The Stars like Dust (originally titled as The Rebellious Stars)
© 1951 Isaac Asimov
From Triangle, pp. 349 – 516. © 1952
Only a few days before his graduation from the University of Earth, Biron Farril awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of his room clicking happily to itself — clicking with radiation. No university prank, this seemed more an attack on his life, an attempt to unite Biron with his recently executed father. And so he flees Earth to seek sanctuary in Rhodia, to ask protection from a friend of his father’s. So begins a story of politics, rebellion, and ambition with more plot twists than there are stars in the sky.
Though classified in Asimov’s empire series, this story appears to have been set rather early: humanity has settled a little over a thousand worlds, and while one of those worlds — the aptly named Tyrann — has established a fifty-planet sphere of influence for itself, the Empire proper is never mentioned, nor is Trantor. The focus is instead on the dominion of the Tyranni, who repress scientific advancement in the worlds they control to restrict the possibility of rebellion. Still, tyranny does not sit well with human beings: there is a conspiracy, and in fleeing Earth Biron has stumbled upon a galactic chessboard to be used by the Tyranni and the rebels-in-waiting, each manipulating him for their own ends. His greatest hope is to find a rumored rebellion world in the Horsehead Nebula, blessedly free from any politics except staunch resistance to the tyrants.
Although Asimov makes passing reference to technology — ships Jumping through hyperspace, devices which project images into the mind — the emphasis here is on political mystery, and it kept me thoroughly entertained though I grew weary of the rug constantly being pulled out from under me. The Second Foundation-like ending was a bit of a surprise, but the novel’s length shortened the number of possible resolutions. The last words of the novel reminded me a bit of Star Trek‘s bewildering episode “The Omega Glory”. As with seeing that episode for the first time, I wasn’t sure if I found it amusing or bizarrely inspiring or not.
I fully intend to finish the Empire trilogy this year, so I’ll probably be reading Currents in Space sometime soon.