Foundation * Isaac Asimov Book Review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you’re here, it might be because you’ve seen the new Foundation series and you’re thinking maybe the book is worth it. Maybe it is for you but for me it proved to be too much of a monologue on the direction of humanity than an actual story with a beginning, middle and end.

First thing’s first: there is no Empire in the book – no trinity of clones and Harding is a male. And Gaal is a male. The female roles on TV are great but it just brings to light how sexist Isaac Asimov was. No females in his stories. I think I liked the TV adaptation waaaay better than the book and that almost never happens.

The Story

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed. 

The explanation is simple. The coming destruction of Trantor is not an event in itself, isolated in the scheme of human development. It will be the climax to an intricate drama which was begun centuries ago and which is accelerating in pace continuously. I refer, gentlemen, to the developing decline and fall of the Galactic Empire.

I was so excited to see how they’ve adapted the book – some of the dialogue remained the same, some was changed to fit the tv format. But the core was there. It all starts with a prediction:

It is a prediction which is made by mathematics. I pass no moral judgements. Personally, I regret the prospect. Even if the Empire were admitted to be a bad thing (an admission I do not make), the state of anarchy which would follow its fall would be worse. It is that state of anarchy which my project is pledged to fight. The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.

“The alternative is death for yourself and for as many of your followers as will seem necessary. Your earlier threats I disregard. The opportunity for choosing between death and exile is given you over a time period stretching from this moment to one five minutes hence.”

I wasn’t very surprised when I heard about Hari Seldon’s following. He was quite famous on Trantor and he actually was prepared to go off planet for a while and has sent supplies in advance to the edge of the Galaxy where he knew he would be exiled to. Now the fun part – he thought there could be only 2 places where he would be sent so he prepared both outposts in advance. That’s why there’s a second Foundation.

“You will find several microfilms inside,” said Seldon. “Take the one marked with the letter T.”

Asimov didn’t know about USB drives back in the 50’s 🙂

It is enough for the moment that you know that a scientific refuge will be established on Terminus. And another will be established at the other end of the Galaxy, let us say,” and he smiled, “at Star’s End. And as for the rest, I will die soon, and you will see more than I. —No, no. Spare me your shock and good wishes. My doctors tell me that I cannot live longer than a year or two. But then, I have accomplished in life what I have intended and under what circumstances may one better die.”

“And after you die, sir?”

“Why, there will be successors—perhaps even yourself. And these successors will be able to apply the final touch in the scheme and instigate the revolt on Anacreon at the right time and in the right manner. Thereafter, events may roll unheeded.”

“I do not understand.”

“You will.” Seldon’s lined face grew peaceful and tired, both at once. “Most will leave for Terminus, but some will stay. It will be easy to arrange. —But as for me,” and he concluded in a whisper, so that Gaal could scarcely hear him, “I am finished.”

The book does say more about Hardin and life on Terminus. Hardin is the new Mayor and protector of the station. He’s not 100% sure of Seldon’s desires but he can see why their position on the edge of the Empire’s vision might be suitable for creating aliances that would overthrow the current government.

Space! If only he were as confident as he pretended! The Anacreonians were landing in two days and what had he to go on but a set of notions and half-guesses as to what Hari Seldon had been driving at these past fifty years? He wasn’t even a real, honest-to-goodness psychologist—just a fumbler with a little training trying to outguess the greatest mind of the age.

If Fara were right; if Anacreon were all the problem Hari Seldon had foreseen; if the Encyclopedia were all he was interested in preserving—then what price coup d’état?

He shrugged and drank his water.

“The Encyclopedia Foundation, to begin with, is a fraud, and always has been!” […] In the fifty years that you have worked on this fraudulent project—there is no use in softening phrases—your retreat has been cut off, and you have now no choice but to proceed on the infinitely more important project that was, and is, our real plan.

Years after Hardin’s rule, the “fame of Anacreon had withered to nothing with the decay of the times. The Viceregal Palace was a drafty mass of ruins except for the wing that Foundation workmen had restored. And no Emperor had been seen in Anacreon for two hundred years.” The reason that Terminus was so close to Anacreon was their political power and the space they had at their disposal.

Following closely the boundaries of the old Prefect of Anacreon, it embraced twenty-five stellar systems, six of which included more than one inhabited world. The population of nineteen billion, though still far less than it had been in the Empire’s heyday, was rising rapidly with the increasing scientific development fostered by the Foundation.

I barely finished the last bit of the novel, which now follows other Mayors – 300 years after Seldon. It has its moments but mostly it is filler, filler and at the end we realize how smart the main guy of the story was.

A funny thing that I observed is that there are only male characters except for a single chapter about a bitchy, sour wife who makes life miserable for one of the rulers of a planet. I know, I know, it’s the time the book was written. I am not offended. Still, I could not observe a phrase that went something like this: On the Foundation planet (forgot its name) there were X people together with their wives and children. So wives are not people, interesting idea.

I also kept asking myself why this was a science fiction novel at all? Why did Asimov feel the need to extrapolate when it really could have been some historical fiction about the late Roman Empire and the rise of Christendom and feudalism, or even perhaps about the United States and World War 2?

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