Although Isaac Asimov’s A Pebble in the Sky may appear to be an everyday sort of science fiction novel, this short but poignant story is anything but. Set on Earth in the far distant future, this book is the story of an ordinary man in 1949 who is accidentally sent forward in time to a nearly unrecognizable Earth. In the future, the human race has expanded to inhabit more than 200 million planets, all of which are part of the Galactic Empire. Earth is regarded as an insignificant “pebble in the sky” and is ruled by an extremely strict religious sect. Under this theocracy, the people of Earth are subject to “the Sixty,” mandatory euthanasia for all people over the age of sixty. As it happens, this sect also has serious plans to overthrow the rest of the human race through the use of mass biological warfare.
Taking things at face value, it is easy to assume that A Pebble in the Sky is just speculation about what is in store for the planet Earth. However, on closer inspection, the real focus of the book is extreme racial tensions and the effects that these strained relations can have on otherwise good people. The power of this novel lies in Asimov’s use of an ordinary, relatable main character to examine society’s shortcomings in the setting of Earth’s radical future. Throughout the novel, the protagonist watches as others struggle with issues of racial equality between Earthmen and Men of the Empire and comments on the ensuing events with a 20th century perspective that allows the reader to understand exactly where Asimov is coming from. Before ultimately solving Earth’s problems, the main character witnesses police brutality, mass hysteria, controversial biracial love, and deeply ingrained bigotry in people on both sides of the struggle.
True to Asimov’s reputation, A Pebble in the Sky also holds its own from a purely sci-fi standpoint. There is a healthy dose of everything from telepathy and mind control to the wild side effects of intense radioactivity to advanced weaponry and travel. The only thing missing was the presence of super hi-tech robots. Though this novel may not go quite as in depth with the technology as some of Asimov’s other works, in some ways this keeps it from going overboard with technical jargon and ultimately redirects focus back to the main point of the book–racial tensions. Overall, this novel is a worthwhile read, and die-hard Asimov fans will not be disappointed.