Catching Up on a Classic – Asimov’s First Novel Pebble in the Sky

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I was very excited to have the opportunity to review Isaac Asimov’s book, Pebble in the Sky. I have read a decent amount of science fiction and fantasy, including most of what Robert Heinlein wrote, and many many other books by authors such as Alan Dean Foster, William Gibson, Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neal Stephenson, H. G. Wells, David Eddings and Roger Zelazny. But I had not yet read any Asimov. None. Zero. Not even I, Robot. This was a huge oversight on my part that I was glad to finally remedy. I thought it especially fitting that my first Asimov reading be his first novel.

Spoiler alert! In this review I won’t give away the ending or any major plot points, but I may give away a few too many hints for those of you who prefer no spoilers whatsoever.

Pebble in the Sky starts in a pretty exciting way, putting you in the action quickly. You learn that the main character, Joseph Schwartz, has just instantaneously traveled through time to the distant future, and he has no idea what is going on. We don’t know what is going on, either. We’re just along for the ride. But you’re desperate to find out what happens next. Unfortunately, that’s when the story slows down pretty suddenly. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by Asimov, to put you in a situation where you’re unsure of yourself and unsure of what is happening, similar to what Schwartz is experiencing.

I enjoyed the whole book thoroughly, but because of this slowdown near the beginning, I was halfway through the book before it became a page turner, keeping me from sleep for just one more chapter, just one more page. The interesting characters finally met up with Schwartz and action ensued. Plus, there was a bit of romance. Not in-your-face romance, but it was there all the same, unexpected in this type of book.

There are several different parts of the story that unfold slowly and separately. New major details, characters and plot points show up randomly at odd times. It isn’t until near the end of the book that most of the pieces come together. You realize in the end that the story is about the evolution of a man, with us observing him being plunked down in the same general location but in the distant future, and adapting to the new situation.

The second half of the book also includes a mysterious turn of events that crept up on me somehow. I either missed an important plot point, or Asimov changed the direction of the book midway through. The last few chapters were unexpected, like he wasn’t sure how to end the story. Also, the mystery of how Schwartz ended up in the future doesn’t get resolved… well… ever. His origins in present day appear to be meant to help us see the future through eyes similar to our own. I don’t like dangling mysteries, though, and wish this had been explained.

Since this book was published in 1950 and is about a distant future that is even beyond our time, it is riddled with retrofuturism. There are microfilm newspapers and book viewers, but still also printed newspapers and words like “print” and “full page editorial,” as if you’re restricted to a certain page size with digital media. Rather than detracting from the story, these bits just give us a glimpse into what was envisioned for the distant future, 60 years ago.

The book is obviously an early one in Asimov’s career, and I’m guessing that his later works are more polished, even and well-paced. But still, I very much enjoyed reading Pebble in the Sky, and not because it has a similar title to Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky (one of my favorites) and Farmer in the Sky. It is Asimov’s vision of one possible future for our world and the galaxy.

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov is currently available on Amazon for $10.19.

Wired: An entertaining and interesting science fiction story, it will keep you reading. A great first novel.

Tired: A bit uneven at points, not completely polished. I spent the entire book with plenty of questions that I wanted answered, some of which remained unanswered.

Note: I received a copy of Pebble in the Sky for review purposes.

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