Nemesis (Isaac Asimov novel)

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Nemesis is a science fiction novel by American writer Isaac Asimov. One of his later science fiction novels, it was published in 1989, only three years before his death. The novel is loosely related to the future history into which he attempted to integrate his science fiction output, connecting several ideas from earlier and later novels, including non-human intelligence, sentient planets (Erythro), and rotor engines (Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain).

Plot summary

The novel is set in an era in which interstellar travel is in the process of being discovered and perfected. Before the novel's opening, "hyper-assistance", a technology allowing travel at a little slower than the speed of light, is used to move a reclusive space station colony called Rotor from the vicinity of Earth to the newly discovered red dwarf, Nemesis. There, it takes up orbit around the semi-habitable moon, Erythro, named for the red light that falls on it.

It is eventually discovered that the bacterial life on Erythro forms a collective organism that possesses a form of consciousness and telepathy (a concept similar to the Gaia of Asimov's Foundation series). While the colonists argue over the direction of future colonization — down to Erythro, or up to the asteroid belts of Nemesis system — events catch up to them. Back on Earth superluminal flight is perfected, ending Rotor Colony's isolation and opening the galaxy to human exploration.

The story also relates the breakup and reunion of a family (the mother, the discoverer of Nemesis, and the daughter were separated from the Earthbound father when the colony departed; the father becomes part of the hyperjump research project as a result); the startling discovery that the bacterial inhabitants of Erythro, collectively, constitute a sentient and telepathic organism; and the discovery and resolution of a massive crisis: Nemesis' trajectory threatens to gravitationally destabilize the Solar System.

Story notes

The demands of the plot required Asimov to hypothesize a planetary system about a star named Nemesis. At the time of the writing, the name Nemesis was given to a hypothetical companion to Earth's Sun that could provide a mechanism for periodic disturbances of comets in the Oort cloud, which would then fall inwards causing mass extinctions. The red dwarf star in the book turns out not to be this companion; it is simply passing through the Solar System.

Interestingly, the planetary system in the book included a Jovian planet named Megas in a very short-period orbit about its primary star. (Erythro is a moon of Megas.) This was a radical idea in 1989, but was vindicated with the discovery of the first extrasolar planet orbiting a sun-like star (51 Pegasi) in 1995, dubbed "Bellerophon". Furthermore, the first speculated "habitable" planet discovered, Gliese 581 c, orbits a red dwarf star (Gliese 581) located only 20.3 light years from Earth — a notable similarity to the novel wherein Erythro is the first inhabited extra–solar body.

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