BOOK REVIEW: The Stars Like Dust, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

Publisher: Panther

Genre: Space Opera

Series: Galactic Empire (1)

Pages: 189

Publication Date: 1958

Verdict: 3/5

The Tyranni are taking over the once-free worlds of the Galaxy. With a powerful fleet and superior resources, all seem destined to fall before them. Unless, that is, one Biron Farrill can turn the tide of the war. If only he knew who he could trust . . .

It is with some trepidation that I enter the third phase of my Foundation reread. The early standalone novels hold up fairly well, even if the technology they show is dated. The Robot series is just as great now as it was when first written, and is possibly Asmiov’s strongest single series. Now we arrive at the weak point in the future history. The Galactic Empire trilogy. three standalone novels written early in Asimov’s career that bridge the gap between Robot and Foundation. From memory, these three novels were the weakest of Asmiov’s works, and unfortunately that is proving to still be the case.

As a book written early on but set far later, The Stars Like Dust is where the inevitable cracks in the Foundation universe start to show. Earth is an irradiated wasteland, but this is stated to be the result of an atomic war rather than anything R. Giskard might have had a hand in. It’s difficut to fault the novel for this, and it does not affect the story in its own right, but as a rereader it’s a glaring contradiction, no matter how you may try and reconcile it.There’s not a single mention of robotics in the entire novel, which is odd given their significance to human history. Knowing what lies ahead, it’s odd to think how little of the events of this novel affect the larger timeline. The book ends with the suggestion that democarcy will replace empires, yet we know from the existence of the Galactic Empire itself that this is not the case. Whatever governmental systems Asimov shows in his novels, they are certainly not based on the United States’ Constitution. The Stars Like Dust could easily be removed from the Foundation setting and do little harm to it.

In fact, taken out of that retroactively imposed context, the book is rather different. As a standalone, it’s a fun little adventure, if not up there with the classics that Asimov often delivered. It’s quick-paced, far more so than a lot of his work, and has a nice planet-hopping thriller at its core. The detailed description of spaceflight and the workings of hyperdrives are a real high point. And even if the climax does fall flat on closer examination, on the faces of it it wraps up the events of the novel rather well. It may not be the best of Asmiov’s works, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a romp, pure and simple, free of the weighty thematic content that appears in the rest of this reread.

Read it as part of a larger canon, and this book will feel weak. But take it as it was written, and you’ll find there are worse ways to spend your time.

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