I started reading Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series, starting with his first novel: Pebble in the sky.
A light read, Pebble in the sky is a nice, cute, and soft attempt at science fiction. Having previously read Arthur C. Clarke 2001: A Space Odyssey and other writings (Childhood’s End), I can say that Asimov is less based on facts, less scientific, more soapy, and a bit more commercial – cinema oriented story. Asimov tries to reach to the general audience: people not really framed with science fiction, nor the addicted of the genre, not the fanatics, not the science geeks. That’s why I would call his book a soft attempt at science fiction. It’s more science oriented and evolved than my older read from H.G. Wells’ The time machine , mostly because of half a century and more of scientific development in the world, but still cannot compare to William Gibson’s writings or Philip K. Dick (see A scanner darkly ). By the way, Gibson is in my read queue.
Getting back to a Pebble in the sky, we can see typical scientific motifs: time traveling, space traveling, wars, interplanetary relations, discovering the past. We can also see usual themes: love, interracial quarrels, war again, leading, subducing, and so on.
Pebble in the sky also makes us a bit fond of our own planet, Earth, as in the book it’s depicted as a radioactive destroyed planet, with a very small population. Earthlings look to be more primitive, and be regarded as a low society by the rest of the galaxy. We find out how this can change, by seeing that Earth was the cradle of civilization, long time ago, when one of the characters used to live (for sure, 1950s, when Asimov wrote the book), a character that is taken thousands of years in the future. And we get a warning from Asimov, that, the human race as we know it, might not survive if we keep playing with nuclear warfare. At some points this is suggested by remarks from the characters, who wonder how it was possible to have nuclear devices without any way of protection or contention.
The main character is an archaeologist who wants to discover a secret truth about planet Earth, trying to battle with his education about the induced ideas of Earthlings’ inferiority. He is caught in a plot that can destroy the Galaxy, together with a man from a very distant past, who was subjected to brain enhancement, a scientist that dedicated his life to brain improvements, and a young girl who falls in admiration and love for his nobleness.
In other words, we have a foreigner that comes to a low society planet, falls in love with an Earth woman, and tries to save the whole Galaxy from extermination by solving a plot against it done by the humanity leaders. Sounds very much like a superhero movie, which is the reason why I say the novel is very soapy. A bit of Pocahontas, a bit of the later Die Hard movies, the book has it all. Except the cinema features presented in the novel, we can see some distinguished features that make Pebble in the Sky a good light read: strong imagination, of a Galactic Empire based on human colonies, space travel, the model of population control by removing unwanted citizens that reach a certain age, and so on. We can also see some more not so obvious themes, like religion/autocracy control, quest for power and domination, fight between good and evil, feelings of superiority and inferiority.
A good train read, for 2018, Pebble in the sky was most likely a very good novel in the 1950s, but today, I can only classify it under classic golden science fiction age, superseded by much greater recent works, but with a humorous and relaxing mood which is still pleasant in this day.