The Stars Like Dust (1951) by Isaac Asimov is a relatively short novel and an early part of the Galactic Empire Series, written a year after Pebble in the Sky (Review here) but chronologically set in a distant and undisclosed time before Pebble in the Sky – the Trantorian Empire might not yet exist.
The Stars Like Dust is a Science Fiction mystery novel revolving around Biron Farrill – the son of a recently deceased Rancher of Widemos, a man of some wealth and influence over an entire planet. Biron is a university student initially on Earth, which is now politically and historically obselete. The novels primary antagonists, the Tyranni, are analagous to the Mongols out of Earth history – replete with Clans and Kahns; the modelling of societal structures from ancient Empires can be seen again with Foundation and its parallels with the Roman Empire.
One of the major problems I had with The Stars Like Dust was the only female character, Artemisia oth Hinriad had very little to add to the plot and ends up feeling like window dressing and an obligutary love interest for Biron. Readers of Asimov could see this as an unfortunate pattern – strong female characters were not a staple of older Sci-Fi although Nemesis had a strong female presence, so this may have been something Asimov looked to correct in later work. Artermisia’s father and Uncle Gillbret are the only characters with any sense of depth and realistic motivations – Birons motivations seem to change without any real reason and seem to focus increasingly around his feelings for Artemisia.
The ending does bring some surprises and Asimov does a good job of undoing some of the perceptions of the reader. Unfortunately the ending hangs its hat on the finding of an ancient document which supposedly has secrets to build a long lasting Empire – we know from Foundation this wasn’t the case as Trantor would become the seat of Galactic power. Asimov has noted the ancient document subplot was added against his better judgement and he did regret it.
Overall the writing is Asimov’s usual fare; blunt and workmanlike and readable enough, but where this falls down and other Asimov’s stand tall is in their big ideas. The Stars Like Dust does not bring those usual staple of Asimov those big ideas, to the table, which results in my least and indeed Asimov’s least favourite novel. It just fell short for me.
That being said, Asimov on a bad day is still a good read and the novel is short enough to warrant the time.