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Earth Is Room Enough

Earth is Room Enough is a collection of short science fiction stories published by Isaac Asimov in 1957. Asimov chose the title as a riposte to at least one critic who had expressed distate for the Foundation Trilogy, characterising it as an example of Space Opera.

The most substantial work in the collection is the opening novelette: The Dead Past. Its pattern is that of dystopian fiction, but of a subtly nuanced flavour.

Asimov extrapolates the twin trends towards centralisation of academic research and scientific specialisation, to portray a world in which state control of scientific research is overseen by a vast bureaucracy. Working innocently under these constraints is Arnold Potterley, a professor of ancient history. When Potterley's request that he be granted access to the chronoscope (a technological device of the story's fictional world that permits direct, real time observation of past events) in order to assist him on his researches on Carthage is denied, he sets in train a clandestine research project to build a chronoscope of his own. He is assisted in this by a young physics researcher and the researcher's uncle, a professional (ie government licenced) science writer.

As a result of this work, the team discover that the government has been suppressing research into chronoscopy, that they can construct a chronoscope that is much more compact and energy-efficient than that of its pioneer inventor and that no chronoscope can see more 200 years into the past, thus demonstating the falsity of government reports of chronoscopic data from much earlier eras.

As a result of clashes of personal motivation, the team members fall out with each other. In particular, Potterley, after observing the effect of the prospect of the chronoscope's availability on his wife's obsessive grief for their baby (killed many years before in a house fire), alerts the authorities and accepts the blame. His associate, Foster, now in the grip of intellectual pride and zeal for the cause of free inquiry, attempts to publish his breakthrough but is suddenly and unexpectedly apprehended by Thaddeus Araman, the bureaucrat who rejected Potterley's original research request.

As Araman attempts to secure an undertaking from Foster not to persist in publication, Foster's uncle, Nimmo, is brought in. Initially Araman believes that Nimmo has been caught in time, but when it emerges that Nimmo, in an attempt to preserve his nephew's professional credentials, has taken the odium of publication upon himself, Araman has no alternative but the declare the government's hand. He reveals that Foster has been aprehended though the government's own use of the chronoscope in snooping on the plotters, and that, by ending government secrecy, the protagonists have created a world in which personal privacy has been completely destroyed.

The story's twist: that the man from the government really was there to help you, qualifies the idea that a world of directed research really constitutes a dystopia. However, the character of Thaddeus Araman is a recognisable dystopian spokesman in the mould of O'Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Beatty in Fahrenheit 451 and Mustapha Mond in Brave New World.