Sunday, July 6, 2014

Foundation (Isaac Asimov)

(The Foundation series: The Foundation trilogy, Book 1)
Isaac Asimov
Del Rey
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: For twelve thousand years, the Galaxy has lived in peace and prosperity as a unified Empire... and all but a few ignore the signs of rot and stagnation at the very heart. The people turn inward, resting comfortably on the achievements of the past without pushing towards a better future. The visionary Hari Seldon, with his controversial psychohistory project, uses mathematics and probability to predict the future - and it is grim, indeed. When the Empire collapses, many thousands of years of interstellar barbarism await before the first glimmers of hope reappear. The wheels of human history turn vast and slow, and while they may not be stopped, they might be nudged. While the fall is certain, the intervening years of darkness might be condensed to a mere millennium. This begins the story of the Foundation, a steadfast collection of scientists and believers on the galactic rim struggling to fulfill Seldon's directives in the midst of threat, war, and treachery.

REVIEW: First conceived during World War II, this seminal series by one of the genre's most notable (and prolific) writers takes on fresh significance in the twenty-first century, with reports of actual computer programs similar to Asimov's psychohistory successfully predicting world events. The idea behind the story remains compelling: no matter how dark things get, or how grim the future looks, Benevolent Science (and White Men, not to mention nuclear power that seems to have near-miraculous abilities without today's toxic waste) will eventually save us.  My jaded twenty-first century self has a little trouble with that - especially given recent court rulings that place "sincerely-held" beliefs as sacrosanct beyond the science that proves them wrong - but it must've been nice to believe, especially with a war displaying humanity's worst aspects rattling on Asimov's very doorstep.
Ultimately, this is a book about ideas. While there are brief bursts of action, most of the warfare and bloodshed takes place elsewhere. The characters tend to be interchangeable names acting out roles in Seldon's grand plan, with the good guys and the bad guys fairly easy to distinguish. Women exist to be housewives, mistresses, or - in the case of the only named female - vain and power-hungry shrews, and ethnic minorities evidently never made it into space at all. But such were the times when Asimov wrote it. Considering that this was largely a political chess game played out between grandmasters on an interstellar tale, told largely in dialog exchanged over desks, it held my interest better than I'd expected it to, with fairly accessible writing and short chapters. I don't know that I'm interested enough to follow the series any further, though.

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