“The Stars, Like Dust” by Isaac Asimov

Hmmm.  Isaac, I really love the “Foundation” trilogy.  But some of your other stuff…

The setting is about 1000 years in the future; Earth is mostly irradiated and humanity has spread out among the stars thanks to hyperdrive extradimensional travel.  The hero, Biron, gets caught up in the deadly intrigue and political maneuvering going on between three schemers: the evil overlord Tyranni (see what he did there?), rulers over the 50+ colonized systems within the Horsehead Nebula; the “good guys” – the covert rebellion against the Tyranni; and the Autarch of Lingane who is playing each group off against the other.

As you would expect, Biron (and the reader at the same time) has no idea what’s going on and has to figure it all out.  Problem is, at several “reveals” when we find out why things are happening the way they are, it seemed to me like the plotting and scheming was much more complicated than it needed to be to satisfy the goals.  I guess it needed to be such so the reader wouldn’t “figure it out” too early?  Kind of sloppy I think.  Sorry, Isaac.

One incredibly cheesy bit: (minor spoiler – not plot centric at all though) several of the characters have been searching for a document from old Earth that is “the most powerful weapon ever known.”  In the end, the rebellion leader get it.  He says it will eliminate the Tyranni and all other despots from the galaxy.  What is it?  Why, the Constitution of the USA of course.  (Although apparently the Constitution wasn’t powerful enough to prevent most of the Earth’s surface from being hopelessly irradiated by nuclear bombs.)  This patriotic manifestation by Asimov (born in Russia; emigrated to USA at 3 years old) is very curious.  Did he truly feel so strongly about the Constitution and his adopted homeland, or was he trying to deflect actual or potential criticism in the time of the Red Scare?   The book was first published in 1951.

Another point about “The Stars, Like Dust” marks it as a product of its time.  In the book’s future of humanity, there are  no sophisticated computers (Biron calculates hyperspace jump coordinates by hand) or internet.  What they do have is a foundation built on atomic power.  There was a big excitement about the potential of atomic energy in the 1950’s.  Science fiction is an extrapolation of current science to the future.  Since the 1950’s were full of excitement about the potential of atomic power, science fiction from this era is full of atomic power.  In our day and age, we’re all about computers, the internet, biotech, DNA; consequently there is a lot of “singularity” science fiction where we’ll eventually upload our consciousness into computers, download them into new bodies, and become immortal.  I wonder if today’s science fiction will seem as quaint as that from the 1950’s does now.

(Listened to Audio CD)

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