Isaac Asimov is one of the most famous science fiction writer ever borne, and a hero of mine. He managed to combine a prolific production with a vision, and many of his books, such as the Foundation series, and the Robot series, have stand the test of time and are still being issued 60+ years after they were first published. As for most kids, Asimov was the first proper science fiction writer I read, and I was mesmerized. I can still recall the great feeling when it dawn on me that all his work, book by book formed a larger view of the post-Earth human expansion. To carry that vision through >50 books is astounding.
However, after all that praise, it has to be said that not all of his books are great. The one I read lately, namely Världar i krig (The Stars Like Dust), in a vintage 1954 version, is not a great book. I still enjoyed it, though. Why? Well, first, it is interesting to follow how an author develops over time – this is one of his earlier books. And, second, it is even more interesting to reflect on what makes the book feel antiquated.
If we consider the plot, it centers around the early part of the human expansion in space. The different inhabited planets are molded in a similar way: initial colonization leading to agriculture, and then by development of trade the societies become industrialized, and then onwards in some upward spiral. However, the settling human societies can dodge into conflicts, even warfare.
In this novel, a bunch of planets (50 or so) in the Horsehead Nebula are ruthlessly governed by the Tyranni that invaded and overtook government from the independent planets by means of better technology and generally nasty dispositions. One of these poor planets is Widemos, the home of our book hero Biron Farril. When the book starts, Biron is studying at the University of Earth, but it comes to his knowledge that his father, the Lord Rancher of Widemos, has been executed for treason against the Tyranni, and that his own life may be in jeopardy.
This forces young Biron to go home to his neck of the galaxy in order to find out what happened, and how to avenge the Tyranni for the death of his father. The rest of the book can be summarized: Biron goes places, talks to people, and in the end gets hold of The One Thing the Tyranni fear most – a copy of the American Constitution. Yes, I say it again: a copy of the American Constitution. That is not very awesome sauce if you want to make a believable plot. If I had been the Tyranni, I would have laughed a wicked laugh, and then continued to be bastards.
In Asimov’s defense, the Constitution subplot apparently is to be blamed on H. L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy magazine, who persuaded him to insert it into the novel. Apparently, Asimov also consider the book his “least favorite novel”
Let’s end with some great covers from the many printed versions of this book: