Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation book cover

It is hard to write a review about one of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, but I will try to do it justice. Asimov originally started the Foundation saga as a series of short stories for Astounding Magazine back in the 1940s. For the novelisation Asimov added the section “The Psychohistorians” to precede the original 4 stories that were published in the magazine. For those reading along with me in chronological order, most of this first story is covered in Foundation and Chaos.

The main plot of this novel revolves around Hari Seldon’s prediction that the Galactic Empire, which has ruled the galaxy for 12,000 years, will fall apart within 500 years. The chaos and civil war which will follow will last 30,000 years unless he is allowed to establish his Foundation to create the Encyclopedia Galactica. The project will store and protect all of the important human knowledge in order to help reduce the time until the rise of the Second Galactic Empire to 1,000 years. For a complete (spoiler filled) summary of the individual stories, refer to the Wikipedia article . I highly recommend reading the books for yourself first though.

The experience of reading Foundation in its chronological order is quite different that reading this book as the first in a series. With no other information available, Hari Seldon is portrayed more like a prophet or god-like figure. This must have been even more pronounced when “The Encyclopedists” was originally published as “Foundation” in 1942. Without the background listed in “The Psychohistorians”, there was no way to see Hari Seldon as a man interacting with others. He is referred to as a prophet of the Galactic Spirit, the founder of the religion of technology which takes place in “The Mayors”. Priests are trained to help operate the nuclear technologies to help the other worlds in the Periphery accept the ‘new’ technology easier. This made me think of the following quote…

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961 (Clarke’s third law)

In many ways the mathematical equations which make Psychohistory work are magic. The Foundation members have no idea why they are successful, except that it has been mathematically proven to happen with a high degree of certainty in the short term. In the long term it is possible for the “Seldon Plan” to deviate. This is where the Second Foundation comes in which is located at “Star’s End” across the galaxy. They were given the task to smooth out the bumps which would probably occur as the time went on.

Most of the stories end with what is called a Seldon crisis. This is a point where there Foundation gets into a situation where only one solution is essentially possible. I think the way that Asimov arranges these problems is intriguing because the solutions usually come from angles I’d never have suspected. He also develops strong characters such as Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow, which become as beloved as Hari Seldon to those of the Foundation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you are a human * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Post

The Naked Sun by Isaac AsimovThe Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun Book Cover

This is the second book in the Robot Novel series by Asimov. A year has passed since The Caves of Steel. Lije Baley is summoned once again to solve a murder. The Department of Justice received a request from the Spacers asking specifically for Baley’s help with the case. This time the murder is not on Earth, but on the 50th Spacer world, Solaria. (more…)

The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac AsimovThe Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

The Stars, Like Dust book cover

Timeline discussion:
Here are a couple quotes — “Atomic warfare had done its worst to Earth. Most of it was hopelessly radioactive and useless.” and “The radioactivity of the soil was a vast sea of iridescent blue, sparkling in strange festoons that spelled out the manner in which the nuclear bombs had once landed, a full generation before the force-field defense against nuclear explosions had been developed, so that no other world could commit suicide in just that fashion again.” — The Stars, Like Dust (more…)

Isaac Asimov would have been 90 todayIsaac Asimov would have been 90 today

Nobody is sure when exactly Isaac Asimov was born due to poor record keeping. January 2nd, 1920 was the day Isaac Asimov decided to celebrate his birthday. Along with creating the Three Laws of Robotics, Asimov also unintentionally coined the term robotics. It was first used in print when his short story “Liar!” was published in 1941. He was constantly writing in just about every area of literature. I have primarily read his Science Fiction, but he has done textbooks, humor, mystery, non-fiction, and more.

My first exposure to Asimov’s writing was when my father gave me an old worn out copy of I, Robot. I tucked the book away for a few years and eventually got around to reading it. I was so enthralled with the robots that I eventually read every robot book by him and other authors. This naturally led me to read the Foundation series which I also enjoyed, but I’ve always preferred the robot series. The Robot and Foundation books make up the biggest reading project I have ever completed. Aside from those, I’ve read a bit of his autobiography and plan on sampling some of his other writing in the near future.

By the time I discovered Asimov, he had already died. I wonder how much more he could have written had he not contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during heart surgery. He died of myocardial and renal complications on April 6, 1992, but the true cause of his death wasn’t publicized due to the stigma of HIV/AIDS at the time. His work has greatly influenced my love of Science Fiction, and for that I am thankful.

For more information on the life of Isaac Asimov, please visit the official Wikipedia post