Book Review: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Energy transfer between parallel universes, the idea is enough for any science fiction fan to pick up and read this awesome piece of work.

The Gods Themselves is one of the earliest and fantastic read on multiple universes, nuclear forces, and Big Bang. The fundamental idea of why Big Bang occurs and the repercussions of disturbing the laws of physics that govern universe(s), are explained in the most simplified and narrative style by Isaac Asimov.

The book is an easy read with real life like characters across universes. It is not that technical although it does talk about protons, neutrons, pions, and other atomic particles but people not versed in physics will grasp the undertones behind the nuclear forces that is being talked about.

(Spoiler alert)

The novel is divided into following three parts:

First part: Against Stupidity…

First part of the book – set in 2100 – deals with Lamont, a self-obsessed scientist, who tries his best to prove that Radiochemist Frederick Hallam’s new energy source will destroy Earth in the near future. Energy source, called the “positron pump” operates on the transfer of electrons from a radioactive material into an isotope that is impossible to exist in our universe.

Tungsten, in the book, is exchanged with Plutonium-186, an element which does not exist in our world. In the para-universe the strong nuclear force is 10-100 times stronger than ours. Therefore, bringing matter from that domain also means, fetching their physical laws into our universe.

No sooner, Plutonium-186 is swapped with our heaviest metal, it begins to decay. High energy electrons start to release. The resulting energy is then used to generate electricity. Hence, the idea of free energy source via the Positron pump is hailed by the people in our universe.

Lamont, then beings to wonder the after effects of the end results – Tungsten and lots of free but useful energy. He tries his best to make people understand what exactly does it mean when the strong nuclear force morph into more strong nuclear force in our universe. No one believes him. And thus, the first part of the book culminates with his message, “No one on earth will live to know I was right.”

Second part: …The Gods Themselves…

The second part of the novel is set in another dimension. The laws of nuclear physics are different in their universe. Most specifically, nuclear force is much stronger relatively and consequently, nuclear fusion is more likely to occur than fission.

The beings are called the Hard Ones and Soft Ones. And the soft ones are further subdivided into three sexes – Rationals, Emotionals and Parentals. Most importantly, the beings exist within the framework of physics that we think cannot exist.

However, like us, they are also depended on “their sun” for energy. Sun in their universe is dying out and so they are already exploring other universes for energy source.  Positron pump in our universe is the result of one such probing from these para-men. Using it as a bridge, the two civilisations are sending matter across dimensions, which eventually will affect the strong nuclear force in both the universes, resulting in the explosion of both the Suns.

Third part: …Contend in Vain?

Third and the final part of the book is set on moon. Lunar society as they call, consider themselves a distinct race than inhabitants of Earth, although they are the descendants of Earth’s intelligentsia, reminiscent of Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress“.

The plot hovers around middle-aged ex-physicist named Denison, whose career as a scientist was blocked by Hallam (in the first section). Consequently, he leaves science and enters the world of business and lands on Lunar soil. There he meets Selene Lindstrom, who is also a part of political activists’ group who are uniting and fighting against the sovereignty of Earth on Moon. Their aim is to do independent research on various ways they can use the Electron Pump on the Moon.

With the help of Selene, Denison gets access to the tech and he then proves that the strong nuclear force is indeed increasing, which eventually will lead to the explosion of the Sun.

As he continues with his work, he is able to probe another (third) universe and this time, it is in pre-Big Bang state. Here the physical laws are totally different than the second parallel universe. Matter from this universe starts with very weak nuclear force but when placed in our universe, it fuses immediately. Thus, releasing more energy. Consequently, the changes from the Electron Pump are balanced out at a very low cost.

On performing another test, Selene concludes that not only the nuclear force, the third universe can also exchange momentum. She along with Neville (her lover) are working towards by-passing rockets and moving moon towards new orbit and, breaking away from the shackles of Earth. Their idea however, is put on hold when Denison catches her to admit the secret mission.

Moving Moon renders meaningless, but developing self-sufficient sublight starships from the new tech gains vote thus the group goes against Neville. Selene and Denison become couple. Denison decides to stay forever on moon, he however is able to ruin Hallam.


Few science fiction writers have known so adroitly as Asimov how to presented the plot dealing with non-humanoid civilizations. Depiction of the alien beings and their culture (in the second part) is thought provoking indeed.

Entire book is phenomenal. I enjoy reading fiction that has dialogues. Reader is just listening to conversations and gathering data and understanding the background and socio-economic milieu just by hearing the conversations – no narrations, no introductions, I think that’s one form of intelligent literature.

The characters, as I said above, are thoroughly well written. Overall, an awesome read from one of the old masters.

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