BOOK REVIEW: Nemesis, by Isaac Asimov

-Spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

nemesis.jpg

Publisher: Guild Publishing

Genre: Tomorrow Fiction/Social SF

Pages: 364

Publication Date: 1989

Rating: 4/5

Nemesis. The twin star to our own sun, now on a collision course with the Earth. With the apocalypse looming, humanity must search out a new home. But the Galaxy is still beyond our reach, and the only option is a small, barren world in orbit around Nemesis itself . . .

The author’s foreword states in no uncertain terms that this book is not part of the Foundation universe, making it one of his rare standalone novels. However, the release of Forward the Foundation only a few years later would bring this novel into the fold along with so many others. While it conflicts with much of universe, it exists as a sort of fairy-tale within the canon. That, coupled with the similarity of ideas, means I am happy to include it in my reread of Foundation.

Nemesis is set across two time periods. The main story deals with the young Marlene Fisher in the year 2236, as she struggles with daily life aboard a space station called Rotor. This is the weakest of the story strands, as young, female characters are one of the few things Asimov wasn’t terribly good at. In contrast to Andrew the Bicentennial Man, Elijah Bailey or Hari Seldon, Marlene comes across as rather flat. Some of this is clearly deliberate, as Marlene’s unique personality drives much of the novel’s conflict.

The second strand begins a decade and a half earlier, shortly after Rotor was launched. Here we meet Crile Fisher, father to Marlene and someone who was left behind by the departing station. This strand follows Crile over the course of the next sixteen years as he tries to find a way to be reunited with his daughter. This is the stronger of the strands, for Asimov was at his best when chronicling the advancement of human society. The future history posited here is an intriguing alternative look at the Spacer/Settler dichotomy we will be seeing more of soon enough.

In fact, much of this book sets up later parts of the Foundation series. Dealing directly with the first settlement of an alien world, the colonisation of the Galaxy, the development of hyperdrives, everything here is building toward a future not seen in the novel itself. Even the idea of an irradiated future Earth with humans taking to the stars for refuge serves as a prequel for what is to come.

As the two storylines converge, the book strays far from Asimov’s usual Hard SF. This is one of Asimov’s few ventures into the realm of the truly alien. The intelligence in Nemesis is genuinely alien, but to be honest, is not all that interesting. This is a novel without any real sense of conflict. While a fun journey, it ultimately lacks a satisfying resolution. Even the final paragraph is yet more hinting at the Foundation’s possible future existence. It’s all a lot of set-up with no actual reward.

In short then, Nemesis is undoubtedly one of Asimov’s weaker works. But for the rereader, there is enough to maintain interest. More interesting for what it adds to Foundation than as the standalone it purports to be.

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