Tag Archives: Foundation

FOUNDATION TRILOGY – Isaac Asimov (1951-’53)

Foundation first edition cover high res (David Kyle, Gnome, 1951)Foundation and Empire (Asimov, first cover, damaged)Second Foundation (Asimov, first cover, Binkley)

For about a decade I didn’t read any fiction. About 14 years ago a friend recommended me Anathem by Neil Stephenson, and I’ve been back at reading fiction since. Some Culture novels by Banks followed, and I became enamored with science fiction as genre. So I dove into its canon, and the Foundation series became the first thing I read after I gobbled up Iain M. Banks. It became one of my favorite series, even liking book 4 and 5 from 1982 and ’86 most – back then because of their scientific-mystical all-is-one slant.

I read some more of Isaac Asimov too: I, Robot (1950), Caves of Steel (1954), The End of Eternity (1955), The Gods Themselves (1972), and the godawful Foundation prequels – Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993).

And now, after my rereads of the entire Dune series, and Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, the time felt right to reread and review Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. At first I wanted to do one book at a time, but when I finished Foundation, it was obvious that these books are better reviewed as a whole, as they are a sole collection of short stories and novellas first published in Astounding Science-Fiction, from 1942 to 1950, under the auspices of editor John W. Campbell. Only the very first chapter, “The Psychohistorians”, was written for the publication of the first book itself.

I read the splendid Everyman’s Library edition – a hardback with an excellent 15-page introduction by Michael Dirda that’s isn’t expensive nonetheless. That introduction guided my reading a bit, and I’ll get back to it a few times.

First, a warning: I’ll have to let down recurring readers expecting a long analysis like those of the Dune books or The Book of the New Sun. This post won’t be 5,000 or 10,000 words – only 2,300. I simply don’t have that much to add to all that has been written on this seminal work, considered a “watershed” in literary history by many. Dirda quotes SF editor Donald Wollheim: “Stories published before Foundation belong to the old line, the stories published published after belong to ‘modern’ science fiction.”

Before my actual reread, I thought this post might turn into a big examination about how Asimov deals with free will in the books, not dissimilar to my post on LOTR. It turns out that there just isn’t that much to discuss, but I’ll spend a few paragraphs on it nonetheless, as it is the crux of the series.

Did I think this trilogy has become way outdated, and did I enjoy my reread? To answer that and more, let’s get back to Dirda – three times.

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FORWARD THE FOUNDATION – Isaac Asimov (1993)

Forward The FoundationSomewhat better than the previous installment (Prelude to the Foundation), this book might be of interest to Foundation completionists, but it lacks the scope, depth and vision of the Trilogy, and it also lacks the interesting story the 4th and the 5th novels still had.

This is just Hari Seldon working on psychohistory on Trantor, setting up the Foundations. At least it isn’t as predictable structure-wise as Prelude…. There’s not really that much of interest to learn, and as always, Asimov is not a good stylist, nor a writer of vivid dialogue.

The text on the back cover is hyperbole: this is no “crowning achievement” nor a “stunning testament”. I feel Asimov had better not succumbed to his readers’ pressure, and should have ended the series after Foundation and Earth. The 2 prequels feel forced, but this is the finer of the 2, for what that’s worth.

Still, since it’s only about 400 pages in pocket format, and not a dense read at all, completing the series isn’t a big investment of your time. Just don’t start reading because of Foundation-FOMO.

originally written on the 10th of October, 2014

PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION – Isaac Asimov (1988)

Prelude To FoundationThis is a prequel to the Foundation trilogy, which in itself was followed by Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. Those two sequels aren’t as good as the first 3 books, but they are much, much better than this one. Even though it is a prequel, I do not advise on reading it first. It might damage one’s opinion of the entire series, or even cause uninterest in the “real” trilogy, which would be a dying shame.

Prelude to Foundation is, however, a quick and at times fun read, and has a good ending, so for anybody who has read and enjoyed the first 3 (or 5) books, it’s a nice addition to the series. But it is not much more: taken on its own it’s rather bland, especially the middle part, so please: don’t start here, just read everything in order of publication.

The first 3 books of the Foundation series are a true monument of SF, with wild ideas, a vast and breathtaking scope and a really interesting story. This book has none of that: it is basically Hari Seldon visiting four different sectors (with a different culture) of Trantor, in order to learn something from those cultures so he can work out the basics of his psychohistory. This starting up of psychohistory is sketchy at best, and there’s not that much to be learned about it you didn’t already know if you’ve read the rest. Seldon gets in some trouble, there’s some fighting, there’s some political scheming, and again there’s a link with the robot novels (as in the 2 sequels), but nothing like the plot of the Trilogy.

I hope the final book, a sequel to this story (and so a prequel to the others as well), is a lot better…

originally written on the 2nd of October, 2014