Foundation

Foundation Orange The first book of 2012 that I finished is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.  I am not sure if I read it previously in my life or not, some things (like the Foundation Series) I feel are so ubiquitous that it’s indistinct if I actually read all of the series or something else.  So, in this review, I am going to just pretend and assume this is the first time I’ve read this novel.

This first book of the Foundation Series has seen an incredible number of printings.  However, this first novel is actually the combination of five short stories that were published together in 1951, but separately as stories in the 1940s.  The short stories are all related and the Foundation Series, as a whole, is considered Asimov’s best fiction work – easily, it is his most popular. My edition is the Bantam Spectra edition show to the left:  the cover illustration and design are credited to Jamie S Warren Youll and Stephen Youll.  Asimov was born January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia and passed away April 6, 1992 in NY, NY.

The five [former] short stories are:

1.  The Psychohistorians

2.  The Encyclopedists

3.  The Mayors

4.  The Traders

5.  The Merchant Princes

Definitely, overall, the first three sections are my favorite.  The last two are so entertwined and full of politico-economics that I am sure I ought to have read those two sections twice to make sure I caught all of the nuances and details. Each of the sections is located on a timeline from the exile of Historian Hari Seldon from the planet Trantor.

The premise of the series is that Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behaviour of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.

Foundation deals with the variety of “Seldon Crises” that occur after the Foundation is banished from the Galactic Empire. A “Seldon Crisis” refers to a social and political situation that, to be successfully surmounted, would eventually leave only one possible, inevitable, course of action. They are named after Hari Seldon, who founded the field of psychohistory, and who appears as a pre-recorded hologram at the climax of each crisis. Before his death, he used psychohistory to predict and manipulate each event. A Seldon Crisis usually involves both an external pressure (such as threat of attack) and an internal pressure (such as threat of revolt). Both pressures will come to a head simultaneously, and be resolved with the same action.

The parts of the novel wherein Seldon appears in his pre-recorded hologram are actually pretty neat. It’s always like a big unveiling and no one is 100% certain that it’s going to happen when it does. So, Seldon ends up becoming something like a prophet – and, naturally, that’s how religion-science enters the storyline. Overall, Foundation is full of ideas – ideas that are sometimes pared down for the reader and sometimes surprisingly astute.  The storyline is moved along via dialogue and the descriptiveness is kept to a minimum.  The characters have “similar” names that are easily pronounced. Obviously, Asimov was not writing characters like Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  This makes for the book to read quite quickly; no droll boring parts, no unending rambling descriptions.  Knowing that each of the five sections was originally a short story published separately helps the reader, as well.

Overall, I was unsure whether this was a three or a four. I went with a four. I also wanted to share the quote from the Commdor’s very bitchy wife. I think it’s gloriously scathing:

“Enough, my very noble husband. You had another of your vacillating consultations with your councilors. Fine advisors.” With infinite scorn, “A herd of palsied purblind idiots hugging their sterile profits close to their sunken chests in the face of my father’s displeasure.”

4 stars

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