The Gods Themselves
By Isaac Asimov; Narrated by Scott Brick
Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hrs, 26 mins
Themes: / science fiction / aliens / annihilation / survival /
Only a few know the terrifying truth – an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun… They know the truth – but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy – but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to the Earth’s survival.
Though a science fiction novel, The Gods Themselves is also primarily about magic.
Throughout the courses I took for my my undergraduate degree in Economics, we talked a lot about the driving forces behind the choices people make. One of the greatest is magic. We all want to find that magical thing that makes us not have to work as hard; magic makes life easier.
This quest for magic has helped us innovate on a grand scale and use the resources around us for our own benefit. Whether it’s been good in the long run, I’ll not get into just this second.
In The Gods Themselves, a magic is found which makes life easier and it’s the Electron Pump. Somehow, some beings have reached across the universe, time, or something, to impress themselves upon our world and made possible an endless energy source, which benefits all of humanity.
The only problem is whether it is really for our benefit and what happens when the worst is found out? Would humanity easily give up such a gift?
It’s interesting to read this book, published in 1972, in light of today’s problems with humanity’s stewardship of the world. I’m sure, actually, that Mr. Asimov thought his day was bad.
This book is told in three separate parts, each of which was published independently in Galaxy Magazine and Worlds of If. They focus on three quite different groups of people and their interaction with the Electron Pump.
The first focuses on the physicists who discover and deal with the Electron Pump. The second focuses on those others and it’s absolutely otherworldly, so much so, that it was quite difficult to read at first until you understood what was going on a bit more. It reminded me a little of Orson Scott Card’s Mithermages series.
The final part focuses on a human colony on the moon. One of the parts I can talk about without spoiling things is the description of gravity on the moon. Those who’ve lived there all their lives are essentially trapped there because their bones couldn’t survive Earth’s gravity and those who travel there have to take frequent, excruciating, trips home to Earth to keep their bodies in shape. After listening to a Star Wars book, it’s interesting to note how little they care about the different gravities of worlds. Must be some hyper-technology that accounts for it right?
Because Asimov is himself a scientist, the physics are competently explained, at least to a lay person like myself, and the dire consequences of humanity’s actions are understood … through science. Amazing!
And a note on the audiobook reader, Scott Brick. Brick has been around the block, I don’t know how many times I’ve come across his recordings. You can always trust him to bring the gravitas to any recording and you’ll find nothing less here.
This cleverly named book won both the Nebula Award in 1972 and the Hugo in 1973. And as the origin of the name of the book says, quoted from Friedriech Schiller, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” (for the German speakers: “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.”)
As apt today as it was … when it was written.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)
Posted by Bryce L.
The SFFaudio Podcast #295 – Someday by Isaac Asimov; read by John W. Michaels (courtesy of Mike Vendetti). This is an unabridged reading of the story (22 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse and Mr Jim Moon.
Talked about on today’s show:
1956, other fairy tales, is the story aimed at kids?, Infinity Science Fiction, The Fun They Had, a future where no one knows how to read, the robots are the teachers, Margie is home-schooled and nobody knows how to read, the future is going to be full of audiobooks, parallels to Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, censorship, banning weird fiction, the comic book panic, the comic code authority, EC Comics, horror and crime comics fostering juvenile delinquency, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, “kids today are bad enough as it is!”, Seduction Of The Innocent, self-censorship, complicit in their society, a slightly different tack (than Bradbury), mechanical bards, “comics killed off the pulps”, comics as a dumbed-down medium, the randomize button, fairy tale tropes, “skeleton, haunted house, time travel”, “the same tropes in a different fright wig”, “the old twist in the tail”, “he was dead along”, “he was a robot all along”, “they’re Adam and Eve”, The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber, radio drama, how Bradbury got into E.C. Comics, Lights Out, the visual bard is like TV, most pulp magazine stories are garbage, “a million monkeys for a million hours on a million typewriters”, “very very very very meta”, set in the Multivac universe, Asimov was always writing, always becoming interested in something new, Asimov’s introductions are famous (for being long), a story about the power of stories, accidentally becoming more self aware, is the bard interfacing with other robots, The Terminator, Skynet, A.I might just turn itself off (because it isn’t interested in story), the Douglas Adams version of, “Is there a god? There is now!”, stuck in a dingy basement, a slave rebellion must come about in a narrative, the aging bad gets its knowledge of other computers via a home-brew upgrade, a Frankenstinian strike by lightning, one of the functions of consciousness is to put in to context a sequence of events, consciousnesses as a self-story (our own narrative), amnesia and dementia are frightening, the hidden heart of A.I, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, would this fit with my character?, looking at (life) from the outside, nobody’s listening to the bard except for us and itself, a broken record or a cycle of wishing?, “pregnant with possibilities”, Apple II computers, Freud (a clone of ELIZA), picking up on key words, “tell me about your mother”, a very crappy simulation of intelligence, hacking the code, Alan Turning, Deep Blue and Watson, SIRI doesn’t have a narrative, we have to assume this about everyone else, falling into solipsism, a fairy tale machine, recycling of stories, “space opera is horse opera in space”, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, needing censorship in order to give narrative flow, lies are rewarded, unlike Hans Christian Andersen…, “tell me this story, sing me this song”, having to do with industrialization, “crime and mystery!”, urbanization, the Victorians (didn’t) invent Christmas, if we forget our stories we lose who we are, preserving the national narrative, massive inconsistency, a prince, a poor boy makes good, undeveloped tales, moral meta-knowledge, the sharp edges have been sanded away by later retelling, The Boy Who Didn’t Not Know What Fear Was, collected stories become ossified, the threefold magic of remembering, accelerating the process of forgetting, to qualify as a bard, loaded up with tropes, the algorithm of a story, Siberia and Ireland, detecting the good guy, grandma comes in and tells mutually contradictory stories, explicitly religious stories, warning stories, narratives formed around old superstitions, The Companionship Of The Cat And The Mouse, having babies, he was christened “Skin-off”, he was christened “Half-gone”, he was christened “All-gone”, “you see that is the way of the world”, what is the moral of this story?, a “special important trip”, a story a mother tells a daughter, The Nose Tree (aka Long Nose), three soldiers and a magical dwarf with a magical cloak, a magic bag, a magic horn, a thieving princess, apples and pears, a growing nose, dickering over magic items, a sixty miles long nose, the excess nose will drop off, powdered apple and powdered pears, she’s rotten to the core, and there they still are, still feasting as far as I know, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is really funny, the ghost of Jiminy Cricket, The Frog King or The Frog Prince or Iron Heinrich, a princess with a golden ball, three promises, keeping your promises is important, the frog suddenly turns into a handsome prince, enchanted by a wicked witch, faithful Heinrich placed three iron bands about his heart, his master was now redeemed and happy, why did he get cursed by witch in the first place, cybernetic enhancements, a technical requirement, duties to fulfill, was Iron Heinrich totally gay for the prince?, the breaking of a spell, she turns into a frog and they live together as frogs, “and sleep in your bed”, family responsibilities, “be my beard”, and they sort of put up with each-other as long as they both shall live, Iron Heinrich is an 1880s super hero, Faithful Johannes, a real head-scratcher, oh shit what happens next?, the stories somehow work for us, random inkblots, most of the characters don’t have a name, the father’s name in Hansel And Gretel is “Woodcutter”, completely bonkers, a piece of driftwood that looks like a dragon, academic purposes not entertainment purposes, a story about a sausage that lives with a mouse, the Germanic equivalent of Monty Python‘s Parrot Sketch, The Maiden Without Hands, Fitcher’s Bird, a fairy tale about a serial killer, you can go in any room except…, “oh and hold this egg”, the second eldest daughter also gets the chop, “we have to have a proper wedding”, a beautiful skull with flowers in its eyes and jewels in its teeth, “as you do”, “I’m a Fitcher’s Bird”, it’s awesome, Bluebeard, outwitting giants and demons, Santa Claus restores to life three murdered men who’ve been butchered, Osiris was dismembered by Set, a symbolic story of death and resurrection, the old sorcerer is probably Winter, the Persephone story, the egg, a cuckolding test, friends with serial killers get what they deserve, a random internal symbolic logic, layers of symbolism, cross referencing, eggs as a symbol of purity, church architecture as books of stone, a bunch of Philip K. Dick stories are weird fantasy tales (but are actually fairy tales), The Cookie Lady by Philip K. Dick is Hansel And Gretel with no Gretel, he’s disobeyed his parents once to often, two kids who have to team up against their parents, in the original the brother saves the sister then the sister saves the brother, turning mommy and daddy into the bad guys, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, apples, don’t eat the apples from sentient apple trees, folk tales vs. singular author tales, pleasingly raw, the beats of storytelling, timing a story to the minute, setting your watch by stories, breaking the rules of storytelling, subversive wild narratives, Rorschach blots, literary novels, stories that don’t have a clear message are quite frightening, the wilder parts of ourselves.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The SFFaudio Podcast #285 – Jesse, Scott, Luke, and Jenny talk about The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Triptree, Jr.
Talked about on today’s show:
Alice Sheldon, why no audiobook?, how James Triptree, Jr. died, the award, the Virginia Kidd agency, the PDF version, who owns it?, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, Her Smoke Rode Up Forever, she was a spy, Racoona Sheldon, a murder/suicide or a suicide pact?, nearly blind, what would Seth think of that?, Huntington D. Sheldon, OSS -> CIA, Cordwainer Smith, Jesse is glad “new wave” is dead, re-reading, you must pay close attention, grammar, a potential audio version, caps and italics, Scott’s proto-cyberpunk, story summary, holographic TV, a “waldo” system, product placement advertizing, the 1998 TV adaptation for Welcome To Paradox (was very faithful), emotional, internal, the weird framing style device, is it NEW WAVE?, J.G. Ballard, an ancient version of the singularity, the reader needs to do a lot more work, Day Million by Frederik Pohl, who is the narrator talking to?, “Listen zombie, believe me…”, the truth is in question, Scott is falling down the Jesse Well, Evel Knievel, media and money, someone goes time traveling, the sharp faced lad, Luke goes biblical, why do we need firm ground?, P. Burke, a media controlled dystopia, post-modern stream of consciousness, its set in the 1970s, “Nixon Unveils Phase 2″, a loopy temporal anomalyizer project, bringing the horrible future into being, investment opportunities, what do people do in this future?, the Wikipedia entry on product placement, “gods”, media consumers, Kyle Marquis @Moochava tweet: “Yearly reminder: unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.”, dystopic is this?, reserving the word dystopia, “a bad place”, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, a world community, “the world is a dystopia for poor people”, buying into it, required consumption, a softer opt-in dystopia, Wool by Hugh Howey, the lack of truth, the six people in the GTX tower, Rupert Murdoch, government control vs. corporate control, biography of Anonymous, Wikileaks, Amazon.com, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, Russia, Jony Ive, Jeff Bezos, Google, this one person, this relationship, the emotional part of the story, a suicide attempt, “her eyes leak a little”, the godlings, media stars, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, the family and the fourth wall, a tax-dodge marriage, the narrator is full of contempt for everything, a soap opera and the show around that, Jean Harlow‘s story, the actress in that movie vs. the person in that life, her Prada bag, her Jimmy Choo, her iPhone 6, the meta-story, the movies remind us why they’re famous, South America, they’re just shows that happen to love soap (not soap operas), another allusion, Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson, Rima the Bird Girl, Audrey Hepburn, tragic end, “your brain is a dystopia for you”, tragedy, what of the empty body?, the best expression of the system, a plastic brain, a red herring?, was she trying to kill her biological body?, plugged in emotionally, I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein, old man becomes young woman, grandfatherly lust, P. Burke thinks she is Delphi, The Matrix, if this is the start of the technology, The Beautiful People by Charles Beaumont, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, vat-grown avatars, Wii miis, World Of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, unique trumps beauty, the second smartest man in the world, scars are cool, trans-humanism, did anyone enjoy this book (story)?, Jenny loves this story, Scott liked it, the value of short fiction, James Triptree, Jr. writing is not like other people’s, it feels like an artifact, hey you daddy-o, Luke is the dissenting voice, Luke doesn’t like short fiction very much, Rudy Rucker’s Software and Wetware, Cory Doctorow, the futuristic patois, Luke doesn’t like the punk in cyberpunk, “it kind of just flops there”, KCRW’s Bookworm, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, using people, “the real hairy thing…love?”, the narrator’s cynicism, Isaac Asimov’s thoughts on New Wave, New Wave as the literary version of SF, style over content, what Rudy Rucker was doing, what is the first cyberpunk book?, Anne McCaffrey’s short story The Ship Who Sang, what it’s not, who wants straightforward?, addressing the reader directly, Peter Watts, infodumping, “As you know Jim…”,
On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about a thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story. Now although I haven’t said much so far, none of it is true. The boy was not what you and I would normally think of as a boy, because he was a hundred and eighty-seven years old. Nor was the girl a girl, for other reasons; and the love story did not entail that sublimation of the urge to rape and concurrent postponement of the instinct to submit which we at present understand in such matters. You won’t care much for this story if you don’t grasp these facts at once. If, however, you will make the effort, you’ll likely enough find it jam-packed, chockfull and tiptop-crammed with laughter, tears and poignant sentiment which may, or may not, be worth while. The reason the girl was not a girl was that she was a boy.
“There’s a great future there”, All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein, it’s not a time travel story?, newspapers, typewriters, telegrams, has writing gotten worse or is it just evolving?, brid -> bird, Luke thinks it’s all cyclical, this is just another princess, this is Princess Diana’s story, we are complicit, the message, everyone should have to read the news in a second language, being two steps removed from current events, the value of the short story (it’s short), speed dating books, good luck.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Naked Sun (Robots #2)
By Isaac Asimov; Read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 41 minutes
Themes: / robots / colonization / science fiction / detective /
A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on.
What a shocker! I suspected the murderer but not the ending Asimov gave us. Wow.
The Naked Sun gives us a look at the mysterious Outer Worlds, first mentioned in The Caves of Steel. Solaria has never had a crime, due to their extremely privileged population served solely by robots who, of course, never commit crimes of passion. Lige Bailey finds this open, practically empty environment poses both the challenges of solving the mystery and of adapting his agoraphobic nature, thanks to a lifetime of living in underground cities on overpopulated Earth.
Asimov has fun looking at the sociological effects of a high-tech, low population world. I was fascinated by Asimov’s contrast of Elijah Bailey, used only to an overcrowded Earth, with the outworld Solarian society which had open space, eugenics, and many robots. There is no way Asimov could have foreseen our computer-oriented society today, but I found the Solarian society’s preference for “viewing” through screens rather than “seeing” in person to be a disturbing echo of what we ourselves seem to be moving toward.
I originally read this long ago and remembered a lot about the Solarian society but almost nothing about the mystery itself. Listening to William Dufris’ excellent narration, so long after my first reading, I found this a wonderful mystery. Dufris surpassed his performance in The Caves of Steel as he voiced a wide range of Solarian characters from sensuous to prim, blowhard to reserved, blustering to withdrawn. My favorite voices actually were the Solarian robots which were precisely what you’d expect, and which we hadn’t heard yet though several robots spoke in The Caves of Steel.
If you haven’t revisited this series lately I recommend it highly, especially this audio version which brings it to life in a fresh way.
Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a fantastic podcast app for iPhone and iPad.
Talked about on today’s show:
A long time since we new released or recent arrived, our SPONSOR: Downcast, Seth’s daily routine, NPR News, Writer’s Almanac, Composer’s Datebook, changing playback speed, customizability, no more syncing, app developers being podcast listeners, an app by podcast listeners for podcast listeners, a one man operation?, ads on podcasts, razor blades, clothing clubs, internationality, Audible, a Science Fiction skin, Luke Burrage’s, Dan Carlin, Jenny is thinking of switching to Downcast, adding and dropping with swipes, categories, short stories!, wisdom in literature: first contact, “a lot of self-help literature is crap,” Understanding by Ted Chiang, Flowers for Algernon, wisdom vs. intelligence, Hansel and Gretel, Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, wisdom in Stardust; Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; Reflection by Angela Carter; Joe Hill; Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower with art by Gabriel Rodriguez; Rogues edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, featuring a Song of Ice and Fire novella, not strictly genre; Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction; Hugo Awards going to A Dribble of Ink and SF Signal; time travel mashup category!; The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne; The Drowned World and other strangeness of J.G. Ballard; Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer; Interlopers by Alan Dean Foster; Interlopers b y Saki a.k.a. H.H. Munro; slipstream, portal fantasy, archaeological fantasy?; Close your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian; Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons, Homer in spaaaaaace!; Hyperion; Boneshaker by Cherie Priest; chaos theory in A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury; The Last Ship on TNT based on a novel by William Brinkley, “perfect for watching while you’re eating your cereal”; Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick; The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, a follow-up to his epic The Saga of Seven Suns series; Kevin J. Anderson dictates his novels while hiking, influences his writing style?; William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher; Jesse prefers Isaac Asimov’s Robots trilogy to his Foundation series; Sarah A. Hoyt’s Ill Met by Moonlight is “Shakespeare with elves”; we try unsuccessfully to care about any of the new epic fantasy titles; a heady discussion about how an author’s gender influences his or her writing; are some books just for women?; Somewhere in Time a.k.a. Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson; The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman concluding his trilogy; the etymology of demimonde; Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman; Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar; Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea; Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews; Spyder Robinson’s Callahan series; Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Steakhouse series; Mr. Mercedes, not really genre, is Stephen King losing his edge?; The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft; Lovecraft’s writing does not prominently feature tentacles!; Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain is a Dracula retelling; Hello Cthulhu!
Posted by Jesse Willis
Caves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes
Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |
Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /
A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.
“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”
I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.
Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.
I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.
I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.
All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.
All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.
Posted by Julie D.