The Currents of Space

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I dumped nearly all of Isaac Asimov's science fiction novels upon my to-be-read pile awhile back. This very early effort of his from the early 50's is pretty good. It's set well before the events of the Foundation series: the planet Trantor has not yet expanded its domain over the entire galaxy, but humanity has long since forgotten its origin on Earth.

As the book opens, two anonymous people are in conflict: one, a "spatio-analyst", is desperate to warn the planets Sark and and Florina of their imminent doom; the other would prefer to keep it quiet. The latter immobilizes the spatio-analyst, uses a "psychic probe" to scrub his brain until he's nearly mindless, then dumps him into a farming community on Florina. There, he's adopted by the good-hearted Valona, who names him "Rik". But months later, Rik gradually regains some of his memory. And he and Valona go off on an adventure to try to figure out what's going on.

Asimov couples a standard mystery (Who wiped Rik's memories, and why? What was Rik so worried about?) with a rather complete imagining of the social/economic/political system of Florina and Sark: Florina is the only known planet on which "kyrt" can be grown, the source of a coveted beautiful fabric. The Florinians don't benefit from that bounty, however, because they are dominated and exploited by the Sarkites, whose power is imposed via "Townmen" ruling over the farmers and "Patrolmen" looking to quash the slightest threat.

Sark itself has its own ruling system; they not only worry about revolt by the Florinian peasants, but also encroachment upon their sweet deal by the growing power of Trantor.

There are lots of characters, representing each major class in this imaginary society, and lots of explication of all the social dynamics involved. It can get a little tedious. But there's plenty going on, and Asimov offers some action, double and triple crosses, red herrings, false accusations, and (finally) a solution.

Last Modified 2012-10-05 8:33 AM EDT