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THE STARS, LIKE DUST
1950

Book cover art by Darrell K. Sweet.
Review © 1998 by Thomas M. Wagner.

Though The Stars, Like Dust has not aged as gracefully as many of Asimov's other classics from this period, it is still a terrifically fun bit of escapism. The story is set — in the chronology of Asimov's expansive future history that incorporates the Foundation saga — during the years preceding the ascension of the Galactic Empire, as the marauding Tyranni are in the process of conquering much of known space despite their comparatively miniscule numbers, by virtue of their superior wiles, treachery, ruthlessness, and willingness to exploit the weaknesses and complacency of those they intend to subjugate.

Biron Farril is the son of a popular leader on the planet Rhodia. As he is finishing college on Earth, word comes to him that his father has been arrested and executed by the Tyranni on charges of treason, and that the Tyranni are after Biron next in order to assure that neither he nor his father become martyrs to those who would still resist Tyranni occupation. Biron is spirited off to his home world, where he attempts to claim his birthright as heir to his father by petitioning the Director of Rhodia, the supreme ruler whom everybody (including Biron) knows to be a senile puppet of the Tyranni, but whom Biron hopes will still possess some sense of loyalty to his homeworld. Fat chance: the Director proves to be utterly spineless and sics the Tyranni on Biron. But Biron manages to escape once again, this time with Artemisia, the Director's daughter, and Gillbret, his a-tad-too-droll cousin, along for the ride. Gillbret claims to know of a rebel world that has been stockpiling weapons, waiting for the right moment to strike, and Gillbret sincerely believes they have what it takes to break the backs of the Tyranni.

It's the oldest bit of space opera formula in the book, a formula that has been hammered into all of our heads over the years, but most forcefully through the fantasies of Lucasfilms. The Stars, Like Dust, in addition, has one of those thriller storylines in which everybody is plotting against everybody else until the betrayals and double dealings become more than a bit clockwork. Nevertheless, taken as featherweight escapist entertainment, the novel is a romp, and one can chalk up cheesy dialogue, outmoded science, and the fact that the plot resorts to the obvious more than it should as artifacts of its age. Now, these facts do prevent The Stars, Like Dust from ever wearing the mantle of "masterpiece." But for those of you wishing to relish the early work of a man who went on to become, not only a grand master of science fiction, but quite simply the 20th century's most important man of letters, this little novel will transport you back to a simpler time, when storylines we are jaded towards today were fresh and intoxicating, and that "gosh-wow!" sense of wonder covered science fiction like a layer of fine, gold dust.