Nemesis by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is one of Asimov’s later works, perhaps his last work, I can’t recall. Much of it is pretty interesting, but it has its weaknesses as well. To me, that sentence sums up Asimov as a writer and his career as well. At times brilliant, at times a total dud. You never know what you’re getting with him until you start reading.
Nemesis is the story of an Earth colony called Rotor that seeks to escape from the solar system, wanting to create its own upstart civilization free of Earth’s constraints, and even the other settlements’, and it somehow amazingly with Asimov’s amazingly spurious scientific mumbo jumbo moves the colony to a new area of a neighboring star system that is concealed from Earth by huge clouds (no, Hubble couldn’t see through that, thank you), and the star is called Nemesis by the woman who discovers it. The moon that orbits it (there’s an insignificant planet too) is called Erythro and Rotor comes to orbit all of it. And everyone in the solar system is amazed at Rotor’s disappearance and wonders how they did it and where they went. Earth finds the best scientists and puts them on it.
The main protagonist in this book is a fifteen-year-old girl named Marlene. At first, you kind of like her because she’s smart, individualistic, and has big dreams. You also feel sorry for her because she’s basically described by everyone as being ugly but smart. Then you start to realize she’s crazy and she started to get on my nerves in a big damn way. She pretty much ruined the book for me. She turned into a spoiled, dictatorial, tyrannical brat who literally physically made others do her bidding by her mind control, because yes, she has this bizarre ability to “read” other people’s body language, their movements and actions and reactions and facial expressions and other bullshit like that and be able to tell people to their face every thing that person has ever done, thought, is thinking, ever will think or do in their lifetime, etc. I’m slightly exaggerating, but you get the picture. It’s unnerving to everyone around her and doesn’t make her very popular. Indeed, the more she uses her power, which she does, the more eerie and creepy she becomes and the more power hungry she becomes.
And here’s the really weird thing about Marlene. She’s obsessed with Erythro. She wants to go visit it, so she engineers a way to get it done. When she’s there, she makes sure she gets out on the planet’s surface, which is very dangerous, since there are minute alien life forms and a plague. And you need a space suit, since the air is unbreathable. She then keeps finding ways to keep upping the ante. Her super scientist mother is with her on the planet and her only purpose is to wring her hands, act like the poor, helpless female she is, and seek the companionship of the big, strong male character from her past who of course is in love with her and has been his whole life. Eventually, Marlene is so obsessed with the place, she wants to become one with it and insists in going out alone and takes her space suit off, but survives somehow, and then encounters the planet’s major alien life form, who communicates with her. It frightens her at first, but she goes back for more and they establish a relationship. It’s freaking bizarre.
Meanwhile … that’s a lot … the person in charge of Rotor is a scheming man who thinks he’s the only person who can save the colony from disaster. Marlene’s father, her mother’s ex-husband who deserted them before Marlene turned two because Rotor was going to migrate out into space and he was an Earthman and didn’t want to go (also because he was a spy and wasn’t going anywhere with them), is on a secret trip out to where Earth’s government thinks Rotor is, with some government scientists and a super fast new ship. When they find Rotor, he is hoping to reunite with his daughter, even though it’s been nearly 15 years.
Asimov has never been strong at character development in many of his books, as I’ve noted in many previous reviews. I guess this book is as good as any in most of his books, which is to say barely passable for most authors, but not too bad for him. The dialogue, though, is fairly bad. God, her father, Crile, repeated the same crap over and over so many times, I kept hoping he would get blown out an airlock. Marlene kept repeating herself so many times, I kept hoping the alien(s) would melt her with acid or something cool like that. I hated her that much halfway through the book. And it’s not only the repetitions. It’s Asimov’s typical formal language, even for a fifteen-year-old girl. Not remotely believable. Did he ever talk to a teenager that age? I just have a hard time believing that in the late 1980s, when this book was published, girls in their mid-teens sounded that formal. Not remotely realistic. Hell, the rest of the gang sounded incredibly formal too. They all sounded like they came from, ta dah, the same author!
Another complaint along these lines is that a lot of text got bogged down in infodumps, showing off Asimov’s alleged scientific knowledge about how a colony like Rotor got into orbit around Nemesis to the point where no one cares anymore, and who discovered the star and why it was named that, etc, etc. It’s just too much.
Also, the ending was unbelievably anti-climactic and simply unbelievable. Not remotely believable at all. I couldn’t believe that Asimov would have his readers buy that as a legitimate ending. I was stunned. Seriously?
This is a book that had a good premise. Seriously. I was excited to begin reading it. And then I started hating the characters. A lot. The schemers, the weak female scientists who need a strong man in their lives, the father figure who’s been holding out for the (weak) female love of his life, the Earth spies and scientists, the obsessed former father, the increasingly powerful and nearly evil teenager and her alien love-fest, which seems incredibly unhealthy. Etc. Just too much. The scheming, the manipulating, the using, the alien(s), everything just started annoying me a lot. I thought about not finishing it, but by that time I was halfway through, so I kept reading. I partially enjoyed the book, although as I said, I thought the ending was seriously weak. I’m not sure whether to give this two or three stars. I think there are too many issues to give it three, so I’m giving it two stars. Not recommended. Sadly.