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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Foundation (1951) by Issac Asimov

Hari Seldon, the creator of the Foundation, as pictured on the cover of one of the many paper back edition of the novel.

Book Review
Foundation (1951)
 by Issac Asimov

 Famously inspired by Edward Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Foundation series (originally a trilogy and expanded in the 1980s) is arguable the most successful series in the history of science fiction, and ranks up there with the Lord of the Rings trilogy for being the most successful series in all of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy.)   The first book in the series was adapted from several short stories Asimov published in the 1940s.   The episodic structure of the book, with decades elapsing between chapters, makes sense if the reader considers the books as separate short stories woven together in the format of a novel.

  The story of Foundation is about a galaxy where humans are the only intelligent species and they are organized into a single galatic Empire- an Empire which resembles the Roman Empire.  At the beginning of the Foundation series, the Empire is in the early stages of collapse- so early that no one realizes it except for "psychohistorian" Hari Seldon.  In the first chapter, Seldon arranges for the exile of his foundation to the periphery of the galaxy, where his people begin work on a galactic encylcopedia which they are told will preserve knowledge through a dark age of thousands of years.

  Seldon's "psycho-history" essentially uses statistics to predict the future, and it shortly becomes clear that the encyclopedia is a ruse, and that Seldon has planned for the Foundation to become the second galactic empire.  The first book in the series concerns the early days of the Foundation- using their superior grasp on technology to create a science based religion to cow and control their immediate neighbors, and then evolving to a trading based empire, again based on their unique understanding of atomic power, which has disappeared in other parts of their galactic neighborhood.

  By the end of the First Foundation novel, the advanced traders of the Foundation have encountered the remnants of the still powerful Empire, and that sets up the next novel.  Asimov has been so influential in the development of space based science fiction that Foundation seem obvious.  But for the Foundation trilogy neither Star Wars nor Star Trek would exist.  He was also in the vanguard in writing about the miniaturization of technology.

  Even though Asimov's prose is, at its best, sub-par, there is no denying the power and influence of Foundation and the subsequent books in the series.

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