Book Review: Foundation

Book Name:Foundation
Author: Issac Asimov
First Published: 1951

Isaac Asimov was an American author, a professor of biochemistry, and is best known for his science fiction and popular science books. He is considered one of the most prolific writers in history, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters or articles.

Asimov is renowned as a master of the science-fiction genre and was considered one of the “Big Three” who developed the genre along with authors Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. His most famous work is the Foundation Series, which started as a trilogy and then expanded into fifteen novels. Later, Asimov combined his Galactic Empire Series and the Robot Series into the Foundation universe that created a unified “future history” for a total of twenty-two novels that are considered part of this unified series.

Most of his popularized science books examine scientific concepts in a historical way. He begins by going back to when the concept was first in question at its simplest stage and then follows the idea through history, providing the nationalities, and biographical of the scientists as well as pronunciation guides for the technical terms.

A lessor known fact about the author is that he also wrote under the pen-name, Paul French. Under this name, Asimov wrote the popular juvenile science fiction series known as the Lucky Starr Series.

Foundation is the first novel of the original trilogy that Asimov wrote. It appeared as four novellas in magazines before it was combined as a true novel in 1951.

The Foundation Series follows the ideas developed by fictional mathematician Hari Seldon, a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a sort of mathematical sociological theory. Using the laws of mass action, this theory can predict the future, but only on the largest of scales. It explains that the behavior of a mass of people is predictable if the quantify of this population is extremely large, equal to quadrillions of humans. The greater the number of people in the equation, the more predictable the future will be.

Seldon, by using this theory, realizes that the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire is about to occur and this descent will encompass the entire Milky Way Galaxy. There will follow a dark age that will last for thirty thousand years before a second great empire will rise from the ashes. Seldon is disturbed by thought that so many people will be lost for so very long. Using his science of psychohistory, he also understands that there is an alternative where the intermittent period will last a scant one thousand years, if events are helped along. Seldon decides to make it his mission to push humanity into this alternate future history. He creates two Foundations to guide humanity, each at opposite ends of the galaxy. One is large and in the open, the other, secluded and secret. Both locations are places where all human knowledge is stored.

The novels are not about Hari Seldon the man, but more about the Seldon Plan as it is used by the Foundation to guide humanity into creating the second great Empire and the obstacles it must overcome to do so.

I first read Foundation in the 1970s as a teenager. It was not one of my favorite stories, but I had heard so much about Asimov that I wanted to read his famous trilogy. Although I have not read the entire body of his work, I find that the stories by this author that I have read, whether I enjoyed them at the time or not, stay with me permanently and make me think about the world around me in a new light.

I find a few flaws in Asimov’s writing when it comes to characterization. Many of his character’s personalities are flat and the majority of them are male. They are also a reflection of the time when they were written. This distanced the story for me personally, since as a woman, I found it more difficult to relate to the characters as people. However, the original science concepts of the story makes up for this lack and I found myself fascinated by the unique ideas found in these novels. Ideas that are as fresh today as when they were written decades ago. While there is currently no such science as psychohistory, I would not be surprised if it came into being, inspired by these classic novels, much as the science of robotics as we know it today was formed by the ideas found in Asimov’s Robot Series. Asimov is the man that coined the term “robotics” and wrote the three laws of robotics that are now used by AI developers. This saga of the futuristic “fall of the roman empire” is well worth the time to explore, keeping in mind the time when it was written.

Foundation Book CoverThe seven novels of the original “Foundation” series in chronological story order:

Prelude to Foundation
Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation’s Edge
Foundation and Earth
Forward the Foundation

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