The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1972, won both of the biggest awards in science fiction: the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. It has always been one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. Much of the plot can be summarized by the lyrics of “Modern English” in “I’ll Melt With You”:
“I’ll stop the world and melt with you
You’ve seen the difference and
It’s getting better all the time
There’s nothing you and I won’t do
I’ll stop the world and melt with you…”
The book concerns our own universe and a parallel, or “para” universe. In the para-universe, there are three types of beings, a Rational, an Emotional, and a Parental. As adults they enter into triads, and to reproduce, they “melt” together with one another. The Emotional thins out, and the other two immerse themselves in her shimmer and in each other. They melt for days at a time, and through this process merge into a oneness that provides ineffable joy.
The focus in the paraverse is on the characters of Odeen – the Rational; Dua – the Emotional; and Tritt – the Parental. There is one additional group – the “hard ones,” who do not melt together, but seem to exist as teachers to the rationals, bringing them to adulthood under their tutelage. And critically, in this universe, energy is food.
Back in the home universe of the story (our own), energy is just as vital, if not in such a direct sense, and so when energy-releasing material is exchanged from the para-universe to ours, scientists jump on the opportunity. Electron Pumps multiply to facilitate the exchange, and earth is soon freed from any energy dependence.
But there are doubters in both universes: is it a good idea to disturb the laws of a universe? What might happen to the earth as the balance of nuclear charges becomes disrupted?
This is a lovely book, for many reasons. For one, Asimov’s earth has its problems, but he doesn’t create the nightmarish dystopias that characterize contemporary science fiction. Secondly, he is not afraid to teach his audience science, and he remains, even after death, an enormously popular “popularizer” of esoteric concepts in physics. And finally, his romantic visions of love are unparalleled (and unlike Heinlein, for example, he gives to any world he creates a respect for the intelligence and contributions of women).
For anyone who has ever thought of sex as a way to merge, to become one, and to experience fully the essence of one another, this book is for you. And in fact, in my opinion, for anyone who has not read this, this book is for you. I think it is one of the best science fiction books ever written.
Finally, it is only appropriate to feature this “song-book match” – the video for Modern English playing “I’ll Melt With You”: