Isaac Asimov : The Stars Like Dust
WARNING! SPOILERS throughout.
Biron, a student on post-nuclear apocalypse Earth in the far future awakes to find a bomb in his room. He escapes with the help of his friend Jonti, only to fall into the hands of the Tyranni, the galactic empire that killed his planet-ruling father. He manages to escape their clutches in the company of the daughter and cousin of the ruler of the planet Rhodia. Together they attempt to find a planet that the cousin has visited before that is a centre for rebellion against the Tyranni. In the process of which, they carve up against Jonti again, who is apparently also the ruler of a minor empire who is working in secret against the Tyranni. They reluctantly join forces (as it transpires that there was no assassination attempt, it was all a ploy by Jonti to throw the Tyranni off his scent) to find the planet.
Whilst searching for the planet, it turns out that Jonti was the one who murdered Biron’s father, and there is a showdown. However, the Tyranni catch up with them. There is some wrangling, Jonti dies and the others are set free as it transpires that there is no rebellion planet.
On the way home, it turns out that there is a rebellion planet, and it is run by the ruler of Rhodia, a man previously thought to be weak willed and a slave of the Tyranni. He marries Biron to his daughter, and reveals that his plan is to base the revolutionary society around an artifact document he stole from Earth… The American Constitution.
This book, written just before ‘Foundation’, displays Asimov’s detailed and intricate plotting. The first pages introduce us to Biron, and instantly someone tries to kill him. The novel is fast paced and breathless, and there is always a mystery dragging the reader along. This has three effects. The first is to keep the reader interested and keep them moving through the book. It does this admirably. The second is to create a somewhat complex plot. Wheels within wheels within wheels. In this case, it could have done with being slightly longer in order for all of the plot points to sink in and simmer before casting us off on the next event, but it is still manageable. Just.
The third thing this does is to prevent Asimov from giving us any solid characterisation. Sure, it sometimes happens through plot, but the characters and especially their relationships are, at very best, two dimensional, and needed some serious work.
Nevertheless, this is an entertaining book, and far from being a complete failure, although the ending in which the constitution appears is a proper groan-worthy moment. In fact, Asimov claimed that this was not his idea, and did not like it himself. It certainly doesn’t fit right with the rest of the novel. In fact, Asimov described this as his least favourite novel. From what I have read of his work so far, I would agree. It’s not entirely awful, but doesn’t hold a candle to ‘Pebble in the Sky’. It is interesting as a tightly plotted precursor to ‘Foundation’, though.