Isaac Asimov is curious about nearly everything, and he has made it his business to share whatever he learns with us—there are few people as good at it as he is.
Only a Trillion is only one example of the range of his talents and the depth of his knowledge. These twelve essays are on such diverse subjects as life on other planets, the famous Thiotimoline—and The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs…but you’re just going to have to buy this book to find out what he knows about that.
This is another book which is perhaps more important as a harbinger of things to come than as a document in its own right: this is the first of Asimov’s many essay collections. Now, I tend to rate his F&SF essays as better than his non-F&SF essays, and the collections of the former as better, therefore, than collections of the latter. As a result, I don’t rank Only a Trillion very high among Asimov’s non-fiction or his essay collections. However, it is, I think, one of the best (if not the very best) of the non-F&SF essay collections, so neither does it rank terribly low.
The main items that make this book worthwhile are its three final items. The first, “The Sound of Panting,” is a funny little summary of just how hard it was to stay abreast of biochemistry in the early 1950’s—goodness knows what it would be like today. It’s followed by two non-non-fiction pieces: “The Marvelous Properties of Thiotimoline” and “Pâté de Foie Gras”. The “Thiotimoline” piece is actually a combination of the first two thiotimoline “articles” Asimov published, including the one that had such an impact on Asimov’s oral exams for his doctorate, and is one of the most hilarious send-ups of turgid science writing imaginable. As for “Pâté”, it’s a lot of fun, too, with an impossible premise worked out carefully and coldly to see just how it might work.
Some of the other items in the book are worth remembering—such as the first two articles on radioactivity, including an early discussion by Asimov on carbon-14 in DNA. The seventh essay, “The Unblind Workings of Chance” is particularly relevant in the light of ongoing Creationist argumentation. The remainder are not entirely uninteresting, but also not terribly memorable. Oh, and the introduction itself is rather fun.
On the balance, then, we have here more pluses than minuses—a book definitely worth having, if one can manage it.
|“The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline”|
|“The Micropsychiatric Applications of Thiotimoline”|
|“Pâté de Foie Gras”|