Sunday, November 2, 2008

Nemesis

Nemesis
© Isaac Asimov 1989
Doubleday, New York
364 pages

Having completed Asimov's Foundation series, I decided to return to a volume of short stories, Robot Dreams. I had some difficulty in finding a copy, and so in the meantime I read Nemesis. Nemesis takes place on Earth, during the twenty-third century. According the Fount of All Knowledge, Nemesis's place in the Foundation metaseries (the Robot, Empire, Foundation, and assorted short stories all put together) is as a "legend". Earth is apparantly united: the characters make reference to a Global Congress and a global president. Meanwhile, humanity is spreading throughout the solar system in "Settlements". They are limited to the solar system because hyperdrives are not yet available -- but they become so as the book wears on.

The first half of the book contains two seperate stories. One is about a settlement called "Rotor" that finds a way to move a bit more quickly through space, if not achieving faster-than-light speed. The commissar of Rotor opts to take the settlement to Nemesis, a nearby star. "Nemesis" is named by Eugenia Insignia, a scientist onboard. During the heyday of the space rage, back when cosmologists began realizing that most stars were binary stars, some theorized that our sun, Sol, had its own counterpart, one they termed "Nemesis". They named it so because they thought such a system might explain why the solar system is periodically subjected to increases in comet activity.

The first story is about Rotor -- its journey to Nemesis, its discovery of a massive gas giant with an Earth-sized moon, a moon that is semihabitable. Asimov does not spend much time detailing their journey, the discovery, or the building of a dome around the planet (which they term Erythro). He quickly moves this first story to a point in time twenty years after their "leaving". The second story begins twenty years before their leaving, and he goes back and forth between the two. This did not cause any disconnect at all: despite the twenty-year gap, I read the stories perfectly well. The second story, set in the "past", deals with Earth's response to Rotor's leaving. They realize there may have been a purpose behind the Leaving when they discover Nemesis, and predict that its course through space will take it through the Solar System in five thousand years or so.

Without spoiling the book's plot, the Earthers begin to work on the problem of hyperspace, and use superluminal ability to reach Nemesis for themselves. Consequently, the second story -- set in the "past" -- catches up to the first story at page number 268. The rest of the book is the covergence of the two stories. The Earthers and the Rotors must work together to reach a compromise concerning Erthyro. There is more going on in this story than political intrigue, however. Most of the first story concerns the mysterious planet Erthyro -- a world lit by red sunlight, covered by nude dirt and seas that are filled with a form of prokaryotes. There are a number of strong characters in the book. Eugenia Insignia has already been mentioned, but she has a daughter named Marlene, who has the unusual ability to read people's body language thoroughly. (She would make an excellent cold reader, no doubt.) Marlene's father is the subject of the second story on Earth, as he works to find a way to reconnecting with his daughter.

The story was quite good and the characters strong. I enjoyed the book, although not as much as I did the Foundation books. That's to be expected, I suppose -- with the Foundation series, my enjoyment was magnified because of the grand story each book's seperate story worked into. It was as ever enjoyable.

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