Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Currents of Space

The Currents of Space
© 1952 Isaac Asimov
From Triangle (pp. 1-172). © 1952.

"Frightened people can be very dangerous, my Lady. They can't be counted on to act sensibly."
"Then why do you keep them frightened?"

An entire planet is doomed, and only one man knows enough to care. Pity he's been kidnapped, subjected to a mental probe that cost him his mind, and left in the middle of nowhere to be looked after only by peasants suspicious of the unknown. The farms of Florina aren't quite the middle of nowhere, however: they're the only place in all the galaxy which can produce the miracle fabric 'kyrt',  known for its beauty and versatility, and worn by the elite of the cosmos. Florina's fields have made their conquerors -- the planet of Sark -- immensely rich, and powerful enough to keep Sark free from being annexed by the Trantorian Empire.  But the planet in peril is in fact Florina, and if it goes so does Sark's power -- and the Galaxy belongs to Trantor.  Who attacked this man, and why? What kind of danger could threaten an entire planet? Thus begins a fantastic political mystery and the last novel in the Empire 'trilogy'.

Like The Stars like Dust, Currents of Space is a political-mystery thriller with a futuristic setting. The science fiction elements take a backseat to the puzzle of Rik and Florina's alleged doom and the depiction of Florina and Sark's society.  Their relationship is baldly exploitative: the Florinians generate all of the wealth, but it is stolen by Sark -- and Sark keeps the Florinians impoverished and uneducated, staving off rebellion through means of superior force. If the Florinians could gain outside assistance -- say, from Trantor -- they might be able to break the yoke of their masters.  Given how keenly Trantor would be interested in breaking Sark,  it's a safe assumption they have a part to play in the sinister plots which are afoot. Once the action erupts, the plot advances at breakneck speed over the bodies of anyone who gets in the main characters' way, and it doesn't stop until a revelation in the final pages which surprised me.   I started reading this to take a break from the oddness of Robert Heinlin's The Cat Who Walked through Walls, and it may just be my favorite Empire novel.

I have no idea who this woman is supposed to be, but it convinces me that book covers are an essential part of vintage SF's charm.

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