Book Stats

  • A universe designed by Isaac Asimov
  • Stories by numerous SF luminaries
  • Published between 1990-1992
  • Space Opera Adventures
  • 749 pages across three volumes

Teaser

The galaxy teems with life, and from this mass of organisms rise six great civilisations. Tempers between them may fray, and rivalries are common, but can these six species maintain peace and order across the stars . . ?

Review

I have a fairly expansive collection of Isaac Asimov literature. In terms of his science fiction, I am fairly confident I have read not only all of his solo novels, but also the overwhelming majority of his short story collections too. I’ve yet to make a start on his non-fiction and poetry, but I’m in no rush there. No, my focus now turns towards the authors who continued the legacy of his storytelling. Most of these take place somewhere in the canon of the Robots/Foundation universe, including Roger MacBride Allen’s Caliban, and the Second Foundation trilogy. But it turns out this isn’t the only future Asimov allowed other authors to explore. In fact, he made one expressly for that purpose.

Asimov’s actual involvement in Isaac’s Universe appears to have been rather limited. He created five alien races to go alongside a future humanity, put his name to the project, and then turned it over. It’s down to Martin H. Greenberg (a frequent collaborator) to actually edit the anthologies, though Asimov stuck around for the introductions (for the first two, at least. The third, published after Asimov’s death, was written by Robert Silverberg). There’s an interesting genesis to the anthologies, as the stories were written in sequence, with each author having been given access to all the ones that come before it. This negates the chances for inconsistencies in the universe, while also allowing authors to build upon the work of those who have gone before.

The alleged theory behind Isaac’s Universe was to use Asimov’s name to draw attention to less well-known authors. Admittedly, the big name on the cover is why I read these three anthologies, but I don’t think that idea was really stuck to. There are some names here that are new to me, but an awful lot of them are well-known in their own rights. Granted, I’m not wholly certain if that popularity came before or after their work here, but names like Silverberg, Harry Turtledove, and Hal Clement hardly seem like they need Asimov’s help to become best-sellers.

What strikes me most of all about these anthologies, especially given the pedigree of the featured writers, is how astonishingly weak the stories are. There are twenty-one stories here, and none of them are particularly noteworthy. The big names like Clement and Silverberg simply aren’t up to the standard I’d expect of such luminaries, and Turtledove’s linked trio of stories is enough to convince me not to read any more of his work. Among the authors this series introduced to me, Allen Steele is the only one I’m likely to look into buying more of. I think perhaps the concept of Isaac’s Universe was not distinct enough to inspire any particular kind of story, and so the stories gathered here simply flounder along, unsure of how to affect change on the larger universe. Whatever the cause, the end result is a collection of stories that is largely forgettable, and wholly unremarkable.

If you’re a completionist like me, there’s a reason to buy these books. But if not, there are much better anthologies out there.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

More by Martin H. Greenberg
Foundation’s Friends

Deeper Dive: A Shared Universe

I read a lot of shared universe fiction. From Star Trek and Star Wars to Warhammer 40,000 and soon Halo. These all have something in common: They stem from some original non-book product. Original literary shared universes are vanishingly rare, and with good reason. Authors are often reluctant to hand over their private creations to those who might interpret their works in another way. David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe is one of few that has thrived with the addition of new authors.

Shared universes are by their very nature a mixed bag. For every book by an author you enjoy, there’ll be one that doesn’t work for you. For every Heir to the Empire, there is The Crystal Star. One of the problems that these settings frequently encounter is one of continuity. If there is no overarching story, then many of the books will end up retreading the same territory. But if there is a central narrative, it may be hard to find an access point for new readers. Works bound by a tighter continuity will reference one another, with the expectation that the reader is as familiar as the author. An expectation that, when unfulfilled, will leave a reader lost.

Literary-exclusive shared universes may be a rare thing, but they are not a bad thing. They simply need to be created with an eye to the future, and to be managed with care.


7 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: Isaac’s Universe 1,2&3, edited by Martin H. Greenberg”

  1. Bookstooge Avatar

    I notice you use the Masu theme. Did you start with it from the get-go or switch over to it when it became available on wp.com? I am asking because I really like the look of it (I’m a minimalist myself) but when I tried switching to it, it royally screwed up my content and then I had issues editing the theme and got so frustrated I gave up and went back to my old theme.

    Any insights or thoughts would be appreciated if you don’t mind.

    Like

    1. Alex Hormann Avatar

      I switched over in October/November last year. Chose it because it had a premade search bar. Before that At Boundary’s Edge was just an endless ream of posts. Picture formatting can still be a pain, but otherwise the new theme has made it a lot easier on the eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bookstooge Avatar

        What kind of issues do you encounter with picture formatting?

        Like

      2. Alex Hormann Avatar

        Images within the post seem to blow up to full page size regardless of what I do with them. I’ve sidestepped by only having the featured image.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Bookstooge Avatar

        Thanks. Guess I better do some experimenting then. A lot of my non book-review posts make frequent use of pix, sigh

        Like

  2. Non FIction Avatar
    Non FIction

    Speaking of Asimov’s non-fiction, “I, Asimov” and “Asimov Laughs Again” are very good. In fact, although I was a voracious reader of Asimov s-f in my youth, at this point in my life I enjoy reading those books more than any of fiction except for the original “Foundation” trilogy. He wrote stacks of popular science books, but I got enough of that reading his column in F&SF back when I was a subscriber.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: January 2023 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Books: Isaac’s Universe 1,2,3, edited by Martin H. Greenberg […]

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