Love science fiction? Then you probably know who Isaac Asimov is.
Isaac Asimov created the biggest fictional world – universe, rather – and with his unique skill of playing god, he was able to build the Galactic Empire.
Humans live on planets in the Galactic Empire. One of Asimov’s classic series is the Galactic Empire Series, which is made up of three books and one short story.
The novels are The Currents of Space, The Stars, Like Dust, and Pebble in the Sky.
Asimov’s stories portray the familiar aspect of futuristic technologies – blaster pistols, neuronic whips, hyperdrive, just to name a few. What makes his tales compelling is the closeness of supposed futuristic events to real-life, historical facts. Asimov artistically transported events in our history books and turned it into a series of humans moving on from taking over nations to taking over planets.
Here, we will look at all three books from the Galactic Empire series and the events from the non-fiction plan that influenced them.
The Currents of Space
The first in the series is The Currents of Space. It takes place after the humans’ second wave of colonization across the universe and before the decline of the empire.
To give you a better background of the book, here is a summary. For those who are planning to read this book… spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
If you read the book in proper order, this is the series’ first novel, though it’s the last one published.
The Currents of Space revolves around the issues and importance of trading kyrt. Kyrt is a fluorescent fiber that can only be found in the planet Florina. Another Planet, Sark, exploits Florina for kyrt. The Sarkites demoted Florinians to an inferior race through forced labor. Florinians are obliged to work to grow Kyrt in the fields for the benefit of the Sarkites and are treated poorly by the Sarkites’ monopoly.
Of course, it does. It’s written all over our history textbooks!
Historical Event #1: King Cotton
In the novel, the possible destruction of Florina was presented by an Earthling, Rik. Rik discovered that the reason they couldn’t duplicate kyrt was because Florina was an outlier in the galaxy. The planet was next to the sun that was about to explode. According to the book, this transition of the star to a Nova is what helps kyrt fiber to grow on the planet.
Trantor, who owns half of the galaxy, proposes that he buys Florina instead. Sark doesn’t give in until Trantor told him that they have already found a way to recreate kyrt. Instead of starting a war, Sark agrees to sell Florina to Trantor when he realizes that he had already lost control over the kyrt industry.
The concept of “King Cotton” was first used in Cotton is King (1855) by David Christy. The South was confident of the supremacy of cotton around the world that it declared cotton as king and challenged Europe for a war for cotton. However, the plan failed when Europe found alternate sources of developing cotton and did not enter a war with the South.
Historical Event #2: Black slavery
Who were the Florinians in real life?
In the 1850s, one of the businesses that the wealthy invested in was slave trading. The rich, manufacturers, investors, and typical families bought and sold slaves. They were treated as commodities that can be shipped across oceans.
Slave trading was already prohibited during its peak, but New York continued to witness trades happening on a daily basis. Despite the laws that protected the victims of this harmful practice, wealthy New Yorkers financed ships that went to West Africa to pick up and sail captives to Cuba and Brazil where they were set to be sold for huge profits.
Mississippi was home to many cotton producers. Cotton’s demand broke history records when Europe started trading with the United States for cotton for their textile manufacturing businesses. The state’s economic and financial advancements were driven by the high demand for cotton, and to meet needs, investors and business owners had to produce more.
“ Sarkite decided to monopolize kyrt ”
Producing more meant hiring more workers, but hiring more workers meant adding costs. To solve this issue, forced labor – slavery – became the backbone of the cotton production industry.
The use of this historical background plays well with what was done to Florina. Since kyrt only grew on Florina and since attempts to produce it somewhere else only proved to be futile, Sarkite decided to monopolize kyrt and run operations on Florina, giving him full control of the planet and its people.
What’s ironic in merging this piece of history with the novel is how Florinians were described to be one of the lightest-colored beings in the galaxy. Who feels sorry for the Florinians’ state and helps them get rid of the Sarkites? Dr. Selim Junz, a dark-skinned man from Libair – an obvious take away from Liberia, a country in Africa.
Fun fact: Freed slaves from America settled Liberia.
The Stars, Like Dust
The Stars, Like Dust takes place before the Galactic Empire was even founded. In this novel, Earth was a radioactive planet that no one noticed. The universe created by Isaac Asimov was set in a time where humans of different planets did not even know their origins.
This novel introduces Tyranni of Tyrann, who leads an empire of fifty worlds. To retain control, Tyrann suppressed space-navigation and science. The name “Tyranni” is a giveaway version of “tyrant”.
If that has not given you a clue about how these fifty planets are being treated, then you should know that Tyranni also happens to be called Khan — an apparent reference to the Mongol’s Genghis Khan and their abusive reign over the Russians. In this case, Asimov was referring to Genghis Khan’s grandson, Batu Khan, who lead to Golden Horde.
Historical Event #3: Golden Horde
Golden Horde referred to the golden-colored tents the Mongols used during wartime. Those who lived in these tents were believed to be have been granted great wealth of the Khan.
“Golden” or “yellow” in Old Turkic meant “center,” while “horde” referred to “ordu,” meaning “camp.” The Mongols may have just called their tents “central camp.” As histories passed, “Golden Horde” was a term used to refer to a particular khanate of the Mongol Empire.
The Mongol empire traveled all over the world to dominate different countries. Much like Tyranni, they destroyed cities and eradicated centers of knowledge. They used brutal ways to conquer territories and were involved in rampant destruction. Successfully invaded countries became members of the Golden Horde.
Historians look at the Mongol raids as one of the most brutal and deadliest conflicts ever to be recorded in history books.
Historical Event #4: United States Constitution
The novel revolves around a rebellion against Tyranni being cooked by a Director, who owns a collection of ancient artifacts which talks about the origins of the humans. The director has looked for and found a paper which he believes would guide them create a set of rules to govern the galaxy so that the likes of Tyranni would not rise.
The document came from radioactive Earth and detailed the internal frame of the government. The Director believes that the material may be used as a template for the galaxy that will replace Tyranni’s galaxy. It is revealed that the document is the United States Constitution.
Pebble in the Sky
In the third novel, a man from the 20th century was introduced. Joseph Schwartz was a victim of a laboratory accident which physically transported him 50,000 years into the futuristic radioactive Earth.
Confused and unable to communicate with the humans of the future, the locals misidentified him as a mentally ill person. They sent him to a laboratory which tested the possibility of giving a person additional mental capabilities. All of the people they experimented on died. However, it worked for Schwartz, and his mental abilities multiplied and allowed him to understand everything that he has missed.
During this time, the Earth was treated as a lowly planet which tried to bring the Empire down thrice. The Earth was also filled with uninhabitable areas produced by radioactive elements, disabling its people from working.
“ Religious fanatics created a super virus ”
The planet became so weak that a procedure known as “The Sixty” legally allows the Galactic Empire to euthanize or execute anyone who is unable to work and anyone who reaches the age of sixty. Schwartz at that time was 62.
Soon, Schwartz met religious extremists who believed that Earthlings are superior beings, and the rest of the Galactic Empire must perish.
To take revenge for how they were treated and how Earth was viewed by the remainder of the Galactic Empire, the Earth-centered religious fanatics created a super virus that had the ability to kill the rest of the Empire by radiation poisoning.
Which historical account inspired Asimov to write this novel? The Earth extreme-thinkers’ ways were patterned from the Great Jewish Revolt.
Historical Event #5: Great Jewish Revolt
The First Jewish-Roman War was a rebellion by Judea’s Jews again the Roman Empire. The Jewish started attacking Roman citizens, and the Romans responded by raiding the Jewish Temple and killing 6,000 Jews pushing a full-scale rebellion which also killed 6,000 Romans.
There is a public stand by Asimov in this light. As his book reflects, the fanatic rebels are the antagonists that Schwartz will try to stop.
Wait, Schwartz? Isn’t that a Jewish surname? Yes!
Schwartz also happens to be a retired tailor. Historically, having a lot of Jewish tailor in one street is considered normal.
In this novel, an ordinary retiree, who happened to be an unwilling victim of a laboratory accident, becomes the hero of the galaxy. The allegory is very clear: Schwartz did not want the future Earthlings to repeat history. The Jewish-Roman wars left a big dent in the life of the Jews, bringing them down from a significant power to a collectively persecuted minority.
Bonus: Blind Alley
The installment was not ended by another novel. Blind Alley is a short story which introduces the Cepheids – the only intelligent non-human alien race discovered by the Galactic Empire.
Humans couldn’t agree on how to treat the Cepheids. Some wanted to protect their race because they ceased to reproduce while some wanted to treat them like animals. The Cepheids’ leader would rather leave the Galactic Empire, however, because of complex bureaucracies and because the humans provide for their physical needs, they could not live as free aliens.
A civilian supervisor helped the Cepheids escape the Empire through his knowledge of the Galactic Empire’s bureaucratic ways. He was able to arrange the escape without anyone noticing and was able to send the Cepheids to the Magellanic Clouds wherein they will find their world. The supervisor was not caught and was even given another assignment.
Historical Event #6: US Navy bureaucracy
The shocking ways of the US Navy’s administration lead to an average of 22 ½ years of passing decisions from office to office. It only takes the Chinese and Russian governments seven years to roll out new programs.
When Asimov wrote the story, he was working with the US Navy.
The Galactic Empire series is just one of Asimov’s masterpieces. In his other series’, he used the same way of mirroring real life historical events. No wonder Asimov is treated as one of the best scientific fiction writers of all time. Asimov was able to stitch harmoniously together two brutally different things – real life historical events and a fictional, yet totally epic galaxy.
There is some sense of 20th-century humanity seen in his characters, even if they are humans on different planets taking over each other the way our recent predecessors took over other nations. A personal favorite about his writing is how, in the middle of all the space action, a lighter side of humans was portrayed. Instead of crafting a buff alien hero, Asimov chose Schwartz to save the Galactic Empire. Who would have thought that the Galactic Empire’s hero would be a 62-year old 20th century Jewish Earthling?
If you have read Asimov’s other books, please share the historical allegories he used! We would love to hear from you.