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