The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
Reviewed by Robert W. Bly, founder, ScienceFictionPrediction.com
The Gods Themselves, a novel written in Isaac Asimov's deceptively simple style, is on the surface a classic "hard" science fiction novel - meaning the story has its basis in a scientific problem that the scientist hero must solve.
In addition to being a hard science fiction novel, The Gods Themselves also deals with such diverse topics as living under low gravity conditions (on the moon); alternate energy sources; and alien sex.
But mainly The Gods Themselves is the story of human pettiness, particularly the pettiness between rival scientists.
Frederick Hallam and Ben Denison are young scientists who began their careers at the same laboratory in 2070, thirty years before the action of the story takes place.
They dislike one another, and in their rivalry, Denison has the upper hand: he is the brighter chemist with the more promising career. Hallam is a plodder and his intellectual inferior.
A sleight Denison make to Hallam sets off a chain of events that results in Hallam's making the most important scientific discovery of the 21st century, which catapults his career, and leaves Denison in the dust.
Specifically, Hallam discovers that a race of intelligent beings, called the Para-Men, in a parallel universe (the Para-Universe) is exchanging matter between their world and ours. The exchange, conducted with a device that comes to be known as the Electron Pump, generates an apparently limitless source of energy, virtually for free.
Years later, another scientist, Peter Lamont, is writing a history of the Electron Pump. In his research, he discovers that Hallam is to a large degree a fraud, claiming much of the credit for the Pump when the Para-Men are really doing all the work on your end.
Much direr, he discovers that the Electron Pump is creating an exchange not only of matter and energy, but of the laws of physics between our universe and the Para-Universe. If unchecked, this exchange could cause stars in our universe, including our own sun, to explode. It could also cause stars in the Para-Universe to grow cold.
Lamont attempts to diplomatically to alert Hallam to the danger; the older and now venerated senior scientist becomes enraged by the younger man's questioning of his authority. He threatens to cause trouble for the younger scientist should Lamont persist in spreading these (to Hallam) obviously inaccurate ideas.
Lamont is unable to convince the politicians in charge of the Electron Pump of the danger. Ben Denison, Hallam's old rival, has been demoted to working on the moon, where one of the Electron Pump stations is situated.
While on the moon, Denison is enlisted to help prove that the Electron Pump threatens the existence of the universe and must be shut down before it's too late. If he is not successful, Earth and mankind are doomed.
Science fiction writers routinely deal with both hard science and big social issues, and in The Gods Themselves, Asimov handles both adroitly.
The dimension Asimov adds here is dangerous human side of science: namely, that scientists are humans, prone to the same petty jealousies and self-centered behaviors as everyone else. The result can be deliberate distortion of the truth resulting in inaccurate science.
The human conflict in The Gods Themselves is described in a straightforward fashion by Asimov in his essay "The Sun Shins Bright." He writes:
"However glorious, noble, and supernaturally incorruptible science is, scientists are, alas, all human. While it is impolite to suppose that a scientist may be dishonest, and heart-sickening to find out, every once in a while, that one of them is, nevertheless something has to be taken into account."
While The Gods Themselves does dramatize the potential negative effects of dishonest science to an extreme (the sun blowing up and ending all life on Earth), it calls attention to the importance of ethics and honesty in science, and what happens when those twin virtues are either accidentally overlooked or deliberately ignored.