The Currents of Space
By Isaac Asimov
Published by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, The Library of Congress in arrangement with Doubleday Books
Read by John Polk
The Currents of Space was written back in 1951, just after the generally agreed on “Golden Age of Science Fiction” although I, personally, think that eventually the 50’s and possible even the early 60’s will be included in that age as we get another generation further away. The Fifties, from current perspective, were a transitional period from Golden Age style writing to the so-called “New Wave” of the 1960’s and 70’s.
I would go on record to say that I believe we are over-thinking the whole Fantasy/SF genre when we start pigeon-holing stories based on not only content but when they were written. It is interesting, I will admit, to look at a story, especially one you enjoy reading more than once, and comparing it those that came before, after and that were contemporaneous and it has certainly given some imaginative and intelligent PhD candidates subjects on which to write their dissertations. But to me, no matter when a story was written it has nothing to do the quality of the story. On the other hand, that said, I cannot completely escape the fact that when a story was written usually does figure in to the content of that story.
The Currents of Space is one of Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire Series stories, which also includes The Stars Like Dust and Pebble in the Sky. The stories are not really connected save that they take place in the same future history. This is the same future history that includes the Lije Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw mysteries and the Foundation Series and a host of short stories. In truth there were a heck of a lot of gaps in that history and most of those that were filled in were done so toward the end of Asimov’s life. But considering Dr. Asimov was projecting his history sixteen thousand years or more into the future (several times longer than our own real-world history currently exists) there were bound to be gaps.
H. Beam Piper, similarly concocted a future history that only stretched one third that time forward and had intended to write one novel per century of that projected timeline. He did not live long enough to finish that project either.
The Currents of Space is set at a time in which the great Trantorian Empire is only about half-grown, but still expanding and takes place on a pair of worlds that are outside that empire. It begins with an argument between a “Spatio-analyst” and someone (not revealed for certain until later although it is pretty easy to guess) over that spatio-analyst’s discovery that the world of Florina is in imminent danger of complete destruction and that such a disaster would harm the entire galaxy. The “Someone” has a device called a Psycho-probe and applies it to the Spatio-analyst and the next thing you know he’s working in the fields of Florina as a brain-damaged person called “Rik”.
Rik is just starting to remember bits of his past as the real story starts up and as he and his two friends try researching those tidbits he remembers, big red flags go up and the characters must run for their lives.
Florina is a virtual slave world, dedicated to the growing of an amazing and fluorescent fiber called “Kyrt” which only grows on Florina and the world is owned by the masters of its neighboring system, Sark. We eventually meet the five richest and most powerful “Squires” of Sark, who it turns out, were threatened a year earlier (about the time of the prologue) by a vaguely worded document and now with all the security alerts going up they are meeting once again to discuss not only that possible threat but the omnipresent possibility that Trantor will be involved. For full details, definitely read the story, it tells it better than any synopsis I am going to come up with.
Dr. Asimov stated that he wrote his novel The Caves of Steel (which I reviewed last year) in response to editor John W. Campbell’s claim that the mystery and science fiction genres were incompatible. By now we all know that Asimov was correct and then blend together well, but I tend to wonder if it was on reading The Currents of Space that Campbell made that assertion. Currents was written one or two years before Caves, but it contains two scenes in which Asimov’s nascent mystery exposition style comes out strongly. The Squire of Fife goes on and on in the same style as Lije Bailey dopes when trying to ferret out the truth behind the threats to Sark. He puts forth his evidence in a most detective-like manner and from that he draws his conclusions. Like Lije Bailey when he makes his first three or four conclusions, he’s dead wrong, but for style the scene could well be led by Bailey. I also decided that the five most powerful men on Sark were not only the five most greedy and twisted but also the five most stupid. Really, just read it and you will see what I mean.
The mystery exposition style also comes out in the climactic scene in which all the major characters are gathered together to figure out just “Whodunit” to Rik in the first place. It is complete with false accusations and supposed surprises, but as I said earlier, the perpetrator is fairly easy to figure out and very early on and while later scenes help to obscure the fact, a reader who manages to remember will not be fooled.
This is hardly the earliest story written by Asimov, but you can see he was still developing the style that soon became classic. The story is a bit slim, but the characters are well-drawn. So even is the story is a bit on the simple side it is still a good read on a snowy afternoon.
John Polk does an acceptable job of reading this book. No funny voices, just an even reading of the story with each character given his own distinguishable voice. His reading is easy to listen to and while he somehow fails to capture the drama of the story, I did not find myself mentally trying to claw my way out as I have experiencing some other audiobooks.
I would certainly not avoid other offerings read by this narrator.
All told: this is a book for the Asimov fan. It is an important part of his future history, but I would not suggest it to a first-time reader. The subject matter is not hard to follow, but the story is not Asimov’s best. Start someone with The Caves of Steel or Nightfall instead. Once they are interested, lead them to the rest of his books. And John Polk’s reading is also enjoyable, so if you have not listened to this one yet, you could do a lot worse.