The Gods Themselves

Asimov, Isaac. The Gods Themselves. New York: Doubleday, 1972.

A panorama of the rocky surface of the moon with the Earth hanging in the black night sky. The title is in big red letters.

At last, Earth scientists have discovered the secret to abundant free energy, through an electron transfer with aliens in a parallel universe. Only a handful of people suspect that the ongoing nuclear reaction could lead to a supernova.

The Gods Themselves is separated into three parts: The first part follows an Earth scientist desperately trying to shut down the project and being ignored and discredited by a government that prefers free energy now over worrying about later consequences. In the second part, an alien from the parallel universe discovers the project’s flaw and attempts to communicate the issue to the Earth scientists. In part three, the Earth scientist immigrates to the lunar colony and works with a lunar-born intuitionist to prove that the energy project will result in disaster.

Aliens are often depicted as being humanoid, with similar personalities and ambitions as human beings. This is one of the very few representations that I’ve come across where the aliens are thoroughly alien, both physically and socially. In the parallel universe, there are two species: Hard Ones and Soft Ones. The Hard Ones seem to be either genderless or multigender, and monitor and mentor the Soft Ones. The Soft Ones have three genders: rationals, emotionals, and parentals (also called lefts, mids, and rights). Their bodies are fluid and amorphous, they obtain nutrition from sunlight, and they reproduce by “melting” into one another.

Isaac Asimov was a scientist as well as an author, and this book, like many of his novels, is hard science fiction—with a plausible problem and technically-detailed, accurate science. However, the science is very accessible to non-scientists, and at heart, The Gods Themselves is about love, jealousy, social progress, and politics.

Content note for some mild sexism and one instance of the word “Oriental” used to describe a character’s facial features. This book is a product of its time.

The Gods Themselves won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus; and was Asimov’s personal favorite of his novels.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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