A Review of Pebble in the Sky

Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire, #3)Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pebble in the Sky is Isaac Asimov’s first published novel, published in 1950, although from what I understand, it was first serialized in the early 1930s, so it had been around in one form or another for a long time.

It’s an interesting book. Not my favorite, but not bad. Better than some of his other books. Rather than focusing solely on galactic empires and things like robots, as is the case in so many of his other novels, this one deals to a certain degree with time travel, as well as, yes, a galactic empire as well as his fascination with Earth as the founder of humankind, though no one knows it, and how the planet is nearly completely radiated, presumably from nuclear wars of centuries ago, which seems like a complete scientific impossibility. Even though the planet is ravaged by radiation, strangely the Earthmen population is immune to it, although visitors to the planet have to take medication to protect themselves from it. As a result, Earthmen are treated like non-entities by the rest of the galaxy and are ostracized as third-class citizens. Asimov was constantly obsessed with nuclear annihilation and Earth being radiated for eternity in his novels, over many decades of writing. It’s a shame his fears were never allayed.

This time travel is a bit problematic because it’s not really spelled out very well. By way of bizarre chemical “science” (Asimov apparently called it a “wrinkle in nuclear physics” that was never replicated,) a beam of mysterious energy transports retired older tailor Joseph Schwartz, age 62, from 1949 into the distant future. Schwartz’s language, an “ancient” and near-illegible version of Galactic, is not understood by anyone on the new Earth he has found himself on. Neither can he understand current society, its customs, culture, medical treatment – anything.

For reasons no one (Asimov) ever explains, future Earth’s population is tiny, but everyone is obsessed with the notion that there aren’t enough resources for everyone, so two things: 1) Everyone over 60 is killed – euthanized, and 2) There is an underground cult of rebels who plan to take over and destroy the Galactic Empire so they can rule the galaxy and possibly expand as needs dictate. Crazy.

When Schwartz steps over a doll in his 1949 city, he is immediately transported to the future hundreds of years away, although he doesn’t yet know it. He knows something weird just happened though. When he discovers he can’t communicate with the locals, it’s bad. A local farmer takes him to the city and drops him off with an oddball scientist who is testing a “brain-enhancing machine” and, after he is tested, he finds he gets some serious major new powers, the first of which is rapid learning. For instance, he learns their language in several days. Soon, he discovers he can even kill with his mind! At the same time, the scientist and his (naturally) gorgeous daughter are caught in the middle of a deadly plot that could have galaxy-wide implications, which brings in a handsome (naturally) Imperial galactic archeologist to Earth and ultimately to their aid.

So ultimately, you have a dashing, strong, noble Imperial archaeologist who encounters a pretty Earth woman (which he finds hard to admit, as she IS an Earthwoman, after all), the daughter of a respected scientist, and falls in love instantly – so they wind up fighting against the Earth villains, as well as Imperial bureaucracy together. One thing of note: the uber-villain in this novel is one of the cheesiest Asimov wrote in any of his novels. However, that can be forgiven, as this was his first effort, so it’s understandable he was still trying to test his writing skills.

And how does Schwartz figure in the final part of the story? Well, he does in a big way, but if I say how, I’ll give away the ending and I obviously can’t do that, so let’s just say that it’s a generally satisfying ending, especially for a first effort, and to be frank, more so than some of Asimov’s later works.

So, good effort, decent story, a little cheesy at times, but overall, good first novel. Shows potential for what Asimov later became. Four stars and recommended.

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