The Gods Themselves is a science fiction book by Isaac Asimov. Published in 1972, the book follows a handful of characters who must convince the world that Earth’s latest renewable energy source is killing the planet. If humanity doesn’t stop cultivating this source, the whole solar system will collapse. The book won numerous awards including the 1972 Nebula Award and the 1973 Hugo Award. Asimov is an internationally-bestselling author with an asteroid named after him. He once served as Vice President of Mensa International and President of the American Humanist Association. In his books, he often explores scientific questions from a historical perspective.
The Gods Themselves takes place in the early 22nd-century. Humanity has found a way to communicate with aliens in other worlds. We know there’s such a thing as a parallel universe, and humans have established relationships with leaders around the cosmos. Scientists in our world work very closely with aliens, and there’s no suggestion that the aliens want to hurt humans.
In the first part of the book, we’re introduced to a radiochemist called Frederick Hallam. Earth is recovering from ecological collapse, and scientists like Frederick are looking for ways to kickstart the planet again. One day, Frederick stumbles across a compound called plutonium 186. Plutonium 186 doesn’t exist on Earth, and so he doesn’t understand how it got there.
Frederick tests the compound and discovers that it generates cost-effective energy. If scientists harvest plutonium 186, they can generate limitless energy at a very low cost. He establishes an energy system, known as the “Pump,” between Earth and another universe which produces the compound. This universe, running parallel to our own, uses different physical laws and produces energy differently. Humans will never have an energy problem again, so long as they maintain the Pump.
Some scientists, however, doubt the Pump. They worry that aliens planted plutonium 186 into our universe for their own ends, to trick us into working with them. One such scientist is Peter Lamont. Peter spends years researching the Pump and arrives at a startling conclusion—the Pump is killing our universe. It generates unstable levels of nuclear forces around the sun and the entire Milky Way. If humans keep exploiting the Pump, they’ll destroy the sun and everything around it.
The problem is that, in the parallel universe, things aren’t much better. The aliens know that their own sun is dying, and streaming energy through the Pump keeps the atmosphere stable. Although they know that Earth might explode because of the energy exchange, they don’t care so long as their own universe stays intact.
Peter tells Earth-based governments to sever all ties with the Pump because it’s so dangerous, but no one listens to him. He then reaches out to the aliens in the parallel universe and asks them for help, but they tell him that he must end the Pump from his side. Peter, of course, doesn’t know the real reason why the aliens won’t shut down the Pump. Part one ends with Peter pondering Earth’s collapse.
Meanwhile, in part two, there’s at least one alien who feels bad for Earth. This alien is a female called Dua. She loves studying the different physical laws between the universes. During her studies, she discovers the problem with the Pump, and she’s outraged. She confronts her elders about it, but they tell her that they need the Pump more than they need Earth. Without the Pump, the alien species will fail, and they’ll lose their ability to procreate.
Dua doesn’t want her species to die out, but she knows that humans deserve to live. She finds two other aliens, Odeen and Tritt, who reluctantly agree to help her stop the Pump. They form a triad, which is an irreversible union between three alien bodies. They “merge” and form an entirely new body. They choose a scientist’s body, because they know that humans will listen to a scientist. They call the scientist Estwald, and they head for Earth.
When part two ends, part three begins on the Moon. The protagonist in this section is a scientist called Denison. He worked with Frederick, but he fled to the Moon when Frederick developed the Pump. He secretly prays that the Pump fails, because he’s a jealous character. In the meantime, while the Pump remains functional, he’s devising his own energy system to replace it.
One day, Denison discovers what’s happening to the sun. He realizes that the Pump will kill everyone on Earth. This is his one golden opportunity to destroy Frederick, and he knows he must find an alterative energy solution fast. He communicates with a second parallel universe, which has its own unique set of physical laws, and he makes a discovery—this universe will stabilize the Pump.
Denison shows everyone that he can harness this second parallel universe to take excess energy from the Pump and convert it into a harmless force. These actions won’t harm the second parallel universe. The aliens, Estwald, and the scientists on Earth are thrilled, and Frederick is discredited. It’s a happy ending for everyone.