Foundation – Isaac Asimov
This book came highly recommended by a close friend whose taste in books is uncannily similar to my own. He even said it was the type of sci-fi I was looking for, i.e. not bogged down in technological babble and character focused. Once I started reading up on the novel I was surprised at just how highly the book was regarded. The first Foundation trilogy beat the Lord of the Rings to the Hugo Award in 1965 for “Best All-Time series” don’t you know. The books are short as well. To say I was looking forward to it was an understatement.
Foundation marks the first of a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown. The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn't look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica. But this project will take generations to complete, and who will take up the torch after him?
I always read the foreword of any book. I think it gives a good introduction to the style and “voice” of the author. In this instance, I immediately liked Asimov’s style. The first couple of the chapters of the book are excellent. The world building is excellent, not too in your face but not vague either. Asimov has a way of drip feeding you information without pandering the reader.
We are introduced to Hari Sheldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. What this means is that Hari can foresee the future having worked out the scientific probability of events unfolding. He is a cagey character and soon it is apparent that what he says cannot always be trusted. He always seems to be one step ahead of the reader.
When we initially meet him he is standing trial for predicting the downfall of humanity. Asimov’s style is one that shows you brief episodes of a scene and then the rest of the action takes place off screen and is recapped later through people discussing the events that have unfolded. It is interesting but not always effective which I will come on to.
Asimov has chosen to cover a huge time span. As a result the above mentioned scene is the first of many taken from specific time periods. Hari’s trial for example, happen 50 years before the next event in the book, and the one after that is another 30 years in the future.
Each time we jump in time, a host of new characters are introduced and although the previous time period is recapped well, you spend the most of the time struggling to get your bearings and getting used to the new characters.
The story is not dissimilar to Simmon’s Hyperion in the regard that the story visits different stories encapsulated within the main arc. As with Simmon’s work, some of the stories are better than others but the main problem I had is that by the end, I just did not have the enthusiasm to learn about another set of characters.
This was a shame as the storytelling was excellent. Asimov builds tension well and the climax of each episode in time is exciting, it is just a shame that I did not feel as if enough time was spent with the characters to become attached to them.
A few reviews mention the lack of female characters. I can’t say this bothered me especially given the period the book was first written. I just wish we stuck with the characters that were first introduced.
Overall then, given my high expectations, I was disappointed with Foundation. Given that it is such a swift read, I will not rule out finishing the trilogy. I will just not be in a rush to do so.
My rating: 7.3