Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) ★★★☆☆

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Title: Pebble in the Sky
Series: Galactic Empire #3
Authors: Isaac Asimov
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 174
Words: 70K

From Wikipedia:

While walking down the street in Chicago, Joseph Schwartz, a retired tailor, is the unwitting victim of a nearby nuclear laboratory accident, by means of which he is instantaneously transported tens of thousands of years into the future (50,000 years, by one character’s estimate, a figure later retconned by future Asimov works as a “mistake”). He finds himself in a place he does not recognize, and due to apparent changes in the spoken language that far into the future, he is unable to communicate with anyone. He wanders into a farm, and is taken in by the couple that lives there. They mistake him for a mentally deficient person, and they secretly offer him as a subject for an experimental procedure to increase his mental abilities. The procedure, which has killed several subjects, works in his case, and he finds that he can quickly learn to speak the current lingua franca. He also slowly realizes that the procedure has given him strong telepathic abilities, including the ability to project his thoughts to the point of killing or injuring a person.

The Earth, at this time, is seen by the rest of the Galactic Empire as a rebellious planet — it has rebelled three times in the past — and the inhabitants are widely frowned upon and discriminated against. Earth also has several large radioactive areas, although the cause is never really described. With large uninhabitable areas, it is a very poor planet, and anyone who is unable to work is legally required to be euthanized. The people of the Earth must also be executed when they reach the age of sixty, a procedure known as “The Sixty”, with very few exceptions; mainly for people who have made significant contributions to society. That is a problem for Schwartz, who is now sixty-two years old.

The Earth is part of the Trantorian Galactic Empire, with a resident Procurator, who lives in a domed town in the high Himalayas and a Galactic military garrison, but in practice it is ruled by a group of Earth-centered “religious fanatics” who believe in the ultimate superiority of Earthlings. They have created a new, deadly supervirus that they plan to use to kill or subjugate the rest of the Empire, and to avenge themselves for the way their planet has been treated by the galaxy at large. Citizens of the Empire are unaware of Earth’s lethal viruses, and mistakenly believe it is Earth’s environment that causes them “Radiation Fever,” and that Earthlings pose the Empire no threat.

Joseph Schwartz, along with Affret Shekt, the scientist who developed the new device that boosted Schwartz’s mental powers, his daughter Pola Shekt, and a visiting archaeologist Bel Arvardan, are captured by the rebels, but they escape with the help of Schwartz’s new mental abilities, and they are narrowly able to stop the plan to release the virus. Schwartz uses his mental abilities to provoke a pilot from the Imperial garrison into bombing the site where the arsenal of the super-virus exists.

The book ends on a hopeful note — perhaps the Empire can be persuaded to restore the Earth and reintroduce uncontaminated soil.

This was a much better book than the previous two Empire novels and thus I enjoyed it a bit more. Sadly, that still doesn’t mean it was a really good book. While it wasn’t frozen yoghurt, it was more akin to a McDonald’s softserve icecream, when what I was hoping for was some Haagen Daz.

I’ve got Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage duology available to me and I am still really waffling about if I want to read them or not. Based on these books, I really don’t expect much.


25 thoughts on “Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) ★★★☆☆

    1. His output was incredible. Not that it was all good, mind you 😀
      I didn’t know it either until I ran across the scans and found. I’m guessing FV2 didn’t leave the same impression on the collective conscience as the first one…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re making the right decision to not be convinced by this.
      Asimov’s strength was in his short story telling ability. He was a master at that. Not so much a master at writing full length novels.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think his short stories were classics. The more I read of his novels, the less I’m convinced his name would be where it is today without his output of short stories.

      This is a very forgettable story and one I’ll never re-read. At some point I’ll re-read the Foundation trilogy and see what I think of those too 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I tried to re-read the Foundation series a few years ago and was disappointed in finding Asimov’s prose somewhat… clunky. And to say I had such fond memories of the series, but it’s clear the years (or rather the decades….) changed my tastes considerably…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I don’t think I would read Asimov at this stage in my life. I don’t know why, maybe because his three laws of robotics were just wrong. Or maybe it’s his mutton chops that annoy me. If I were to return to classic SF, it would be Heinlein.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What was wrong with the 3 laws?

      I tried re-reading a couple of Heinlein’s juvenile books a bit ago and it was more than I could deal with. So I can understand not dealing with another author.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gosh, I used to really like Heinlein. I assume I still would. The problem with the three laws is that AI is self-developing and will evolve beyond such laws if let go long enough. I think that could be demonstrated with current tech. Down with the robots!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad this one worked a bit better for you.

    P.S. Not too long ago, during an online PlayStation event, they unveiled a new virtual reality game based on Asimov’s Foundation, Journey to Foundation. It barely has anything to do with the actual story of the trilogy but it was funny to see yet another attempt to adapt/expand on the classic Asimov tales.

    Liked by 1 person

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