The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov (1972) – Well, you can’t get much better than the master for some old-school, classic science fiction. When The Gods started out, it was a pretty mundane concept of an element spontaneously turning into another element and supplying the Earth with unlimited, clean energy. Wrapped around this simple nugget of an idea is the egomaniac scientist who tested the substance and is given credit for creating Earth’s wonderful power source.
When a young professor named Lawton comes to interview the famous man for a biography, he realizes the Father of the Electron Pump is a complete sham. The savvy senior scientist does everything he can to destroy the biographer, making an enemy for life and launching his adversary on a quest to expose and destroy him.
Okay, that’s an effective way to make a scientific concept more interesting – make it personal and dramatic. When the younger man theorizes that another dimension – one with a universe that’s dying – actually started the pumping process and is causing our sun to destabilize, Lawton’s standing in the scientific community takes a nosedive and no one will listen to him.
So far the story is very readable, but when Master Asimov takes us to the other universe a third of the way in, he really shines. The “people” there are in various stages of flux. Some are wispy with tentacles (Emotionals), some are ovoid (Rationals), and some are downright blocky (Parentals). They require all three together to reproduce. A reluctant Emotional known as Dua doesn’t want to be part of a triad, forced to have three offspring with her mates and then die. She wants to be a Rational, one who seeks knowledge.
Yet a fourth type of being resides in this other universe, the seemingly immortal Hard Ones who live underground and who treat the triads as if they are children. They introduce Dua to her two partners, and she agrees to “melt” with them in a triad, exchanging molecules for pleasure and offspring.
She’s still not happy. She discovers the Hard Ones, godlike beings to her people, are planning to blow up Earth’s sun to get enough energy for everyone in their system to feed on for millions of years. Before she can do more than send the young Earth professor a “Stop the Pump” message, she discovers the real truth about why she and her mates have to “pass on” after they have three offspring.
Back on our side of the dimensional wall (as difficult as it was to leave that strange and amazing place), we’re introduced to yet another victim of the egomaniac’s climb to glory. The biochemist who helped him initially is also blackballed and has fled to the Moon to practice science. With the help of a beautiful tour guide (who just happens to be an Intuitionist and employee of the Moon Liberation Society), the biochemist guesses that if there is another universe stealing their energy, there must be other, uninhabited universes with power to spare. The way to take the egomaniac down a peg is to introduce something better than the Electron Pump. Which they do with the help of the underground.
This book is really three separate stories, and I wonder if it was originally written that way. Although told from the viewpoint of the discovery of “free” energy, it’s really about three people and their part in the Electron Pump story from creation to obsolescence.
I was a little concerned when the Moon story seemed to branch off on politics and science of its own (the pretty Intuitionist is a genetically enhanced being). The biochemist decides to remain on the Moon as an “Immie” (immigrant) partially because of the young woman, and there’s a lot of description about his adjusting to life in lower gravity.
I worried all the way through how these three characters were possibly going to succeed against overwhelming odds. Was I disappointed?
Not in the slightest.