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Fantastic Early Asimov
on August 23, 2002
Pebble In The Sky is probably the reigning titleholder of "Undiscovered Classic" in Isaac Asimov's impressive lexicon. It may take a little searching to locate this book, but believe me, it's well worth it.
Dr. Asimov constructed a huge universe that traces humanity from the near future (the Robot stories) to its first creaking footsteps into the unknown (the Robot novels), to the founding of a Galactic Empire (the Empire novels), and finally to the ultimate destination of mankind (the Foundation novels), although this was not his original intention - the Robot universe and Empire/Foundation universe were knotted together by later books. Anyway, of these four categories, the Empire novels are easiest the weakest. This is partly because it is very early Asimov (but Foundation and I, Robot, both classics, are equally early), and partly because the idea behind it all maybe isn't as inspired as the others.
However, Pebble in the Sky is a true work of literary genius. It is set on Earth in the year 827 of the Galactic Era. A man called Joseph Schwarz is found by a farming family, who find that he cannot communicate. They take him to a doctor at the city of Chica, Dr. Shekt, who uses his new Synapsifier to increase intelligence. Soon, they discover that Schwarz is in fact from the year 1949 AD, an era thousands of years back. Schwarz is equally amazed to find himself thousands of years in the future. And what a future he finds waiting for him...
I will not give any further information because it may well spoil the plot for you. It is a well-written enjoyable book. It showcases Dr. Asimov's incredible ability to render cultures, as his portrayal of Earth is one of the most haunting things I have ever seen. It is only a shame that he never wrote later Empire novels (maybe team Schwarz and R. Daneel Olivaw together!) to add to this forgotten chapter in his works.
Finally, a quick word about the contradictions. This work was written in 1949 and published in 1950, and so Dr. Asimov's knowledge of nuclear physics was a little rudimentary, as was anyone else's. Only four years removed from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the idea of a fullscale nuclear war seemed a very real possibility, and this was the reason that the Earth was radioactive. However, when Asimov wrote a later book entitled Robots And Empire, he realized that this was impossible and devised a more scientific solution. Everyone's belief in the story that it is because of a nuclear war can be put down to folklore - after all, the book does seem to say that much of our knowledge has been forgotten.
Read Pebble In The Sky and enjoy it as the classic that it truly is. You won't be disappointed.
5 out of 5 stars.