At the start, he posits an interesting scientific extrapolation and then has his characters chasing after it for the remainder of the book. Asimov also has great fun playing various political entities off of one another, all building nicely to the final reveal.

While Asimov’s Foundation and his Empire stories are an inflection point between the old school space opera and the style of social commentary and cautionary tales that will emerge, this book still straddles the fault line to a degree. I had purchased this book through my Weekly Reader in Junior High School, and I have to say that, as with the previous books I’ve been re-reading, it held up well to the memories from my personal golden age.

The Stars Like Dust

posted on March 3, 2021

The Stars Like Dust is not my favorite of Asimov’s empire novels. Apparently, the book was not one of Asimov’s favorites either. Asimov’s problem with it was a conceit that was shoehorned into it over his better judgement. When the book was about to be published, Horace Gold, the editor of the Galaxy Science Fiction pulp, wanted to serialized it in his magazine. Gold’s desire to serialize the book came with a caveat, however. He wanted Asimov to add a suggested element of Gold’s to the book. Asimov agreed to his apparent eternal regret.

My lack of strong enthusiasm for the book stems from the fact it’s Asimov’s closest veer towards the space opera type of writing that he eschewed. The hero is handsome, muscled and viral, the heroine is young, fair and beautiful, and the plot runs along the lines of the typical capture, escape, and chase stories of the day. To be fair, the content does give its due to Asimov’s societal and political thoughts on possible galactic development, but not with the same passion and fascination as I recall in the Foundation books. But, hey, it’s Asimov, so you’re still going to get a worthwhile read, just not one of his very best. The ironic thing for me is that I kind of liked the Gold suggested element that Asimov rued adding to the work.

On to The Currents of Space.

 

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