Book Review

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

There is most definitely a stereotype of early Science Fiction, of which I didn’t expect Foundation to break from. I was expecting a dry, hard science-based approach to Sci-Fi with good helping dated language and turns or phrase. Happily by the end of the first chapter, that stereotype and my regrettable prejudice were completely blown away.

The book very much studies people – individuals as well as societies – and how they can be pulled, pushed, championed and manipulated. The story starts with a young scientist and mathematician travelling to the world of Trantor. He is there to take up a placement to under the Great Hari Seldon, the greatest living ‘Psycho-historian’. Psychohistory within the world of Foundation is, from the very little given, a science that appears to be an amalgamation of History, Psychology, Sociology and Statistics. This collection of sciences into a new specialisation allows psycho-historians to predict the future to a relatively high level of success.

Once Meeting the Legend, Gaal – our young scientist – is introduced to Seldon’s 1000 year predictive damnation of the current Empire. This serves are the narrative catapult to propel us into the story and my is it ambitious.

As the book progressed, we are transported through time and space to pivotal moments in which Seldon’s Psychohistoric Predictions could succeed and run afowl and it is in these moments the characters of Foundation shine

The cast of characters – of which I hesitate to describe as protagonists – perform the role sheepherders that keep society moving along. All the characters that are followed in this book are bright, strong and decidedly Machiavellian in nature, and for me are what make this scuttle book along. At such an alarming do they progress that do I think the quick natured scenarios and proceeding time jumps have a detrimental effect on the novel. I am aware that how the book was adapted from a series of short stories released in a mid century periodical affects this but dang it, I want 400-page Salvor Hardin book and I want it now. The 80 pages I spent with that character is not nearly enough and frankly, I’d take a similar tome regarding the Adventures of Hober Mallow and be nearly as happy. Additionally, I think more exploration of the characters would have been beneficial to the quality of the book. While I loved those characters in the snapshots they were given to me, they were also presented to me as the culmination of stories that weren’t told to me. The book tells me how important they are, and the act that indeed makes them famous to that particular section of the history of the galactic empire, but I want to be shown HOW they became to be such formidable people in the canon of Foundation and not just shown the highlights.

This of course comes with the ignorance of what the rest of the series covers. However, I’m assuming it will continue to build up Foundation and explore the time frame given by Hari Seldon, rather than spending too much time on the characters that have already been explored in book one (Although I assume there’ll be more of one young protégé introduced in Part 1 in some capacity).

I should talk about the premise of this book. I’m deducing that Asimov’s biggest achievement without any real knowledge of the legacy that he has wrought in the history of Sci-Fi (this is my…fourth? sci-fi novel ever), it has to be the magnitude of the scope of his initial premise; To undergo a concept like this in a time where Sci-fi was a fledgling genre is massively impressive. To the point of madness really – that he’d spend so much time on something so crackpot – when there were 20 other genres he could have written within and been adequately equipped to thrive in and that’s not me rose-tint ogling his writing style; It’s not perfect.

The big issue I have is the author’s magnificent lack of description. In the course of this book, we are following characters on maybe half a dozen planets, numerous ships, temples, PALACES and the two things I remember being described to a sufficient level was a metal Chain that attached to the waist and a 3-d holographic video. No real, effective, minds-eye inspiring visuals to hold on to about any of the landscapes of these planets, or the interiors of the ships, or the vastness of these industrial cities on the faraway world. It was disappointing, to say the least, but I’m aware that a lot of my fiction up until recently veered towards the Fantasy genre. In particular, the kinds of fantasy novels that without the descriptions of everything and everyone in their crane marked blade and braid tugging glory would probably be about 170 pages long, not 800. But its something I like and maybe something I will have to learn to live without in this genre.

Realistically though, I think the political manoeuvring and character writing, assuming the quality continues, will mean I continue to enjoy the Foundation series. I’ll definitely be picking up more of Asimov’s work. I can really understand why he became a legend of the genre and I look forward to exploring his wide bibliography in the future.

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