Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Book #527

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

FI come to this book as an avowed fan of Isaac Asimov’s work.  His were the first and most memorable of the science fiction genre that I read as a teenager.  If I’m being honest, it has been a very long time since first reading the Foundation series, and I was concerned that I had allowed them to bask in the glow of a youthful fondness.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried.

Foundation is the first, in publication order, of the seven books written about the collapse of the First Galactic Empire and the series of events that ensue.  It is preceded, chronologically in the story by two prequels.

Originally published as a single volume in 1951, it was a set of five short stories that bind together to form a fairly coherent single volume story of the first 150-odd years of the ‘Foundation Era’ aka F.E.  As short stories they were previously published between 1942 and 1944.

The setting begins in the last years of the Galactic Empire, which has been in existence for 12,000 years.  Psychohistorian Hari Seldon is the central figure in the first of the five stories and play a very minor role throughout.  Psychohistory is used by the mathematician to predict the fall of the Empire and together with an impending 30,000 years of a futuristic “Dark Age” where all knowledge will be lost.  Seldon and his cohorts set out to shorten that Dark Age by thousands of years using the power of psychohistorical prediction.  To this end they manipulate two Foundations at either end of the galaxy.  In Foundation we are taken to a barren world, Terminus, and it’s progress through multiple “Seldon Crises” as viewed by the main protagonist in the crises resolution.

The writing is remarkably unharmed by 70+ years of advancement in science.  And although it is science fiction, it is still essentially about people and how they choose to behave, albeit in an imagined future setting.  The conflicts and vagaries of humankind here on present day Earth are mirrored and commented up in this classic piece of fiction.  I think it is quite amazing to realise that these stories were written by a 21 year old and were the beginnings of an entire fictional universe that over a span of 50 years of Asimov’s writing ties in fluidly with his other works – the Robot series and the Empire series – and has been taken further by other, modern, authors such as David Brin and David Bear.

Here is a small taster of the straightforward writing style. Hari Seldon is here confronting his newly arrived, and soon to be successor Gaal Dornick, with the numerical prediction of the fall of the Empire.

“And what of the numerical probability of total destruction within three centuries?”
“I couldn’t tell.”
“Surely you can perform a field-differentiation?”
Gaal felt himself under pressure.  He was not offered the calculator pad.  It was held a foot from his eyes.  He calculated furiously and felt his forehead grow slick with sweat.
He said, “About 85%?”
“Not bad,” said Seldon, thrusting out a lower lip, “but not good.  The actual figure is 92.5%”
Gaal said, “And so you are called Raven Seldon? I have seen none of this in the journals.”
“But of course not.  This is unprintable.  Do you suppose the Imperium could expose its shakiness in this manner? That is a very simple demonstration in psychohistory.  But some of our results have leaked out among the aristocracy.”
“That’s bad.”
“Not necessarily.  All is taken into account.”
“But is that why I’m being investigated?”
“Yes.  Everything about my project is being investigated.”
“Are you in danger, sir?”
“Oh, yes.  There is probability of 1.7% that I will be executed, but of course that will not stop the project.  We have taken that into account as well.”

As a long time fan it is hard to be completely unbiased, however if this book has one real failing it is the repetitiveness of background in some of the stories.  This is a natural consequence of the original short story format, but it does still grate a little.  If you are a fan of complex and complicated prose, then this is not likely to be for you.  If you wish to start a journey into a unique view of Asmiov’s future universe, then this is a very light and easy entryway.

Happy reading everyone.


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