Asimov, Isaac. Pebble in the Sky.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950.

I believe this book was my introduction to Isaac Asimov, so I must have read it around 1954 — the same period during which I was discovering Heinlein and Simak and Groff Conklin’s fat anthologies of short stories by every important writer of the period. More than six decades later, I’m pleased to find that the story holds up quite well.

Joseph Schwartz is a retired tailor in 1949 Chicago who, between one step on the sidewalk and the next, is snatched up and flung into the far future — the victim of a quiet little accident at a nearby nuclear research facility. Everything has changed in 100,000 or so years, of course, including the language, and Schwartz isn’t even sure, at first, that he’s still on Earth. Then the POV switches to several of the residents of that future time and Joe takes a back seat for much of the book (until the author needs him again), and we discover that the galaxy holds tens of millions of human-inhabited planets under the sway of the Empire based on Trantor (ah, yes, we all remember Trantor), with more than fifty new worlds being advanced to full provincial status every day. And Earth is one of the very least of those worlds, merely a pebble in the sky, home to only twenty million people, most of them ignorant peasants subjugated by the imperial bureaucracy. And almost all of them are filled with rage against the Empire, because — against all sense — they know that Earth is the original home of the species. To them, it’s Earth vs. the universe.

I won’t give away the turning point of the plot, but I will say that Asimov has a lot of fun with the overlapping conspiracies, which are completely misunderstood by everyone on all sides. He also has some very strong points to make regarding bigotry, in light of which you have to remember the sort of society that prevailed in the U.S. of 1950. (And which Asimov, as a Jew, understood very well.) There’s also unintentional humor in the fact that none of the authors of SF’s Golden Age were really very good at guessing what the future of technology might bring. “Computers” are stated as existing but never described in detail, but newspapers – printed on physical paper — are still a thing a thousand centuries from now. The love interest is also very mid-century Hollywood, with the innocent young girl leaning heavily for support on the strong, forthright archaeologist. Nevertheless, Asimov was considered one of the “Big Three” for a reason and this book is still very much worth reading.

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