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Book Review: Foundation and Earth

Riley Sproul Ideas, Literature, Science, Scifi, Space Leave a Comment

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

At first I thought there was going to be a repeat of the, ‘let’s never talk about how you’re a robot’ trope from Forward the Foundation, between Seldon and Dors. However I was happily disappointed when Bliss brought up Trevize’s accusation of her being a robot, to Pelorat, and they at least addressed it as a couple. At the end of Foundation’s Edge I was all but certain Bliss was indeed a robot, assigned with the job of overseeing Gaia, as Trevize suggested. I was mostly convinced by her steadfast refusal to deny the idea. But as she argues with Pelorat, I became less curious about the question of her robotic nature. Her argument essentially stating that, “If a robot is a machine so complex that it can’t be distinguished from a human, they are as good as human.” This line of reason was familiar to me from the Battlestar Galactica remake.

1:45:00 2/3- conversation with the skeptic historian. I found this dialog surprisingly refreshing. In the galaxy that The Foundation series takes place it seemed to me that most Foundationers were semi-skeptical. But it bothered me slightly that the entirety of the first foundation seemed to take Seldons plan on faith. Obviously it made vague predictions, but they were followed up by more specific monologues from Seldon himself. However, for at least 2 crisisease, Seldons messages were not observed. Which implies blind faith that all was well.

3:23:00 2/3- quote from Pelerant similar to “humans couldn’t be so foolish at to allow the destruction of the things [environment] keeps them alive.”

The world of Solaria is one I find incredibly fascinating. In one sense it’s built on a radically extreme libertarian view of “freedom”. Through isolation, the individuals are allowed to do anything they want. This removes the need for Solarians to have caution for the well being of others, due to the extreme distances between them. However the exchange is near-total isolation from other individuals, something I find (at times and in a sense) appealing. In many ways this planet the the exact opposite of Gaia. They are built in isolation rather than inter-cooperation. They lack telepathy but excel in (a form of) telekinetics. They have little to no social memory, where as Gaia builds memory into the very bedrock.

I find an interesting limit to the powers of telepathy and emotional manipulation that Gaia/Bliss posses. It could be the vast distance between to worlds, but it would appear to me that telepathy need not be in a “language” as we think of it. For this reason, I don’t understand why she/they/Gaia cannot simply communicate with Fallom in a mental “non-language”. Again, perhaps it’s the hyperspace all distance, or the strain to power parts of Solaria, or even the differences in brain physiology, but I would think that a telepath would be able to communicate beyond language; as they might with animals. This is seem in the second foundation in multiple previous books when the narrator points out that the first speaker doesn’t actually “speak” to the rest of the speakers.

Upon finishing this final book of the series I found myself, I’m sad to say, disappointed. At first I was thrilled Daneel was looped back into the series. Having not read The Robot series yet, I’ve not had much background on the species/lifeform and find them very interesting. However, Daneel is dying. His robo-brain can’t keep going anymore and creating a more complex one runs up against the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. He can’t replace it with an identical model as it doesn’t have the increase in storage capacity he’d require. Why he can’t add storage (which seems as simple as volume) without adding complexity to the entire system however, is unexplained. Suffice it to say he must “merge” his brain with an organic one, namely Fallom’s. This ties up Falloms story quite nicely, and gives Daneel a sense of mortality that, for me, he lacked previously. Plus, for his final centuries Daneel/Fallom will essentially be transducing, empathic, telepathic, and telekinetic, which is awesome.

I feel that the question, “Is bliss a robot?” Is well answered however. She is not. Firstly, Daneel refers to her as “Gaia” rather than as a fellow robot. Secondly he tells the group that while there are other humani-form roots present, they will not see them. And finally, Daneel says the humani-form robots were being recalled to Earth, their final missions to erase information about Earth. As Gaia has no recollection of Earth, it seems likely that any on-surface robots were removed some time ago. Also it is apparent Daneel can observe and alter Gaia from afar, so that an on-planet robot would not be necessary.

My issue however is this: the whole time Trevieas is searching for the reason behind his decision to choose Galaxia over The Seldon Plan. And after all the searching and danger and problem solving the answer is… Military defense. If there are other dominant intelligent lifeforms in other galaxies, and if they travel to the Milky Way, and if they’re hostile, then obviously they’ll kick humanities ass… Right? Therefore humanity has to give up its independence of being to form Galaxia. But ironically, Trevease steadfastly refuses to have his own individuality altered. The ending was also very abrupt. Trevease mentions “with a twinge of fear” that as far as humanity knows these other-galactic lifeforms have yet to visit. And Fallom is looking at him, apparently “unfathomably”. Well… He was talking, which seems reason enough, but it was also the culmination of their entire journey, why would Fallom not be looking at him? The implication is that Fallom is very different from the rest of them (hermaphroditic, and transducing) and therefore possibly from another Galaxy. Which, given the well documented history of Solaria (film and pictures passed on by the generations) it would seem genetic alteration is substantially proven. All in all, I was expecting a bigger finish.

The entire series was excellent however. It’s no doubt diverse in the writing styles, from following a character(s) to slipping centuries, to catch glimpses of a galactic civilizations rise and fall, and possible resurgence. I felt the characters were well rounded and often self-contradictory, but in a good way. While I criticized Trevease for his reluctance to join Gaia while choosing it as the path for the Galaxy… I would be hard driven to do exactly the same. The inner duality of humanity is shown very well in numerous places, especially in that choice. I also thoroughly enjoyed how Seldon was (in the order I read the books) a man elevated to legendary proportions, near idolized, and then slowly forgotten. We have no idea if his holographic projections continued to be displayed, or if people even cared to watch them. While his plan lives on in the Foundations, his true life’s story was lost long ago. Not unlike the legends Pelerant studies so methodically, he was elevated to a “culture hero”.


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Book Links:

Digital/Physical/Audiobook- http://www.randomhouse.com/book/5656/foundation-and-earth-by-isaac-asimov

Riley Sproul has a Bachelors in Biology, with a concentration in PreMed, and a Chemistry Minor, from the University of Toledo. His goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in Neurobiology with in the next 4-5 years. His interests include sci-fi, PC-gaming, playing guitar, and a variety of other hobbies.
Book Review: Foundation and Earth was last modified: May 13th, 2015 by Riley Sproul