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|Homeworld||Unnamed rocky planet|
|Behind the Scenes|
|Universe||The Gods Themselves|
|Created by||Isaac Asimov|
The Soft Ones are sapient, gaseous lifeforms that inhabit a small rocky planet located in a parallel universe from our own. They have three different genders: Rationals (or lefts), Emotionals (mids) and Parentals (rights). Besides Soft Ones, the only other lifeforms on their homeworld are the mysterious beings known as Hard Ones.
In the parallel universe in which the Soft Ones dwell, the nuclear force is much stronger that in our own, rendering the stars much smaller and more short-lived. In the nigh sky of the Soft Ones' homeworld, only seven stars are visible to the naked eye. Since Soft Ones need sunlight in order to get the energy they need for reproduction, and since their sun, along with all the other stars in their universe, is slowly dying out, the Soft Ones' population has been gradually decreasing through the years. There were millions of them in the past, whereas now there are fewer than ten thousand.
Being gaseous organisms, Soft Ones are able to change their form and density, though only to a certain extent as adults. Likewise, they have the ability to get into solid objects partially, although this is considered highly improper in their society; since Soft Ones' analogue of sex consists of individuals merging together, doing the same with inanimate objects (commonly referred to as "stone-rubbing") produces similar pleasurable feelings, and is basically an analogue of masturbation. The Soft Ones language consists of pulses. Despite feeding on sunlight, most Soft Ones spend very little time on the surface, dwelling in subterranean cities built inside complicated cave systems. Emotionals, which have a much more transparent body than Rationals and Parentals, need to spend more time on the surface to obtain the food they need.
Soft Ones live in small family units called triads, consisting of a Rational, an Emotional and a Parental. Soft Ones are able to feel the position and emotional state of other members of their triad, though, again, this is only to a certain extent. They reproduce by melting, which means fusing into one another, and this can only be done with the participation of one of each of the three genders. The Emotional provides the energy, the Rational the seed, and the Parental the incubator. The melting can last for many days and during this time participants remain unconscious. If the melting is successful, a baby will soon start to grow inside the Parental. Each melting produces only one offspring. The first one born is always a Rational, followed by a Parental and then an Emotional. It is the father Parental's responsibility to raise all three children.
Since they are born, baby Soft Ones are relatively independent, to the point that their parents can engage in melting, thus staying unconscious for many days, without having to worry too much about the babies' safety. Being gregarious in nature, Soft Ones can always rely on neighbors or community centers to take care of their children in case of necessity.
Once reaching adulthood, young Soft Ones must find partners to form their own triad. This is often done with the help of the Hard Ones. After having had all three babies, a triad of Soft Ones will soon be ready to pass on. It is the Rational who decides when the time has come, and when this happens the entire triad, Rational, Emotional and Parental, will melt together for one last time and pass on.
In the past, some triads produced six children, thus ensuring the population of their race could grow. As of the events of the novel, the reduction in solar energy no longer allows for that.
The Rationals, or lefts, are the most intelligent of Soft Ones. They attend school, their teachers being Hard Ones, and are always willing to learn. Their intellect grows after each melting. They are also responsible for choosing the time when the triad will pass on. Of all Soft Ones, they are the only which regularly interact with the Hard Ones. Their shape is largely ellipsoidal.
Emotionals, or mids, are made of a more tenuous and transparent substance, and thus need to spend much time on the surface, feeding upon sunlight. Although their role in reproduction is pivotal, providing the energy to initiate a new offspring, their role in society is less clear. They spend most of the time chattering with one another and sunbathing. Their shape is largely amorphous.
Parentals, or rights, are the ones concerned with triad-related subjects, melting, incubating and raising the children. Unlike Rationals, who have their studies; and Emotionals, who have their friends; Parentals are solely dedicated to their triad. Their shape is parallelepipedal
After passing onEdit
As it turns out, Soft Ones are actually the immature stage of Hard Ones. When they pass on, they do not die as they often believe, but rather become a Hard One. The three members of the triad, Rational, Emotional and Parental, melt together permanently into one sole individual, which explains both why Hard Ones have a dense, solid body and why they are in smaller number that Soft Ones. The reason why Soft Ones are never told this is because the Hard Ones believe that only when the Rational is able to find the truth by himself will he and his triad be mature enough to pass on to the Hard One stage.
- The Gods Themselves - Isaac Asimov
- Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials - Wayne Barlowe