on March 13, 2004
Foundation owes its genesis to young Asimov reading Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. As the author explains, he started thinking, what would happen if he described the fall of a GALACTIC Empire? Armed with a "science" of history known as psychohistory, Asimov and his editor John W. Campbell set about trying to describe the fall and rebirth of that mythic Empire. While the trilogy (and even the subsequent sequels) did not finish the 1,000-year cycle, enough was described to bring about some rather intriguing fiction.
Asimov, of course, is fond of puzzles involving logic. While logic is rather hazy regarding human behavior (the "Laws of Psychohistory" are deliberately kept off-stage), the characters are nevertheless able to make guesses that fall within the expectations of said logic.
The prime element in the resurrection of the Empire is, of course, Hari Seldon, the greatest psychohistorian in history. Seeing through his equations that the galaxy is about to fall into ruin, Seldon strives to create a "Foundation" which will preserve the wisdom of the old empire when the collapse comes. This Foundation will ensure that, instead of thousands of years of barbarism following the collapse, only 1,000 years will ensue. The Foundation begins harmlessly enough, as a scientific organization, designed to write the "Encyclopedia Galactica," a repository for all the galaxy's knowledge. However, as the Empire falls and the scientists of the Foundation are isolated by the barbarism on the galactic periphery (in a series of "Seldon Crises"), it becomes much more. That is the basic context of the first book in the series.
Seldon also creates a "Second Foundation." The purpose of this organization, located at "Star's End," is to monitor the Seldon plan and make sure the First Foundation comes to no harm in its slow quest to restore the Empire.
If some of this sounds vaguely like Star Wars, you wouldn't be far wrong. Much of that trilogy owes its existence to Asimov's work. The most blatant example is the planet Coruscant, which echoes Asimov's Trantor, the capital world of the Empire, which is an entire world-city.
My favorite book in the Foundation series is Foundation and Empire, because they offer the most opportunity for action and challenge for the Foundation. As the series originally appeared as a series of short stories and novellas in Campbell's Astounding, the "novel" is really two stories. In the first story, the Foundation finds itself facing its first real threat--a strong Empire at the galactic core, with a strong general capable of defeating the Foundation. In the next contest, the Foundation comes up against a telepathic enemy known as "The Mule," who starts mucking about with the Foundation's path toward eventual Empire.
The third book, Second Foundation, describes a search for the "Second Foundation." This search comes in earnest, after the setbacks the First Foundation faced in the second book. Asimov manages to end the stories well, and Asimov manages to keep the reader guessing.
I really enjoyed the series when I read it in high school. The stories were great exercises in logic and managed to provide some sense of adventure. Looking back, I can see some "primitive" technological aspects of Asimov's "Future History," but that takes little away from the story. One innovation for this series was the invention of the pocket calculator (the stories appeared in the early '40s). Asimov took reluctant credit for the invention since, like Heinlein's water bed, he never thought of patenting it.
This is actually an excellent, kid-friendly introduction to science fiction, as it presents a lot of mental puzzles and very little violence. Given the time it was written and Asimov's own literary tastes, it is rather free from violence, sex, or other "adult situations." There have been grander epics, but this is one of the first to appear in science fiction form. Read from the master, and learn.
on November 2, 2008
By the end of the thirteenth millennium, mankind had populated millions of planets scattered throughout the galaxy. The centre of the imperial government was located on the planet Trantor, in effect a single planetary city some 75,000,000 square miles in extent. Every conceivable square foot of habitable space was occupied with a teeming population well in excess of 40 billion souls. Its internal problems were so vast that it was all but inevitable that its grip on the outer reaches of its dominion should weaken. The empire, like every other empire that had preceded it, was in the throes of decline.
Hari Seldon, a brilliant mathematician and psychologist developed the science of psychohistory - the use of mathematics and symbolic logic to evaluate and predict the future behaviour of statistically large segments of human population. When he applied his analysis to the Empire, the conclusions were bleak and inescapable. The stagnating Empire would imminently fall and collapse into a galactic dark age - a period of anarchy and chaos and a loss of art, culture, knowledge, technology and science that would last for thirty thousand years.
When he knew that imperial collapse was inevitable, he created the "Foundation" and implemented what was later to become known as the Seldon Plan. He couldn't stop the dark age but he could shorten its duration to a mere thousand years and give civilization the ability to start over again.
Asimov, known to his millions of fans merely as the "good doctor", certainly didn't stint when it came to the scope of his ideas and the size of the canvas on which he chose to paint. "Foundation" is a classic sci-fi novel that leans far towards the left side of the sci-fi spectrum. Hard sci-fi, technology and advanced science are touched upon only to the extent that they are necessary to make sense of an Empire that spans an entire galaxy. Quaintly, much of the science is seriously dated - data storage is on microfilm, atomic power is the norm even in spaceships that are expected to travel galactic distances - and could hardly be considered brilliantly prescient.
So it is clearly the ideas that Asimov deals with that have elevated "Foundation" to its status as one of the most loved and most read science fiction novels of all time - science as religion, the authoritarian nature of religious dogma, the insidious Machiavellian nature of political diplomacy, the inevitability of the decline and collapse of a major empire and a powerful discussion as to whether violence is a necessary tool to resolve differences or whether it is merely "the last refuge of the incompetent".
While I will happily acknowledge that "Foundation" was interesting and thoroughly enjoyable, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that it did not have the same thrill or excitement that I experienced when I first read it thirty years ago. The level of science in the book seems almost lack-lustre and in my mind did not live up to the grandiose scope of the novel. Like so many of his peers in the 1950s, women were stoutly ignored and played no part in "Foundation" at all.
Dickens wrote at the turn of the century so one expects his prose to be different. Asimov wrote "Foundation" in 1951 so one certainly expects it to be a product of that time. But, unlike Dickens (and I'm not really quite able to put my finger on the reason why), the prose simply didn't age quite as well. So, in the full knowledge that many will disagree with me, I'm unwilling to accord "Foundation" the 5-star rating that many will expect. Four stars only from this reader and a high recommendation that this book must be read if you claim to be a fan of the classic sci-fi genre.
on August 11, 2014
Asimov's Foundation series was more aptly named than many suspect. Over the years it has served as an inspiration to many science fiction masterpieces, and became the benchmark by which all other epic science fiction was based. Much of today's space opera owes much to the original vast planet-spanning tale of the birth of a civilisation guided through the ages by the God-like hand of Seldon, and its testament to the enduring legacy of the work that its still as awe inspiring a tale as it was more than half a century ago. True, some of the technologies and settings are a little dated but that's not where the strength of the series lies.
If you're unfamiliar with the Foundation work, they are basically a series of short stories taking place over a number of centuries that chart the rise of an intergalactic civilisation from humble origins to a vast galactic power, and the trials and tribulations that shaped it, narrated from the perspective of its major historical figures, such as prominent civic leaders, military heroes, merchant traders, brilliant scientists etc. Underpinning all this is the strange figure of genius Hari Seldon, who predicted the whole course of future events through his discipline of psychohistory, a science that predicts the actions of whole civilisations and societies over a grand time-scale.
Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the fictional Encyclopedia Galactica on the events portrayed in the following scene as if the whole series is a look back at history from some undisclosed future. It lends a wonderful sense of grandness to the stories as well as being an original and novel way of introducing the new setting. As I mentioned earlier, each chapter takes place several decades after the previous one so characters who were 'upstart young rebels' in one story become 'noble visionaries' in the next scene, and 'legendary heroes' in the one after that. The chapters all focus on a Seldon Crisis, which are a series of predicted crises that would mark a new stepping stone to greatness, and are accompanied at the conclusion of the section by the appearance of the long dead hologram of Hari Seldon popping up every few centuries describing the events that have just occurred.
The character of Seldon and the way he evolves from crackpot theorist, to brilliant but misunderstood genius, to an almost prophetic role is wonderfully moving, as are the other important characters throughout the novel, and the development of the Foundation and its gradual dominance through various means (including religion, trade and war) is spell binding. Asimov touches on many themes here: the role of religion as a tool of conquest, the magicianry associated with any highly advanced technological society, the inevitable bureaucracy that any establishment eventually succumbs to, the predictability of mob-mentality. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful themes are only lightly touched upon, which is a shame although Asimov's clear simple writing style and light humour make his work accessible to anyone.
If you can ignore the surface details and the slightly comic-bookish settings then you will enjoy one of the most pivotal and ambitious science fiction series written.
on May 15, 2004
Welcome to the second book in the Foundation trilogy (although Asimov did write further books, it was a trilogy originally). The book picks up where Foundation left off - the Foundation has established itself as a formidable force in the Periphery of the Galaxy. Of course, everyone is too well aware that gaining control of the local warlords is small potatoes compared to what's to come. In Foundation and Empire, the inevitable comes.
As the previous novel, Asimov has divided this into books, however here there are only two. As a result, he gets to explore the characters at more length then in Foundation. But again, expect wonder, amazement and enjoyment at the themes, issues and grandeur of this book, not the characterisation and "literary" qualities.
In the first book, the conflict between the Foundation and what's left of the Empire develops. This however is a much bigger game - in the past, the warlords barely out-war-powered the Foundation, while here the Empire dwarfs it even in its twilight. As always, something must be done other than a brute force tactic. Furthermore, the "heroes" of the Foundation are no more, in the conflict there are no Mallows or Hardins to guide the political intrigue, so it is here that Seldon's plan is put to the ultimate test.
In the second book (not to give away too much), a new threat to the Plan arises. A man known only as the Mule comes to light. And for the first time, an individual drastically changes the course of history. Indeed, he consists of the biggest threat to the plan thus far. What's so special about him?.. Personally, I found this book the most enjoyable in the whole trilogy - it reminds me of the little cryptic "detective" plotting from other Asimov works I read, such as I Robot and Steel Caves. However, here, it's an almost perfect melodrama played out (and unlike many detective elements in novels includingthose of Asimov - this one doesn't seem contrived or make you feel at all "cheated"), as we follow some Foundationers in their quest to find out what the Mule is and how to deal with him.
This is a great continuation of the saga and will also bring out many interesting questions - like whether an individual can change the course of history. It will also shake up your conception of the Seldon plan - overall, a great book.
on May 8, 2004
This is the first book in the famous Foundation trilogy. The story is simple. It's over 50,000 years in the future and humans have spread throughout the whole galaxy, with millionsof worlds and quintillions of people united by an Empire. However, the empire is crumbling.
Enter Hari Seldon, the pioneer of psycho-history - a kind of complete, mathematical social science that uses statistical averages and modelling to predict social trends in large populations for thousands of years to come. Hari's studies show that the collapse of the empire is invevitable. However, if he takes action now, the period of suffering before the next empire might be decreased from 30,000 years to 1000. So, he establishes two foundations on opposite sides of the galaxy to follow his master plan. This book is the story of the first foundation.
As a work of literature, expect no marvels of prose or metaphor. Most of the chapters are dialogue between people. There is also little characterisation and a blatant disregard for the "show, don't tell" rule of writing. All of these things are there because the trilogy covers hundreds of years. As such, this novel is divided into 5 books with a gap of decades or centuries between each. The whole text is very episodic as we watch an entire civilisation emerge from a modest group of scientists to a powerful force in the outskirts of the galaxy.
So, the concepts of the book were what I found interesting. Of course, the whole premise that human history can be mathematically be mapped out as a kind of law of averages seems ridiculous to me. I don't think that Asimov believed that either - he just saw it as an interesting idea for a story. The great Hari Seldon maps out the future history of the Foundation, ensuring that it basically has one cosmic path to follow - one which will end in laying the seeds for the new Galactic Empire.
The first book details with around the first 200 years of the foundation, as several crises are encountered by individuals as forces of history. With few military resources, the leaders are forced to rely on their wit. I'm onto the second book now so should find out if that wit was enough.
A great read in that you'll find in interesting even if you aren't a great science fiction fan - it has very unique perspectives social "science" and what makes a civilization.
on April 29, 2004
In a preface written in 1982 for a volume collecting the original "Foundation" trilogy, Asimov recalled the sources of inspiration for the series and boasted, "Why shouldn't I write of the Galactic Empire and of the return of feudalism. . . ? After all, I had read Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' not once, but twice."
Edward Gibbon's influence is certainly obvious in "Foundation." A galactic empire, centered in Trantor (a celestial Rome), is on the verge of collapse. During the Dark Ages that follow, the surviving remnants at the extreme borders of the galaxy initially maintain control by creating a religion that hides scientific knowledge behind theological mysteries and by training a caste of priests to monopolize this learning. Asimov, however, goes beyond the period covered by Gibbon (who ended his masterwork with the age of the Crusades): when new and powerful rulers challenge the priestly authority, an upstart mercantile class--the Medicis and Borgias of the galactic future--gain the upper hand.
Yet "Foundation" is hardly a history lesson; Asimov simply channeled his understanding of medieval and Renaissance Europe into a series of intriguing stories, what might instead be described as "psychohistorical" and sociopolitical thrillers. In the opening chapter, during the dying days of the Empire, Hari Seldon studies "psychohistory"--a kind of societal (but not individual) determinism based loosely on the idea that broad historical trends are cyclical and predictable. Aware that he cannot prevent the fall of the Empire, Seldon uses his learning to chart a course for the preservation of knowledge and an accelerated re-creation of a Second Empire. (Asimov had no way of knowing, of course, that psychohistory would later become a legitimate field of academic research by such scholars as Peter Gay.)
Each of the five episodes in the book reads like a tautly played game of political chess in which the winner is inevitably the visionary who is not wedded to traditional moves and who is patient enough to wait for his opponent to make the first mistake. The suspense is developed almost exclusively from the "cold war" tension between rival forces: there's not much action in "Foundation," and (as other readers have noted), the lengthy dialogue is spotty and the "character development" is pretty much nonexistent (although the same could surely be said about such sci-fi classics as "2001" and "The Time Machine"). But if you like your science fiction a tad cerebral, you'll find much to admire in Asimov's first major work.
on April 29, 2004
This may be a classic and I may be a science fiction fan, but read Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" instead of this. His later work is definitely better. "Foundation and Empire" is like its predecessor ("Foundation") in that you get several stories told in different periods throughout Foundation history. Everything Asimov has come up with in these books is fundamentally good sci-fi story stuff, but the lack of character development makes you think while you're reading, "Why am I reading this?" I'll read the last in the trilogy ("Second Foundation"), but that's as far as I'm going to go with these.
For great sci-fi, read "Hyperion," "Fall of Hyperion," "Ender's Game," "Childhood's End", "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."
For good sci-fi, read "More Than Human," "The Gods Themselves," "Slan," "The Demolished Man," "The Stars My Destination."
TOO MUCH TO LIST, MY FRIENDS!!!
Good luck and good reading.
on April 11, 2004
Asimov was one of the incredible path-breakers for science fiction, and the Foundation books are thought by many to make up one of the best and most far-reaching series of the entire genre. While Asimov was a biochemist by trade, he certainly understood the circular pattern of human history, regardless of the amount of technology available to mankind.
Foundation is about the fall of the Galactic Empire that has ruled for times immemorial (so long, in fact, that the memory of the legendary "Earth" is but a myth). The Empire's fall will obviously result in much chaos as the wheels of law struggle to beat back the inevitable barbarians who rise to loot and pillage (rather than rebuild) the riches of the old Empire. All of this seems a rather bleak future for humanity, yet Asimov is a hopeless optimist (at least in my eyes) in that he sees the resilience of people as ever reaching. The Foundation series is therefore a group of novels about the ways in which humanity restores itself even after all seems lost.
"Foundation", the first novel in the series, focuses on a colony formed by one who foresees the destruction of the Empire, a man named Hari Seldon. Seldon therefore attempts to minimize the effects of the collapse by building a community made up of intellectuals called the "Foundation". The book is divided into three separate stories at completely different times in the history of Seldon's paradise, one at the formation of the Foundation, another at its troublesome infancy, and the last at the time that the Foundation becomes economically independent (it becomes internally capitalistic and externally somewhat imperialistic). Each story rather stands alone and, while the last is somewhat disappointing, each is worthy in its own right.
Highly recommended; if you don't read this book, you can't understand science fiction as a genre.
on February 16, 2004
Hari seldom, the man who predicted the fall of the empire in the first book, established foundations on each end of the galaxy to prevent the rise of a dark age. The fallen empire from the first part of the book has incresed it's strength and with that strength, it plans to seize control of the foundation. With an ambitious and skilled general, and dozens of battle fleets, the foundation faces it's greatest enemy.
Personally, I liked the second part with the mule better then the war with the empire, because the main characters have nothing to do with the foundations victory, which makes the plot not a major factor for the story, but this also leads the reader into more surprises for the end of the section.
"I am the mule". As the reader discovers the identity of the speaker, all loose ends are tied up while creating a great twist for the end. Even though Seldon's predictions guide the foundation to overcome the first four crises, this is the book where his predictions turn the foundation into a disaster. A mutant is born, having the power to fight against any great power of the galaxy, a man that is able to defeat dozens of battle fleets, with the intelligence greater then any scientist of the foundation. .
The second part of the book is full of surprises, so please finish the book if you have started it or you might miss one of the best plots in science ficiton. While reading the story of the two couple's adventures, the reader needs to think deeply in their every move. Isaac lets the reader feel the negative consequences in prediction. The more hope the foundation has on Hari Seldon's prediction, the greater fall they will need to suffer. Although the plot of the couple's is resolved, the foundations destiny is discovered in the third book, the second foundation. I believe any reader that has read this book will definitely also need to read, the second foundation, so I recommend buying both books.
on January 29, 2004
The first book in Asimov's Foundation Series is actually an anthology of stories tracing the formation of the Foundation to its growth into a competitor of the Galactic Empire. The premise is simple, its execution complex: the Galactic Empire has started to decay even though the Empire itself denies the truth. Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian whose mathematical theories of historical psychology have allowed him to determine when the Empire will crumble and the probabilities of the aftermath. To avoid a Dark Age, he sets up the Foundation at the outer edge of the galaxy to preserve the knowledge of humanity. The stories in Foundation deal with the formative years of the Foundation and its growth from an (outwardly) academic's and historian's interest into a power on (and behind) the galactic stage guiding humanity's redevelopment.
Cleverly written and plotted with quick-moving events and the interesting theory that humanity's future for hundreds and thousands of years can be predicted based on probable outcomes. This is the foremost intellectual, yet generally accessible, science fiction series ever written. The lone drawback is that Asimov did not finish it before he died.