The Foundation trilogy (three first books) and the Foundation series (all seven) are often regarded as the greatest set of Science Fiction literature ever produced. The Foundation series won the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Isaac Asimov was among the world's best authors, an accomplished scientist, and he was also a genius with an IQ above 170, and it shows in the intelligently concocted but complex plots and narrative. There are already 331 reviews for this Science Fiction novel, however, I still believe I have something unqiue to contribute which is stated in my last paragraph.
This book and the rest in the series take place far in the future (allegedly 50,000 years) at a time when people live throughout the Galaxy. A mathematician Hari Seldon has developed a new branch of mathematics known as psychohistory. Using the law of mass action, it can roughly predict the future on a large scale. Hari Seldon predicts the demise of the Galactic Empire and creates a plan to save the knowledge of the human race in a huge encyclopedia and also to shorten the barbaric period expected to follow the demise from 30,000 years to 1,000 years. A select people are chosen to write the Encyclopedia and to unknowingly carry out the plan to re-create the Galactic Empire. What unfolds in this book and in the books that follow is the future history of the demise and re-emergence of a Galactic Empire, written as a series of adventures, in a similar fashion to the Star Wars series.
Even though this is arguably the greatest set of Science Fiction novels ever written, I do not recommend it to those who are only mildly interested in Science Fiction. Character development is not the focus of these novels and the large amount of technical/scientific details, schemes and plots can become both confusing and heavy for the unitiated Science Fiction reader. If you read this one you will feel the need to read the others which may take a long time. If you are new to Science Fiction start with something lighter and when you are hooked you can continue with this series. Also, in my opinion the second and third books were better than the first.
on November 22, 2013
This review is specifically of the Kindle edition, published by Ballantine/Bantam.
The Foundation Trilogy is a wonderful piece of work, but the Kindle edition butchers it! Someone has decided to water down Asimov's prose, eliminating some of the more enjoyable passages of the book. Here are some examples, found by comparison with an old Bantam Doubleday hardcover edition.
Several pages into chapter 3, Salvor Hardin is arguing with the Encyclopedists about the decline of the Empire.
Original: "If you ask me,", he cried, "THE GALAXY IS GOING TO POT!"
Kindle: "If you ask me,", he cried, "THE GALACTIC EMPIRE IS DYING!"
In chapter 5, Hardin is again meeting with the Encyclopedists and discussing the threat received from Anacreon.
Original: The message from Anacreon ... boils down easily and straightforwardly to the unqualified statement ... "You give us what we want in a week, or we beat the hell out of you and take it anyway."
Kindle: The message from Anacreon ... boils down easily and straightforwardly to the unqualified statement ... "You give us what we want in a week, or we take it by force."
I'm going to be asking for a refund.
on November 19, 2002
Asimov had an active and brilliant imagination - truly, a scientist writing fiction. This series is science fiction on a grand scale. When you keep in mind that this story originated in 1951, it is easy to see how much Star Trek, Star Wars and yes even Heinlein's & Clarke's later works borrowed from these ideas.
Anyway, Asimov at his best was a creator; he had amazing ideas of the universe, how it worked, and how to structure stories that manipulated the readers expectations.
The Foundation series is like a spider web that continues to become more intricate and complex with each chapter. The intricacy of the plotting is amazing, although honestly it's not self-evident in the first few stories of the first novel, given that they were published independantly, as serialized short stories told one at a time.
Only with the second book did this change.
The basic premise: The rise and fall of the roman empire, told on a galactic scale from a historian living in the 2nd empire a thousand years later.
The setup: One man creates a science, called Psychohistory, a fictional precursor to Chaos Math (a real statistical science today). This psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, predicted that the vast Galactic Empire is about to crumble, dropping humanity back into the dark ages. This dark ages was due to last 30,000 years (I believe), and while it is too late to prevent this horrible breakdown of society, Seldon believes he can use this new math to shorten the time period between empires.
To do so, he establishes two "Foundations" made up of scientists, one at the outer edge of the galaxy, and the other at "Star's End". In advance, Seldon plots out the future (using the math of psychohistory), and sets in motion a series of "domino" events. The Foundation faces crises and problems, forcing change in both strategy and focus for the next several hundred years. But Asmimov continues to modulate the story throughout each of the books, and building upon the previously-understood structure.
In fact, once you think you've read enough permutations on the same idea, Asimov starts tearing the structure down, introducing variables into the story that further complicate matters.
A caveat about the most often-touted complaint about Asimov: His writing style (or lack thereof):
In 1951, when these stories were first published, Asimov was not a great writer - as in, a writer of literature. His descriptions, characterizations and storytelling technique all left a lot to be desired. His technique got better with the passing years, such that any of his fiction written after 1970 or so reads easily.
But that is not the point, here. Asimov didn't create great characters (save for his robot stories) - he came up with mind-bending ideas and subsequent permutations.
The litmus test of whether or not Asimov is for you: Read 'The Last Question'. It's a 12-page short story. Not brilliantly written, but a fantastic story with amazing ideas contained inside. When you get to the last sentence of it, you will probably be blown away. If you are, Foundation is for you.
Read them - and commit to all of them, because they get better as they go, generally speaking. The first three were written in 1950 - 53. But the fans demanded that he someday continue the story, so he continued with a fourth book in 1983, and the last in 1986. Some complain that the last book is overlong - and I agree - but the last sentence of the last book is...amazing.
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation (contains the best story - Search By The Mule)
Foundation's Edge (best overall book)
Foundation and Earth
Afterward, Asimov went back and wrote prequel novels (Prelude to Foundation, Foundation's End) taking place prior to and concurrently with events from the first book. He later admitted that he wrote prequels because the main story had gotten so complicated, he felt he'd taken the story as far as it could go.
The prequels aren't too bad, but they are completely non-essential.
on October 6, 2002
The trilogy is essential, but since Asimov also capitalized on his own genius by writing what seems to be hundreds of lesser Foundation stories, it can all get very confusing and a bit draining. This is the second book in the original trilogy, so it is from a science fiction point of view essential reading. The trilogy itself comes up with two highly memorable characters, Hari Seldon, the psycho-historian, who uses Mathematics to predict the future and establish a "Foundation" that will limit the dark ages after the fall of the "Empire" to a single millenium (as opposed to ten.) He reappears as a hologram at certain points in the story with more or less accurate takes on what is happening in "History" at that point.
The other very memorable character is the Mule. He represents the variable that makes predicting "History" mathematically a tricky business at least, not to mention impossible. He is a nasty totalitarian character who strangely in Asimov's hands manages to elicit some sympathy. Asimov is playing with the idea of predicting human behavior scientifically (or controlling it scientifically,) but this character is also a humanistic meditation on how masses of people get overwhelmed by evil social forces like fascism and soviet communism. You can see that Asimov lived through the era of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Stalin and that these cult of personality tyrants and the submission of masses of people to their destructive and sadistic wills profoundly affected his view of human nature. Foundation and Empire seems to be an attempt to come to terms with that experience, and so has something to say about the specifics of twentieth century history, as well as about historical philosophy.
on September 12, 2003
[The quotation is from Salvor Hardin, Mayor of Terminus.]
Let's say it's around 1940 or so; you're studying chemistry in grad school but your true love is history; you've read Edward Gibbon's _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_, but writing a historical novel set in the _past_ would require just too much research; you get the bright idea of writing a historical tale set in the _future_, about the decline and fall of a _Galactic_ Empire, and you suggest as much to John W. Campbell, Jr.
Campbell's response: he gets excited and suggests that you introduce some pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo about "psychohistory". Do you:
(a) drop the idea and write something else?
(b) write the story just as Campbell describes it?
(c) use a little imagination, make Campbell's idea a bit more intellectually presentable, and crank out, not just a single story, but a Hugo-award-winning series?
If you picked (c), congratulations; you're Isaac Asimov.
The Hugo didn't come until 1965, when the Foundation series won for best all-time series (defeating even Tolkien's _Lord of the Rings_ books). By then Asimov had long ago tired of the series; you can tell by the first part of the third book. (But the _second_ part of the third book is probably the best part of the original three volumes.)
And heck, even in order to keep it going _that_ long, he had to introduce a radical departure from the Seldon Plan, in which the Mule initiates not just another Seldon Crisis but a new element altogether, one that wasn't accounted for in the Plan. (And in even later installments, it becomes pretty clear that Asimov isn't exactly thrilled by either the Plan or the Empire it's supposed to bring about.)
But in the first volume, all of it is still fresh. Here we meet Hari Seldon for the first time, get slightly acquainted with his mathematical science of psychohistory, and learn what he's done to keep the decline of the Galactic Empire from leading humanity into 30,000 years of barbarism. He can't avert the decline, but he's got a way to reduce the period of barbarism to a mere millennium.
He's set up two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy. And he's carefully set the ball rolling so that every so often there will be some sort of sociopolitical crisis, to which there's only one possible resolution. All the Foundation has to do is wait until the crisis narrows everything down to just one option, and then figure out what the heck that option _is_ . . .
Well, I think you can see that the pattern leaves some room for the exercise of intelligence, but not a lot for individual initiative. No wonder Asimov let the Plan start going awry; the story might have lasted a thousand years, but the dramatic possibilities wouldn't.
Anyway, it's a great, great series. This is where it begins in realtime, although the later novel _Prelude to Foundation_ is "first" according to the chronology of the Foundation universe. (And the Empire novels -- _Pebble in the Sky_, _The Stars, Like Dust_, and _The Currents of Space_ -- take place even earlier. So do most of the robot stories.)
If you haven't read it yet and you think you might be an SF fan, you'll want to get around to it pretty soon. Start here, and enjoy.
on January 14, 2001
Without second thought I would say Asimov is my favourite SF author and the Foundation series is one my SF favourites. Precisely because I am so fond of both, I was very disappointed with Foundation and Earth.
The storyline does have its interesting moments and on the whole I found the quest for Earth ironically amusing from the reader's point of view. The fluency of the plot however, is continually hampered by long and unnecessary lectures. I have always respected and admired Asimov's scientific philosophy but in this occasion his reflections on individuality as opposed to collectivism are embedded in an endless and tiring debate between the Gaian Bliss and Trevize. The debate of this single topic is repeated so many times with such great length that after some time you become annoyed every time they start lecturing, wishing that they would arrange a scientific forum somewhere else, resolve the issue for once and all, then shut up for the rest of the plot.
The plot aside, the problem with this Foundation novel is that it is without the Foundation! Having been taken care of in the previous novel, the First and Second Foundations are only vague and trivial references within the novel. While two of the main characters (Trevize and Pelorat) are Foundationers, it wouldn't have altered the plot much if they weren't.
The real disappointment for me however was how the novel was concluded. The motivation of Asimov for this and the previous Foundation novel, I believe, was the fusion of the Foundation series with his excellent Robot literature. While he does so, in a reasonabl elegant fashion, the result and the ending, I am afraid, ridicules the Foundation saga in favour of the robots. It is almost as if one might not have read the Foundation trilogy at all.
Still I do not regret having bought and read this book. While I did not want the Foundation saga to end in this way I certainly would not leave the concluding book out of my shelf. I recommend this book only to devoted fans of the great master.
on January 13, 2002
This is the last book (chronologically) in the Foundation Series, and with Prelude to Foundation, the earliest, the Foundation Series has two excellent bookends, or, perhaps, "foundations", to keep it in place.
F&E is a continuation of Foundation's Edge, and is the story of Trevize, Pelorat and Bliss/Gaia's quest to find Earth, in an attempt to determine why Trevize's choice for the future of mankind is the right one.
The book deviates substantially from the rest of the series, but generally in a positive way. Whereas Asimov has a habit of making his primary characters out of cardboard, presumably to avoid the people getting in the way of the ideas he wants to express, F&E fleshes out the characters with a certain amount of personality. Whereas the rest of the Foundation Series tends to concentrate on worlds which, after a while, all appear similar, the worlds of F&E are different, frightening, and yet serve Asimov's agendas well. F&E also ties together the Robot series universe with that of the Foundation series far more substantially than the other books in the Foundation Series attempted to, portraying the futures of the Spacer worlds that Robot fans will be familiar with.
I'm guessing that the differences are ultimately why this has gotten a lower average review than the others in the series - it's not classic Foundation Series material, and any one expecting a collecton of stories involving a renegade Foundation leader visiting various rebelling worlds and outwitting the dimwitted monarchs that rule over them with some sort of smartarsed politics is going to be sorely disappointed. Hari Seldon makes no appearance. I don't recall even seeing the term "Seldon Crisis" in this book.
If you genuinely want more of the same, you'll probably be disappointed by this book. If you've never read any of the series before, it's probably best to start at the beginning with the equally excellent Prelude to Foundation (or even the Robot series.) But if you're excited by Asimov's ability to paint new worlds, to visualise the future directions for humanity, you cannot afford to miss this. Foundation and Earth is the best yet.
on July 25, 2007
Foundation (1951) is the first SF novel in the Foundation series. Although originally a series of novelettes published separately in Astounding, it was later combined into this novel.
"The Psychohistorians" (1950) was created as an introduction to the series with the publication of the Gnome press novel. It describes the political maneuvering by Hari Seldon to establish the Foundation on Terminus.
"The Encyclopedists" (1942) relates the first of the "Seldon Crises" when the Foundation is caught between the retreating empire and the growing Anacreon kingdom.
"The Mayors" (1942) tells of the second crisis when Wienis, the Prince Regent of Anacreon, decides to take over the Foundation.
"The Traders" (1944) depicts the third crisis after Askone arrests a Foundation agent trying to spread the Scientism religion.
"The Merchant Princes" (1944) recounts the fourth crisis when a Foundation trader discovers a market for his advanced technology devices.
Although the empire portrayed within this novel was actually based on the Roman empire, technology itself became a major force in the story. Thus, slavery was not a problem in this empire until it began to decline and lose its technology. This decline also allowed the Foundation to spread its influence through advanced technology.
When these stories were written, computers were only laboratory toys. Thus, the original Foundation series didn't incorporate computers as such. These stories seem strangely old-fashioned without household, business and embedded computers. Nonetheless, the author did foretell the use of electronic hand calculators.
The author did include computers in the robot stories written during this timeframe, but they were massive devices used in the factories to design and manufacture robots. The emphasis was upon positronic brains -- something like neural nets -- rather than true computers. Maybe our industry just hasn't yet caught up to his technological projections.
This novel is one of the most famous works of science fiction. While it describes future sciences far beyond current capabilities, it still inculcated a sense of the methodology underlying real science and technology. While the author went on to become a major writer of science fiction, he also became one of the best elucidators of popular science in the world.
Still, this tale contains all the flaws of Campbellian science fiction. The major characters are always male. The dialogue is somewhat stilted and old-fashioned. In addition, the story contains more ideas than action. Of course, this tale is also outdated because of all the imitations and stimulations resulting from it.
Highly recommended for Asimov fans and for anyone else who wants to read classic works of science fiction.
-Arthur W. Jordin
on November 12, 2010
Isaac Asimov. The Foundation Trilogy. Everyman's Library.
Those three ingredients are truly all that is necessary in this review.
The contents of this volume and people's opinions concerning it are amply represented elsewhere and I will not labor unnecessarily over the Foundation trilogy. Many of us will call it a classic, some of us will not understand why others love it in quite the way that some of us do. The writing is crisp and sometimes sparse, frequently detailed, and always brimming with interesting ideas that not only make good science fiction subject matter, but are worth thinking about in our lives, our futures, and any abstract moments of free time we may have.
The introduction by Dirda is not overly long, but it does provide some interesting information and context for the author and stories. The Everyman's Library chronology is useful as ever and if you are building your own home library with Everyman's editions or have at least a few Everyman's editions kicking around you will be familiar with them. More importantly the typeface used and the layout of the text itself is, as usual, top notch. Nice even ink exposure throughout.
Finally, as with so many Everyman's editions this volume is case bound with cloth over the boards, has a half round spine, cream colored acid-free paper (that smells good), a ribbon, coordinated head and tail bands, and a sewn binding to ensure longevity.
If you are pining for the Foundation Trilogy, this is the edition to purchase it in. If you would like to read it again, this is the edition for you. If your copies lack quality, are dying an acid death due to the ravages of time, or are simply unimpressive, than this is the edition for you.
The Foundation Trilogy is my favorite sci-fi book series, and also my favorite work by asimov. The first book in the series, Foundation, is concerned primarily with two concepts. The first is the concept that history repeats itself over and over again, and that just as great empires fell in the past, the same problems will in the future aflict empires once they become too big. And naturally after the fall of a great empire, chaos ensues. The other concept this book describes is the theory that science and mathematics are capable of predicting the trends in complex systems such as large groups of people.
I am going to be honest. This book was revolutionary for its time, and a great many famous sci-fi writers were inspired after reading this book. I know that I personally could never look at world governments the same way after reading this book. It truly opens your eyes to tendancy of people to make the same mistakes over and over again, repeating the same patterns on a large scale. And not only is this book easy to read and greatly thought-provoking, it is also great fun. It uses Asimov's trademark style. Little violence, even less sex, but a great plot and lots of cool technology. If you take science fiction at all seriously, you owe it to your self to give this book a read.