Gedanken fictions

Just a quick post to say that my review of Thought X: Fictions and Hypotheticals, edited by Rob Appleby and Ra Page, has been published over on the Physics World website. It’s a collection of short stories and essays about thought experiments in physics and philosophy, and I found it fascinating. The fiction authors include Zoe Gilbert and Robin Ince, while the accompanying essays are by scientists including Seth Bullock and Tara Shears.

To see what else I thought, hop on over to Physics World.

One man cries ‘Doom’

The Gods Themselves
by Isaac Asimov

This is a complex but mindblowingly clever book. It took far too long for me to get through as it required actual thinking but I would still rate it very highly.

The book is split into three sections. In the first we learn that scientists have discovered (and implemented) a way to create unlimited clean energy using a link with a parallel universe, named the Electron Pump. The scientist who invented the method, Hallam, is lauded as a hero, the saviour of mankind. But his colleagues dislike him and one in particular, Lamont, is concerned that the Electron Pump has not been fully thought through and could very well threaten the future of mankind.

This section delves into how science works via the importance of publication and attribution, but also the politics and power struggles. It’s genuinely moving to follow someone trying his best to selflessly save humanity:

“You want me to fight the good fight? I’d like to. There’s a certain drama in going down in a good cause. Any decent politician is masochistic enough to dream now and then of going down in flames while the angels sing. But…shall I demand every man give up the personal comfort and affluence he has learned to get used to, thanks to the Pump, just because one man cries ‘Doom’ while all the other scientists stand against him?”

The characters (and this was probably where I found my main criticism of The Bicentennial Man) are well enough developed that I missed them when the narrative left them behind. Which happens at the end of each section. An entirely new setting and group of characters inhabit each part of the book. Which makes sense, but was also a little frustrating.

The middle section is set in the aforementioned parallel universe – a very carefully thought through idea of alternative intelligent life forms adapted to different fundamental constants. I found this section fascinating but also really tough. Asimov has worked so hard to create completely non-human intelligent life that it’s pretty hard to grasp. Or it was for me.

And I think that’s my only real gripe with the book. It was hard. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to understand the high-level physics concepts but just skimmed over them. Would I have enjoyed it more but found it less impressive? Probably.

First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz 1972.
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards for the year’s best SF novel.