I wanted to like "The Currents of Space." I tried to like it. I really did. I had just come off Asimov's "The End of Eternity" with nothing but glowing praises for it. Eager to explore further in the man's universe, I gleefully plucked this off the shelf in the library and dove into it hoping to strike gold a second time. Unfortunately, this mine proved a barren dud, unless you are into the kind of treasure that's long on metaphor and conjecture and short on actual storytelling. It could not hold my attention long enough to really get into it, and I kept getting get beaten over the head with its own perceived sense of self-importance.
The Prologue opens high above the planet Florina, where an unnamed government scientist has come to warn the ruling class of the planet's oncoming demise. Unfortunately, the chief export of the planet is the sole source of wealth for this ruling class, so of course the scientist must be silenced. From there the story begins and centers around Rik, an apparent Florinian slave with only fragments of the memory of his former life who, with the help of his boss and his self appointed care-taker, sets off on a quest to find out who he is and what his purpose for being on Florina originally was (take a wild guess who he was in his former life). For a book that labels itself as a "mystery in space," the crime is about as blatantly obvious as any cold opening of "Columbo." From the get go, you see the crime in progress, you already know who the victim is and who the perpetrator is and why it happened, and now the rest of the story is spent waiting for them to figure the mystery out "before it's too late." Sadly, while we are sitting around waiting for the main characters to hit upon a clue, we are subjected to space bureaucracy. What, oh what shall we do about Florina? How shall it affect trade. Can our chief export be supplanted on another planet? How can we maintain power if our export can be mass produced? What of the people we keep in captivity. What shall become of them? Will they rise up against us, or simply ask to live among us? Blah blah blah.
The chief problem with the novel is that Asimov couldn't decide whether he wanted to write a science fiction story or an allegory about the socio-economic ramifications of the abolition of slavery in the American South during the Civil War. So, he tried to do both. This would be more excusable, if either part could stand upon its own merits. Unfortunately, the allegory suffers by being too vague to fully realize until after the book is over, and the story (being a rehash of the same boring old Man- Goes- On- Quest- To- Challenge- And- Undo -The- System) suffers from being hampered by the aforementioned allegory. In its defense, there are some elements of good to be found here. When Asimov does decide to tell the story part (despite the plot having been done to death) he does it with panache and the narrative moves with fluidity. When he decides to focus on the characters, they have a voice and each carries a unique personality. Sadly, despite these glimmers of hope, I could not recommend "The Currents of Space" as a decent novel, either for fans of Asimov or anyone looking to break into him.