The Gods Themselves

From Academic Kids

The Gods Themselves is a 1972 science fiction novel written by Isaac Asimov (ISBN 1061500534). It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

The book is divided into three main parts, originally published in magazine form as three consecutive stories.

The main plotline is a conspiracy by the aliens who inhabit a parallel universe with different physical laws than ours, with the final aim of turning our Sun into a supernova, and collecting the resulting energy for their use.


First part: Against Stupidity...

The first part takes place on Earth. The idealistic young physicist Lamont discovers that the change in laws is the result of the use of an "Electron Pump" which produces clean, cheap and abundant energy through an exchange of matter with the other universe. His attempts to warn those with the power to avert the catastrophic consequences of the exchange are roundly rebuffed.

Second part: ...The Gods Themselves...

The second part takes place in the parallel universe. The alien Dua, who has communicated with Lamont in cryptic fashion, discovers that her fellow aliens are causing the changes to occur deliberately. 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 have three sexes with fixed roles for each sex. They are quite immaterial and can co-penetrate each other, mainly for sex. They feed off sunlight and have discovered artificial light just before the story's opening. A group of three forms a triad that, after producing three children, will permanently fuse into a "hard" being; which is the post-adult phase and more intelligent form.

The parallel universe is different because the strong nuclear force is much higher. Therefore, their stars are much smaller (a star like ours would explode immediately), and they try to exploit this difference with our universe in the manner outlined above. Dua's attempts to reverse this process are as unsuccessful as Lamont's, but for a different and rather surprising reason.

Third part: ...Contend in Vain?

In the third part, on the Moon, the cynical middle-aged ex-physicist Denison, who had been apprised of the danger by Lamont in the first part, finds a solution that harms no one and greatly benefits humanity: he taps into yet another parallel universe, not inhabited, where physical laws are different in the opposite direction from those of 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.

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 made 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.
  • Asimov got the title of the book, and its three sections, from a quotation of Friedrich Schiller (17591805): "Mit der Dummheit kmpfen Gtter selbst vergebens." ("Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain.")th:ข้าคือพระเจ้า

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