The title of this book is a part of a longer title, which is used to split up the three sections of the book: Against Stupidity the Gods Themselves Contend in Vain'. I believe that that is actually an Ancient Greek saying, which is not surprising at all. Nope, as it turns out I am incorrect (thankyou Internet), it was in fact a saying of a German Poet named Friedrich von Schiller, but it is not the saying or the meaning of the saying that I really want to write about here, though I must admit that it is something that I can relate to because, in a way, it is true: even the gods themselves cannot deal with stupid people.
This is the first Asimov book that I have read that deals with aliens, but then again Asimov never really wrote about aliens, and I suspect it is because he never really saw a need. His science-fiction explores ideas and concepts, ones that could be theoretically possible (such as the positronic brain, which is a device that allows robots to think, learn, and to grow) and it is quite possible that he saw aliens as being a little too speculative for his tastes. However, in this book we do have a taste of a non-human culture, and one cannot get more non-human than these aliens because they exist as three parts which at maturity come together to form a new entity. It is interesting because the middle section of the book, which deals with the aliens, has us follow one particular trinity to the point where they metamoph into the new form.
The other interesting aspect of this book is about energy. Earth has discovered an infinite source of energy from a device known as an electron pump and it appears to be cheap, clean, and unlimited. However a scientist has discovered a flaw in the pump, in that quite subtly it is destroying the sun. However people either do not care, or simply write him off as a quack. The middle section is important though because it also deals with the electron pump and suggests that not only is the pump subtly destroying our universe, but it is destroying this second universe as well, and there is no way for them to be able to communicate with us to tell us what is happening.
As I look back at this book I notice that the timing is quite impeccable simply because it was published at the beginning of the 70s, which was seen as the end of the twenty year bull market that began at the end of World War II, and the main reason for the end of this bull market was an event known as the oil shock. Up until this time, the United States believed that they had enough oil to last them for a very long time, when suddenly the tap was turned off by the Arabs (and that was namely due to the Israel problem). Suddenly they discovered that their almost unlimited supply was not as unlimited as they expected, and this sent shockwaves across the world.
Yet in another was it is very prescient. Oil is our electron pump: it allows our society to function and without it we are in a lot of trouble. However, there are concerns being raised as to the effect of our dependence on oil and there are debates in the scientific community as to whether our over use of oil is destroying the planet (and I fall on the side of the argument saying that it is). In a way we are seeing the events in this novel being played out on the world stage as we speak. We are so dependant on oil that to suddenly stop using it would destroy our society however we cannot help but use it because we want our luxuries and there is no viable alternative (though since I wrote this there has been a significant increase in the use of renewable energy). Further, we consider that the problem is not ours and leave it for our children and our grandchildren to solve. One thing we should remember: we have only one Earth and if we don't look after it, then it does not matter how rich we are we are all in the same boat.