Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Foundation Book Review

by the Wanderer

Author: Isaac Asimov
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Hard Science Fiction
Series: Foundation Book One
Pages: 296

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Foundation is one of the earliest science fiction books to pull the genre away from the pulp stories that dominated the early 20th century, by elevating the story intellectually. Since its release Foundation and its author Isaac Asimov have become synonymous with the development of modern science fiction. The Foundation Trilogy would go on to be named the Best All-Time Series by the Hugo’s, the only book or series to have received such a distinction. Over half-a-century later the story still holds pretty well.

In the far future humanity is ruled by a Galactic Empire that stretches to thousands of planets and includes “quintillions” of people. Pyschohistorian and mathematician Hari Seldon believes the Galactic Empire will collapse in the next couple of centuries bringing humanity into a dark age that will last thirty-thousand years.  Seldon plans on reducing the inevitable dark age to a thousand years, by creating the Foundation.  The Foundation will consist of a group of scientists that will collect all of humanities knowledge and technological innovations and save them for future use.

Foundation is an episodic tale that spans multiple generations.  A few key minds in each of the episodes serves as the focus point of how the Foundation was created and how it’s going to survive a number of key crisis moments. The story begins with Seldon founding the Foundation within the confines of a government that is initially hostile about the idea.  From there the Foundation faces its first crisis under the leadership of Mayor Hardin, and later faces another crisis during the time of a notorious trader named Mallow.

The key to the Foundation and its survival rests upon the deeds of great men, but these deeds don’t resort to the use of violence. Instead a lot of political intrigue and the manipulations of various familiar power structures like “religion” and “economics” are used to keep the Foundation afloat. These interactions along with the characters that facilitate the manipulations are interesting to say the least, but the episodic nature of the structure makes predicting the outcomes very easy.

Foundation is not without its issues. A lot of the writing can be very stiff.  Lines of dialogue and even the syntax of various descriptions can be needlessly wordy or grammatically awkward. There is a near complete lack of worldbuilding. Only the capital of the empire, Trantor, gets any sort of memorable physical description, and that’s very minimal as it is.  Granted the concept of modern worldbuilding was still in its infant stages when Foundation was being published, (it came out just before Lord of the Rings and after the Hobbit) it still feels like a missed opportunity.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the whole book is that it’s centered around the idea of psychohistory. Psychohistory can be used to study the psychological motivations of historical events.  In Foundation though it, along with mathematics, are used as the justification for accurately predicting the future for a large populations of humans. Unfortunately for Asimov the advancement of Chaos Theory found that even the smallest of differences in computation could drastically affect all possible outcomes. In short this widely supported theory has determined long-term prediction is nearly impossible. Normally an inaccurate scientific prediction wont bother me, but when the whole story is based off an incorrect idea … well it definitely starts to get to you.

Even with these issues Asimov’s story is still incredibly important to science fiction’s history and development.  That’s something that I really admired, and it’s what keeps me reading.

Score: 8.6

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