The Gods Themselves

The Gods Themselves

infobox Book |
name = The Gods Themselves
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Cover of first edition (hardcover)
author = Isaac Asimov
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Doubleday
release_date = 1972
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages = 288 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-385-02701-X
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Gods Themselves" is a 1972 science fiction novel written by Isaac Asimov. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973.

The book is divided into three main parts, originally published in magazine form as three consecutive stories.The first chapter of the first part of the book is numbered Chapter 6 because the beginning of chapter 6 is somewhat of an intro to the real Chapter 1, which begins "It had happened thirty years before." Thereafter, most of the series of chapters 1-5 end with a part of chapter 6. After Chapter 5, Chapter 6 concludes and moves to Chapter 7.

Plot summary

The main plotline is a conspiracy by the aliens who inhabit a parallel universe with different physical laws than ours to engage our civilization's assistance in a project to exploit these differences in physical laws to provide a source of energy, but which will have the ultimate result of turning our Sun into a supernova.

First part: Against Stupidity...

The first part takes place on Earth. Frederick Hallam, a scientist of limited ability but with a fiercely protective ego, discovers that an old test tube containing tungsten has been transformed into something that turns out to be plutonium 186 -- an isotope that cannot occur naturally in our universe. He initially accuses a colleague of tampering with his sample, provoking a snide remark in return. Hallam responds with a furious effort that ends in him accidentally discovering a cheap, clean, and apparently endless source of energy: the "Electron Pump", which trades matter between our universe (where plutonium 186 decays into tungsten 186) and a parallel one governed by slightly different physical laws (where tungsten 186 turns into plutonium 186), yielding a nuclear reaction in the process. The development process inextricably ties Hallam to the Pump in the mind of the people, vaulting him into an incredibly high position in public opinion and winning him high power and position and a Nobel Prize to boot.

An idealistic young physicist, Lamont, while writing a history of the Pump, comes into conflict with Hallam and begins to question the official history of its discovery. Lamont discovers that the Pump in fact owes its existence to an unknown but apparently very advanced civilization in the parallel universe which is transmitting plutonium 186 as well as detailed instructions in the form of symbols on metal foil. Hallam's (and humanity's) role is comparatively minor. Challenging Hallam destroys Lamont's career, however, which in turn motivates him to bring Hallam down. In the course of trying to prove that Hallam actually stole the idea from another scientist, Lamont discovers that the Pump is in fact creating a dangerous situation that could cause the Sun to become a nova (the pump increases the strong nuclear force inside the sun, causing the sun to fuse its hydrogen fuel more rapidly). Someone in the parallel universe also seems to be trying to send warnings written in English. Lamont attempts to demonstrate this to several others in the scientific community and a politician, but seduced by the cheap, clean energy source, and unwilling to take Hallam on face-to-face for fear of suffering Lamont's own fate, they are unwilling to listen to him.

econd part: ...The Gods Themselves...

The second part takes place in the parallel universe. This part is remarkable because Asimov rarely describes aliens, preferring tales of humans and robots, but this time he goes into considerable detail.

His aliens consist of the "hard ones" and the amorphous "soft ones". The soft ones have three sexes with fixed roles for each sex:-

* Rationals - Called "lefts", rationals are the logical and scientific sex. Rationals are identified with masculine pronouns and produce a form of sperm.
* Emotionals - Called "mids", emotionals are the intuitive sex. Emotionals are identified with the feminine pronouns and provide the energy needed for reproduction.
* Parentals - Called "rights", parentals bear and raise the offspring. Parentals are identified with masculine pronouns.

All three 'genders' are embedded in sexual and social norms of expected and acceptable behavior.

The hard ones regulate much of soft one society, among other things creating families by allocating one of each of the sexes to a mating group, or "triad" in the novel's terminology, and acting as teachers and mentors to the Rationals. Little is shown of "hard one" society and "Dua", the protagonist of this section of the book, suspects that the "hard ones" are a dying race since there are no "hard one" children. Her assumption is that the "hard ones" keep the "soft ones" as pets and toys, as a replacement for the children they do not have. This is dismissed by "Odeen", the Rational of Dua's triad, who having the most contact with the "hard ones", has heard the "hard ones" speak of a new "hard one" called "Estwald".

Dua is an oddball Emotional who exhibits traits normally associated with Rationals, leading her to be called a "left-em". She learns about her universe's end of the Pump (her companions in her triad are revealed to be unusual against their expected behavior as well). She also discovers the supernova problem that Lamont uncovered in the first section; outraged that the Pump is allowed to continue to operate, despite the fact that it will eventually result in the destruction of another civilization, she attempts to put a stop to the project.

She cannot persuade her own species to abandon the Pump, as they have no choice but to use it - their own sun as well as all the other stars in that universe are dying and can no longer provide the energy they need to continue to reproduce; their only other source of energy is the Pump. The majority decision is that, while their continued use of the Pump will destroy Earth and its solar system, abandoning it will result in their own extinction and thus cannot be done. In order to continue her attempts to stop the Pump, she begins to starve herself to stave off the production of her triad's third and last child, after which a triad "passes on" and disappears forever.

The differences in the laws of physics in the parallel universe mean that the aliens' bodies do not have the same material properties as living matter in this universe. Instead of consuming material that is then converted into energy, the aliens absorb it directly from sunlight. The different sexes can "melt" (the younger ones can somehow overcome the repulsion between atoms and melt into walls) and merge together physically, their analog of sex. Rationals and Parentals can do this to some extent independently, but in the presence of an Emotional, they can become essentially immaterial and the "melt" becomes total, the three bodies coming together into one (but also resulting in blackout and memory loss during the "melt"). Only during such a total "melt" can the Rational "impregnate" the Parental, with the Emotional providing the energy.

Driven by an innate desire to procreate, Tritt, the "Parental" of the triad, at first asks Odeen to persuade Dua to facilitate the production of the third child. When this fails, Tritt steals a Pump and rigs it to secretly feed Dua. Filled with this energy, the triad mates, and Tritt becomes pregnant with their last child. Dua discovers this betrayal and escapes from her family by melting through the walls. She henceforth begins a guerilla campaign to stop the Pump, transmitting the messages that Lamont received in the first section.

Eventually, her escape method of melting through walls causes her to lose too much of the energy needed to continue her existence. As she is about to expire, against all odds she is found by her triad. She is about to defy her triad by seeking to die anyway, but it is finally revealed that once a triad has produced at least one more triad of children to maintain a stable population, they fuse permanently into a single individual of the species' fully mature form - the hard ones. In fact, they temporarily form this same individual whenever they melt, but have no memory of it afterward. This fact is kept carefully concealed by the mature population from the semi-mature population, because the melt is also a mind-melt, and it is important that the Rational of a triad become mature enough to understand the conditions of their existence by themselves, before the final melt into a mature hard one.

Afraid that they will lose the Hard one formed by Dua's triad, the hard ones coach Odeen into realising the reality of the melt. All members of the triad are exceptional in their own way; Dua has learnt more about the other universe than any hard one, Odeen has shown greater intuition and empathy than a normal Rational, and Tritt has shown greater initiative and technical ability in stealing and setting up the lamp than any other Right.

Odeen convinces Dua that the hard one that they will become will have the influence with the hard ones to stop the Pump. As they are ready to "pass on", in between thoughts of the daughter she will not know, Dua realizes that in fact the fusion of her triad had produced Estwald himself, the original inventor of the Pump.

Third part: ...Contend in Vain?

The third part of the novel takes place on the Moon, centering around a cynical middle-aged physicist named Denison, briefly introduced in Part 1 as the colleague and rival of Hallam whose snide remark drove Hallam to invent the Pump. Denison, independently of Lamont, deduced the danger in the Electron Pump (although it was Lamont who discovered the final technical facts), and goes on to find a solution that harms no one and greatly benefits humanity: he taps into yet another parallel universe, that exists in a pre-big bang state (a cosmic egg or cosmeg), where physical laws are different and, in fact, opposite to the ones in Dua's universe. The exchange with the second parallel universe both produces more energy at little or no cost (which is a pleasant side effect for the Lunar residents, who had been unable to establish electron pumps), and balances out the changes from the use of the Electron Pump, resulting in a return to equilibrium.

Denison is helped by a Lunarian tourist guide named Selene Lindstrom, who is secretly an Intuitionist (a genetically engineered human with superhuman intuition). In the end, Selene and Denison also foil a plot to use the new power source to move the moon out of earth orbit.

Asimov's relationship to the story

In a February 12, 1982 letter Asimov identified this as his favorite SF novel ("Yours, Isaac Asimov" page 225). Asimov's short story "Gold", one of the last he wrote in his life, describes the efforts of fictional computer animators to create a "compu-drama" from the novel's second section.

Asimov took the names of the immature aliens — Odeen, Dua, and Tritt — from the words One, Two, and Three in the language of his native Russia. The mature alien's name, Estwald, was perhaps inspired by German-Russian Wilhelm Ostwald (18531932), inventor of the Ostwald process — a key development in the production of fertilisers and explosives.Fact|date=March 2007 The character Estwald may be a composite of the way various, particularly famous scientists are commonly depicted, as rare geniuses revered by other scientists and whose names are virtually synonymous with their insights (in this case referred to as "Estwald Theory" by the other aliens - possibly their equivalent of Quantum or Relativistic physics, given the similar treatment of such topics as almost new sciences in themselves, distinct from classical physics).

Asimov's inspiration for the title of the book, and its three sections, was a quotation by Friedrich Schiller (17591805): "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens." ("Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.")

Asimov describes a conversation in January 1971 when Robert Silverberg had to refer to an isotope — just an arbitrary one — as an example. Silverberg said Plutonium-186. "There is no such isotope", said Asimov, "and such a one can't exist either." "So, what?", said Silverberg. Later Asimov figured out under what conditions Plutonium-186 actually could exist, and what complications and consequences it might imply. Asimov reasoned that it must belong to another universe with other physical laws; specifically, different nuclear forces would be necessary to allow a Pu-186 nucleus to hold itself together. He wrote down these ideas, which gradually grew into the novel.

In autobiography, I. Asimov, Asimov stated that the novel, especially the second section, was his "biggest and most effective over-my-head writing [he] ever produced." ["I. Asimov: A Memoir.". Isaac Asimov. Bantam Books. 1995. p. 251. ISBN: 055356997x]

Asimov received frequent criticism about his books that they never included aliens or sex, so Asimov included in this book aliens, sex, and alien sex.

External links

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