The Hugo Project: 1973 – The Gods Themselves

20 Jan

Previously on the Hugo ProjectMyriad Is Tired of White Male Authors from the Early 1970s.

I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you. This week we hopscotch from Earth to para-Earth to the Moon as we continue our journey through sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice!

The Gods Themselves

Isaac Asimov
published in three parts in Galaxy Magazine (Part I and III)
and Worlds of If (Part II) in 1972
published as a complete novel in 1972


The Electron Pump: an incredible source of energy, produced by exchanging matter with a parallel universe where the laws of physics are just slightly different from our own. Limitless clean, cheap, essentially free energy – it sounds too good to be true, and it is. The few who dare to question the Pump, in both universes, discover the devastating consequences of its use – but will they be able to convince the rest of their societies before it’s too late?


Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!




After the last two editions of THP, I was beginning to despair of finding anything worthwhile in the ’70s Hugos. Thank the gods for Isaac Asimov.


And it’s good science. It’s explained just enough to get the basic ideas across without beating the reader over the head with Look How Sciencey I Am. It’s expected that the reader can follow the basics of nuclear physics and astronomy. In-universe, it’s expected that most of the citizens of Earth – even politicians – can follow the basics of nuclear physics and astronomy. There’s even serious treatment of the physiological effects of prolonged time spent in a low-G environment.


Okay, so there is one minor snafu at the end (major spoilers in blue):

Selene’s ex-lover, Cranky von Wackadoo (I returned the book to the library and forgot his real name) reveals his grand plan to jettison the Moon from Earth orbit. The Earth response? “Yeah, whatever, we don’t need the Moon.” Excuse me? Are we forgetting the tides? I mean, there would still be tides due to the Sun, but losing the Moon would change things significantly. A general lessening of tides might be more convenient for humans at first, but I’m pretty sure messing with the tides would wreak havoc with tidal basins and other important sources of biodiversity. Not to mention that, without the Moon, it would be really dark every night. And we’re still not sure how important a role the Moon plays in things like stabilizing the Earth’s axial tilt and provoking tectonic activity. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological ramifications for Earthlings if the Moon were to suddenly…not be there. My point is, “Yeah, whatever, we don’t need the Moon” is pretty damn glib.

But other than that, YAY SCIENCE.

Beyond the science, the book does suffer a little from somewhat lackluster characters, and the three parts, while very clearly related, do not quite add up to one satisfying whole. Part III ends rather abruptly, and I for one would have liked to see a Part IV that shows Estraven and others in the para-Universe dealing with the ramifications of the decisions made in our universe in Part III. Maybe a re-establishment of contact between the two universes, culminating in a Part V told from both perspectives? I don’t know; it just feels kind of unfinished.

Okay, mostly I want more about the para-Universe. Parts I and III take place in our Universe (on Earth and the Moon, respectively) and Part II takes place in the para-Universe and is TEH AWESOMESAUCE. I discuss it more under “Gender/Sexuality” below, but ALIENS WITH MORE THAN TWO GENDERS SO MUCH AWESOME I CAN’T EVEN. The exploration of gender among the Soft Ones is awesome – now I want to know about gender among the Hard Ones. Please?

Onwards to the usual review:

Race: As per usual, the characters all have European names, which usually means White in the author’s (and frequently, reader’s) mind. I was having great fun playing the, “what if this dude was Black? And this guy is from India! And this guy is Arab!” game in my mind, but other than one character explicitly described as Asian, it’s fairly safe to assume that everyone else is supposed to be white.

Gender/Sexuality: Part II. I loves me some Part II. Aliens with three different genders! Male pronouns assigned to the “nurturing” gender! Polyamory among the three genders! Members of the genders who do not adhere to their assigned gender roles! Possible gray-ace/demisexual characters if you tilt your head and squint! All three genders combining to form a fourth(?) gender! ASIMOV I LOVE YOU. Now, if only we could do so much with the actual humans. Everything is cishet. Part I is basically devoid of women, and Part III has one. Selene is…fine, I guess, but I would have liked things better if she had been another scientist and not an “Intuitionist” since that plays a little too much into the “men=logic/women=emotions” gender essentialism we’re all so familiar with.

Other: Nothing really stood out to me.

The book is far from perfect, but it’s a fast read, the story is pretty compelling (especially if your brain has a happy for physics), and Part II is AWESOME. Not to mention it’s lightyears ahead of the dreck Niven and Farmer put us through. Highly recommended!

OVERALL RANKING: 9 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).

1 Comment

Posted by on 20.1.2014 in Books


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