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.Read more ›
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.
[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.Read more ›