Book Review: Foundation

I re-read this book at the behest of a fellow Bureau author, who told me that he’d been asked to review it but was swamped. I promised I’d review it m
yself as soon as I possibly could – and promptly blew it. That was several months ago. But I have read the material once more, and am ready to shove my
opinions down your throat in the fine tradition of literary reviews. The short review? Read this book.

General Information

Title: Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov
Original Publication Date: Short stories began in 1942, collected as “Foundation” in 1951.
ISBN: 0553293354
Cover Price: Approx. $8, depending on the edition.
Buy it from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Review

I suppose the best thing that can be said about this work is that I’m having to forcibly restrain myself from reading the second one again. I didn’t want to get the two confused in my head for when I wrote this, but it has been quite difficult to keep from diving right in again. The story Asimov weaves through these pages is truly engaging – even epic (though without the page count that word often conjures in my mind) and somehow still relevant even though the vast majority of his futurisms have become outmoded in the extreme.

The Foundation stories began their lives, for the most part, as short fiction and worked their way into a coherent piece collected and interlocked by the single conceit of Hari Seldon, psychohistorian. The concept behind psychohistory is simple – that via statistical analysis of human actions, given a large enough group of people (who are unaware of being analyzed) you will be able to predict the actions of the group. This is one of the few places where Asimov’s futurism is being borne out – I’ve read numerous articles in the last few years that discussed almost exactly the same topics – only they were actually beginning to put them into practice.

That conceit in mind, the rest of the book is a series of brief stories illustrating a universe in which this psychohistory would be of vital importance and how it might be put to use – primarily from the perspective of people only peripherally aware of the underlying concepts. I have a few issues with the book – mainly that a major precept of psychohistory is that the people involved need to be unaware of their part in events – and in every case it’s not only well known that some great test of Seldon’s science is at hand, it’s often a necessary component of being able to solve the issue. Slightly less annoying – more amusing, in fact – are the constant incongrutities from their future to ours. Almost everyone’s primary concern is where their next smoke is coming from, data is transferred by teleportation of spools of wire, and planets that have lost everything but oil and coal technology still have interstellar spacefaring technology. Easily discounted things, for the sake of the story, but still of more than passing note. In all, the truth is that this book holds up remarkably well for its age and its concept, and is a remarkably enjoyable read. In fact, for its economic principles alone it should be required reading in most schools. Truly it is a classic work of Science Fiction, and I would to this day recommend it to anyone.

High Point

Definitely more a style than a point, but as always the “locked room mystery” style that Asimov excels at is the most enjoyable part of this book

Low Point

Unfortunately, the odd ways in which Asimov’s concept of the future differs makes for the low point of this volume – I know, I know, there’s a possibility the future might work out like that. We’re THOUSANDS of years from it. I’m also aware that he wrote this book in a completely different era from the one we’re in now, and he couldn’t have known how things were actually going. But that doesn’t stop it from being a low point. In fact, all things considered, it’s still pretty high for a low point.

The Scores

In terms of originality, this book is impressive. This is the first time I’ve seen any of these concepts, chronologically. Definitely a 6/6.

The imagery is okay, not bad. I had some clear pictures in my head of some scenes going back to my first reading – and I found, upon careful
reading, that they were almost entirely wrong. I don’t blame Asimov, really, but at the same time, the vivid things I remember were all concepts, not images. 4/6.

The story was well written. I have to dock a bit for flow, mostly because of the nature of the book, but it really was very engaging as a story. 5/6.

Characterization was…well, it was difficult. It’s a short book. Characters are pretty much one-dimensional, and his heroes are almost all
the same. Protagonists are ruthless, likeable rogues who manage to do the good thing at the same time as the right thing, sometimes entirely by
accident, and antagonists are often (if not always) weak, small minded men (yes, they’re all men) who are so impressed with their self importance that they’re blinded to the “true course of history”. At the same time, this doesn’t really matter, as the characters really aren’t what the story is all about. They just happen to be in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, and history rolls right on through it. Still, I have to give it 2/6.

The emotional response really isn’t there. It’s hard to get emotionally attached to a crumbling empire (The prequel does a much better job of
that) and none of the characters are very permenant – in fact, most of the characters die between sections simply becuase time has passed them by. In a
book like that, what would it matter if someone “didn’t make it”. We’re on a different scale – one that’s hard to really relate to. 2/6.

The editing is…well, competent. I didn’t notice any mistakes – and I don’t know if I have the most “modernly” edited version – though I imagine so. I can’t see this one changing too much over the years. Since the editing did what it was supposed to do (get out of the way and let you get on with the whole “reading the book” thing) I have to give it 6/6.

Overall, Foundation is a good work with a great history. 5/6.

In Total, Foundation gets 30 out of 42. Go read it. Even if you don’t find yourself a huge fan, it’s something anyone who would visit this site in the first place should read. In fact, pick up the whole original trilogy (which I’ll be reviewing at a later time. Remember to use our links to do so!

9 replies on “Book Review: Foundation”

  1. Canthros says:

    I remember Foundation fondly
    Actually, years ago (I had to still be in junior high) I read the Foundation and Foundation and Empire and still remember them quite fondly. I’m not sure they were much, story-wise, for pretty much the reasons you mention, but they presented an impressive world in their own ways.

    Strangely, I was really unable to get into Second Foundation at all, which I imagine would be the more accessible of the three books. Of course, I never finished reading it and it’s been probably ten years or more, so I’m unsure.

    • hitch says:

      Re: I remember Foundation fondly

      Strangely, I was really unable to get into Second Foundation at all, which I imagine would be the more accessible of the three books. Of course, I never finished reading it and it’s been probably ten years or more, so I’m unsure.

      It’s not bad. if you’re so inclined, I’d recommend reading it, if for no other reason than completeness.
      By all means, however, read Prelude to Foundation. that’ll get a review at some point, I’ll bet.

  2. is says:

    good book!
    I read science fiction for years before picking up Asimov… After readint the foundation stuff, I can see why he comes so well recommended.

    I found the earlier books in the series to be more dry. They got better (IMO) as they went on. The whole series was very good in my opinion.

    If someone can, it’s be cool to see a review of “I, Robot” before the movie comes out… (but I’m a little late asking, I know.) The movie trailers indicate quite heavily that the movie is totally different, but it might show interested readers the difference.

    • bombadil says:

      Re: good book!

      The movie trailers indicate quite heavily that the movie is totally different, but it might show interested readers the difference.

      It’s been many years since I’ve read “I, Robot”; But as I recall it was clever exploration of the interaction between taking 3 laws at their literal meaning when faced with real world situations. The 3 laws, of course, are Asimov’s famous 3 laws of robotics:

      1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
      2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
      3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

      The book is a collection of stories bound by a few reocurring characters. There is one that involves the possibility of murder of a human being. But of course, without the influence of Hollywood the robots always strictly followed the laws (they have no choice, they are machines) so the stories only show the subtle loopholes that can be found by setting up difficult situations where the 3 laws are self-contradictory.

      The stories were way ahead of their time. When they were written the idea of a robot psychologist was as absurb as an automobile psychologist. But today with the subtle interaction of Operating Systems, API’s, Applications, Viruses, and Trojan Horses all interacting across networks the idea that debugging a problem might not be as simple as finding the “error” in the code it more plausible. Today problems crop up as emergent behaviors in complex networks bound by the all the programs running at different levels on multiple machines. Not too different than unexpected behaviors emerging from the interaction of the 3 laws of robotics and the real life situations the robots faced in “I, Robot”.

      Oh, and no rampaging army of rogue robots, no wisecracking streetwise cops, pretty much no direct violence at all.

      • hitch says:

        Re: good book!

        Oh, and no rampaging army of rogue robots, no wisecracking streetwise cops, pretty much no direct violence at all.

        yep. more of the “locked room mystery” style of problem solving that really is the hallmark of his most popular work. It’s a neat group of stories – and I’m almost physically ill to think of what the movie is about. If you’re reading this, and you’re unaware of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics or you’re unaware of the plot of the movie, let’s just put it this way – there is NO way that Asimov COULD have written anything similar. His three laws were designed specifically because he was TIRED of seeing rampaging out of control robots. If you go see “I, Robot” the movie, please do not relate it to Asimov at all. I think they did far more harm to themselves than good by retaining that title.

    • TwistyHat says:

      Re: good book!

      The movie trailers indicate quite heavily that the movie is totally different, but it might show interested readers the difference.

      It is totally different, because its a different story. Someone picthed another story, and was halfway through filming, before someone though “hey, if why don’t we buy the rights to I,Robot”

      • hitch says:

        Re: good book!

        The movie trailers indicate quite heavily that the movie is totally different, but it might show interested readers the difference.

        It is totally different, because its a different story. Someone picthed another story, and was halfway through filming, before someone though “hey, if why don’t we buy the rights to I,Robot”

        which was the most idiotic, damaging thing they could have done to their movie.

  3. Trekkie says:

    Hm
    I didn’t read any of the Foundation series until 1999 or 2000. I was pretty limited in what I read as a kid (Star Trek Paper backs only) and started branching out as I traveled more and needed something to read on long plane flights.

    So I had the fortune/misfortune of reading them ‘in order’ as they are released today. So I started with Prelude to Foundation. That seemed to flesh things out better than if I’d only read the original treaty.

    after reading prelude for the foundation I bought every book that had Asimov’s name on it and then a few that didn’t. I read the Robot City ones for a bit but they got rather odd and then I couldn’t find any more of them so it just kind of left hanging, along with the second foundation series by bear & company.

    Decent reading, I though Foundation ended rather weird with the mutant solaran and Daniel locked inside the moon.

    • hitch says:

      Re: Hm

      I didn’t read any of the Foundation series until 1999 or 2000. I was pretty limited in what I read as a kid (Star Trek Paper backs only) and started branching out as I traveled more and needed something to read on long plane flights.

      So I had the fortune/misfortune of reading them ‘in order’ as they are released today. So I started with Prelude to Foundation. That seemed to flesh things out better than if I’d only read the original treaty.

      after reading prelude for the foundation I bought every book that had Asimov’s name on it and then a few that didn’t. I read the Robot City ones for a bit but they got rather odd and then I couldn’t find any more of them so it just kind of left hanging, along with the second foundation series by bear & company.

      Decent reading, I though Foundation ended rather weird with the mutant solaran and Daniel locked inside the moon.

      I actually would not recommend the last few books in the “series”. it gets TWISTEDly bizarre.

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