This was one of the books I scooped up at a library sale a couple months ago, and got around to reading it last month. Here are my quick thoughts before I get back to studying!
The Story: In the future, Earth’s population has extended onto “Settlements,” little ships like mini-planets hanging in space in the solar system. Rotor, the first of the Settlements to develop hyper-assistance technology, leaves to orbit a Neighbor Star, Nemesis, discovered by Rotorian astronomer Eugenia Insigna. Why Nemesis? Well, according to calculations, in a few thousand years, Nemesis will pass close enough to the Sun to destroy all life on Earth.
Fast-forward 15 years, and Insigna’s daughter, Marlene (three syllables, not two), is drawn to the “planet” Erythro (actually a sort of moon) in the Nemesian system, which Rotor now orbits. Marlene is not pretty, but has the gift of interpreting everyone’s body language and expressions to essentially read their thoughts. To get down to the surface safely (and figure out exactly why the planet draws her), she has to get past her mother’s objections and Commissioner of Rotor Janus Pitt’s plotting. What she finds when she finally gets there is nothing short of incredible.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Marlene’s father, Crile Fisher, recruits a Settlement scientist, Tessa Wendel, to develop true superluminal flight for his bosses at the Terrestrial Board of Inquiry, who are after Rotor. Crile, however, is after Marlene. What will they find when they blast off?
Clearly, there was no simple way for me to summarize this story. It was not a simple story at all. I have a pretty good memory and was able to keep track of it all, but I can see how it would get confusing.
The Characters: As I got further into this book, I found, to my disappointment, that it is not very character-centric. All the characters (Marlene, Insigna, Pitt, Fisher, Wendel, Genarr) are less people and more vehicles for ideas. I felt that Marlene, the most interesting character, due to her pseudo-mind reading abilities, was under-featured; there was one chapter in her point of view at the beginning and a few more nearer the end. Beyond that, I heard about her mostly from her mother and other characters, which, while an interesting technique, got annoying because I wanted to hear from her directly. Few, if any, of the characters had real arcs within the book; it was mostly about the science and the hypothetical future, which, while I found it interesting, detracted from the story as, well, a story. I can see how Asimov tried to make them relatable and interesting, but I think he either tried too hard or not hard enough and they aren’t quite there.
The Writing: Like I said earlier, the book is less a story and more a hypothesis of how Earth’s future could go and what we might find out there. The most blatant mistake I found was the dialogue. The characters are constantly calling each other by their names and saying contrived things so the reader will get the point. There are also several infodumps about astrophysics so the reader will understand the science. (I was actually somewhat interested by these, but I doubt many non-scientist readers would be.) On the plus side, Asimov definitely doesn’t infodump worldbuilding; he drops you in and gives details later, selectively.
Overall: This was an interesting book, despite somewhat flat characters and bad dialogue. I wouldn’t say it was totally enthralling, but I was interested by the scientific premise at the end. Not the best I’ve ever read, but not the worst either.
What do you think? Have you ever read Asimov? If so, do you agree or disagree with me? Do you think you will try this book now? Tell me in the comments!