-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-
Genre: Time Travel
Series: Galactic Empire (#3)
Publication Date: 1950
Joseph Schwartz, aged sixty two, is accidentally propelled thousands of years into the future. Stranded in an unfamiliar Earth, he learns of a conspiracy that could endanger the entire Galaxy. And also of the mandatory euthanasia that awaits anybody over the age of sixty . . .
Asimov’s debut novel is unquestionably and understandably his weakest. You can tell that Asimov was making the transition from short fiction to longer works just from a quick read. The writing itself is often rather clunky, while the plotting is broken up into sections that at times seem to come from wholly different novels. The characters are thinly sketched out and change little as the book progresses, often stalling the plot as they remain unchanged. This is not a book that flows smoothly. Far from it. It’s rough and raw, openly showing Asimov’s development as a writer.
But if you can look past the mechanical deficits, there’s a lot to like here. Even if it’s poorly assembled, Pebble in the Sky has all the hallmarks of a classic Asimov novel. Like all his best works, this is a novel of ideas as much as it is one of plot and characters. The inciting incident, in which a stray nuclear particle sends Schwartz flying into the future, is little more than a way of putting an everyman into an impossible situation. It has nothing to do with the time travel of the Eternals, and ultimately has very little bearing on the story. More important is Asimov’s depiction of an irradiated world, despised and abused by the rest of the Galaxy.
This book is where the Foundation universe really starts to take form. We have Trantor at the height of its power, having ruled the Galaxy for thousands of years. We have an irradiated Earth that’s claim to be the homeworld of humanity is mocked and derided by all but the natives and a handful of eccentrics. We have a mutant who possesses the ability to influence the minds of other pwople, foreshadowing the Mule who is yet to come. there are conspiracies that could devastate the Galaxy, opposed only by a handful of intellectuals with nothing but brains and courage on their side. We even have an off-hand reference to the fate of the robots. There are many things here that are hard to reconcile with the larger timeline, but that’s only to be expected of such an early volume in the series.
And there is more. So much more. But even if you’re not interested in its place in the larger future history, Pebble in the Sky still has a story to offer you. Join Jospeh Schwartz, a man out of time, as he dodges capture by both the authorities who would see him dead and the terrorists who would see him used as a weapon. There’s action, intrigue, and even a dash of romance. it’s a fun way to pass a few evenings, if you can look past its faults.
Pebble in the Sky may be Asimov’s weakest novel, but it’s still worth a read if you have the time.