I’ve decided to read The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, as per recommendation of David, and I’m going to make a few observations and sometimes summaries, each of the seven books. Also I’ll be reading the books, not in the order they were published, but in the chronological sequence. There will also be MASSIVE SPOILERS through out!
Once more for good measure: MASSIVE SPOILERS
This was the first written of the series, and was originally published as four separate stories, the 5th of which was published when the first four were collected into a book. I’ll be addressing each short story, so this review will be a bit longer than usual.
Foundation was a much more political and inter-dialogue based, rather than action scene after action scene, as the Hari Seldon themed first two books were. Which was refreshing at first but did make it slightly more difficult to pay attention at times. Sometimes it seemed as if I could have skipped large portions of the book, but not miss any significant plot development. However this type of writing enables significant “fleshing-out” of the characters, and put more emphasis on the intricacies of conversation.
In the first book, The Psychohistorians, we see a bit more of Hari before his death, where he is displayed as much more of a stoic genius than a humble and humanized scientist, but who wouldn’t be when they had Psychohistory up and running? My favorite part of this mini-book/chapter is at the end when Hari and his 100,000 are exiled to Terminus, and only given a few months to do so. But Hari knew just what would happen, and they’ve been preparing for sometime.
The Encyclopedists; was a short story that I found just slightly tedious. It focused on the internal struggle of Salvor Hardin against both the Board of Trustees of Terminus, and the four local kingdoms that vie for power over The Foundation. I do enjoy the struggle that Hardin faces in deciding if his overthrow of the Board is compatible with the Seldon Plan. The idea that knowing there is a Psychohistory at work, might change what people do, changing the outcome from what was predicted. Which is of course why the details of the Seldon Plan are kept secret. I also thoroughly enjoyed Hari’s holographic appearances, as it showed him in that all-knowing and hyper-genius light, making him much more of a mythical figure than just another human.
The Mayors; was a very interesting read. Since the overthrow of the Board of Trustees, The Foundation has become the center of a science based religion, the idea of which I’ve had floating around my head for some time. I find the inner workings and political nature of this chapter to be quite driving, especially the slow-motion fall of the dominos between The Foundation and the surrounding four kingdoms. The non-violent approach that Salvor Hardin takes is very interesting. I could talk about its implications and applications in the real world political setting for ages, but suffice it to say, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
The Traders; shows the Foundations transition from a religion based power to an economic one. This transition reminds me of the game Spore, where one can conquer other planets via religion, economics, or military force. I believe Asimov is making a clear statement as to his stance on violence and war, that is, it isn’t necessary for the spreading of a power. Like the last chapter, I find myself rather interested with the dealings of Linmar Ponyets, who cleverly trades his way into a position of power and wealth while completing his trade missions, and keeping the Seldon Plan moving forward.
During The Merchant Princes, we first see the possibility of outside forces wielding their own technology. Until this point The Foundation had a monopoly on nuclear technology and this along with its various leader’s cunning. This story was less interesting than the others so far, however the manipulation of the Korellians was a plot point I quite enjoyed. It was, I suppose, simple enough to “have the batteries run out” making the planet dependent on The Foundation for replacements, but it wasn’t a twist I saw coming, and that’s always a bonus for me. This in addition to the clever Korellian Secret Police revelation in the prosecution of Hober Mallow. Which was impossible to predict, as the reader, a trait that tends to bug me more than perhaps it should. One of the things I very much enjoy when re-reading Asimov, is how one would see the key bits of evidence as clear as day, but during the first read once should more or less clueless.
This book (the collection of the five) was more difficult to get through than the previous two. Possibly due to the key aspect, the same one I found so interested by at times, that there was no unifying protagonist or antagonist. At least not as characters, perhaps these roles were filled by The Foundation and the Seldon Crises, but then again they were written separately and not meant to flow directly into one another. As I understand it, the next book in the series will be similar in this construction, let’s see how it fairs.