Foundation

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foundation.jpg

Isaac Asimov

GENRES: Science fiction, Novella

SUMMARY:
In the far future, humans have spread throughout the whole galaxy and are ruled by the Empire, a centralised government so big that it requires an entire planet to house it. Due to the vast size of the government and the many human civilisations that hang off it, corruption and inefficiency are becoming rampant.

Mathematician Hari Seldon has developed psychohistory, a new science which uses the psychology of vast populations to create complex models that can predict social evolution. Through psychohistory, Seldon predicts the decay and collapse of the Empire, events which will herald a new dark age for humans. To help shorten the time society will be plunged into this dark age, Seldon sets up two civilisations at either end of the galaxy.

Foundation focuses on one of these civilisations which Seldon populates with scholars whose sole task is to preserve all human knowledge into a grand Encyclopedia Galactica. But only several decades after Foundation's establishment, problems emerge, leaders change, and goals shift. The looming question remains whether these changes were predicted by Seldon or not.

Foundation is divided into four sections. The first introduces Seldon and his ideas through the eyes of his new apprentice. The second takes place during the boom of the Encyclopedists. The third chronicles some of the developing shifts in power between Foundation and its neighbors. The fourth describes the rise of practical commerce and self-interest over blind ideals.

RESPONSE:
The premise of this book is just plain simple and brilliant: If the human population gets big enough, you can use math to predict the evolution of society. Well, YOU couldn't do this, and I can't do this, and thankfully Asimov doesn't even attempt to explain the specifics - but the premise is sound. With this simple idea, Asimov's story spans multiple decades and main characters, tying seemingly disparate events into a mysterious and gradually revealed pattern.

Unlike some of Asimov's other works, the characters in Foundation are relatively well-developed. His writing is still very much driven by dialogue and action, but we know what his characters are thinking and feeling based on their words and deeds. I'm keen to continue reading the other books in this series to revisit some familiar characters. My two main complaints about the characters come down to the odd and lengthy names (why can't we have 'Scotts' and 'Freds' in the far future?) and the lack of even one interesting female character. I think the only woman of any note in the book is memorable only for her unhappy marriage and focus on fine jewelry. Oh well, at least Asimov is consistent.

I did find the four separate divisions slightly disjointed since there were very few common characters and events tying them together. At the end of the book, however, it all gels and makes sense. Maybe it's not perfect sense, but I'm assuming the sequels continue along the same lines.

POINT BLANK:
This book gives a whole new meaning to epic sci-fi. It's a justifiable classic and should be read by all but the most fluffy sci-fi fan.