on January 6, 2000
As a loyal reader of the 'Foundation', 'Empire' and 'Robot' series and of Asimov himself - it was pure joy to find the series being continued by well-respected authors after Asimov's death. That joy has now turned into dread as I close the covers of 'Foundation's Fear'.... Bear better be better or else Brin won't get a look in. ;-)
In honour of the clear and conciseness of the Good Doctor....
1. This is NOT a Foundation book. Those who are going into it with that expectation please ditch it now - or else you'd end up like me and hate the book. This is a Benford book set in a 'Benford-altered' Foundation universe.
2. Having never read Benford before this, I hope this is not his normal style. Perhaps the author noticed the mess himself, as hinted by the comment in the Afterward: "Those who think it is easy to write clearly ... should try it"). Hallmark of a badly written novel - when you find yourself grappling to UNDERSTAND what the author is trying to say through that ornate prose and end up not even caring whether you do or not. Nobody writes as clearly as does Asimov, but surely they can find someone who does better than this!
3. The neologisms ... UGH! Perhaps it's just me, but lots of techno-babble does not equal hard SF. Intergrating technical information seamlessly into the narrative is a skill that Benford doesn't seem to appreciate. And calling a spade a spade does not detract from the science. Words such as 'mathist', 'stim', 'sim', 'pan'; 'meritocrats', 'tiktoks', 'memes' etc etc etc do not add to the narrative. It took me 8 pages to figure out what a 'pan' is - call me dumb if you will but I don't believe this kind of thing doesn't detract from the story.
4. Professor of Physics or not - Mr. Benford, you're now in someone else's universe, please show some respect. Wormholes are en vogue today - who knows what will be in 10 years time. Throwing them into a galaxy that did very well without them for 16 books for the sake of 'up-dating' is arrogant and will, I suspect, date 'Foundation's Fear' more than otherwise. Perhaps I could've accepted them had they been central to the plot - alas, they were not.
5. Hari Seldon as James Bond doesn't work. If I wanted to read action-adventure, I would. I can just imagine Roger Moore jumping out of that elevator shaft, dusting off his jacket and saying to the on-lookers: "Just dropping in." That is NOT Hari Seldon. Speaking of which... what's happened to Seldon anyway? He is confused, impatient, apathetic, cold and hard. In 'Forward the Foundation' Asimov clearly explains that Seldon is his alter ego. I can see the Good Doctor turning in his grave.
6. And speaking of turning in his grave - the VIOLENCE oh the violence of the book. Asimov is one of the last frontiers of bloodless fiction. He abhorred murder and used it when he must (such as a murder mystery) and 99% off the stage. Since when is brute force valued more than intellect in an Asimov book? In 'Foundation's Fear' - Seldon not only quite happily bats someone to death but also plans mass murder and gloriously baths in it's aftermath. With the assistance of ....
7. ... Daneel. I fell in love with him during my teenage years and is probably among the minority that let out whoops of joy when Asimov dragged him kicking into the 'Foundation' series. ;-) The Daneel in this novel is a changed robot - he is no longer grave and gentle (stern and aloof were the two most common adjectives used). And he seems to have lost the Laws of Robotics somewhere along the way. The mass murder of Lamurk's agents - not a flicker of indecision; the mind swipe of Lamurk - not a flicker of regret ... on the other hand the robots (his brethern) are obviously more important to him. As a previous reviewer commented, to me Daneel is the most threatening figure in the novel.
8. Does Benford have a problem selling his novelettes? 150 pages of Joan of Arc and Voltaire and 50 pages of 'pans' - that's 1/3 of the whole novel! Why did Asimov's estate even allow these?
9. Benford points out the inconsistencies of the whole saga in his Afterward. If only he didn't create more - I sometimes wonder whether he read the original series. I'm not a nitpicker and I'm not talking about trivia like dates and population - characters changed personalities (Seldon, Dors, Daneel, Amaryl); characters disappeared (Raych); backgraound of the galaxy changed (aliens, tiktoks, wormholes); and events clearly documented in previous volumes ignored (Seldon never saw Daneel again after his turn as Demerzel; Dors' role was never well publicised; the public understanding of Earth! ).
10. Throwing in a comment about the 'ugliness of "sociohistory"' and the cute chapter titles do not save the book. Especially when the novel lectures you like you're an idiot. We're not and we get the point without being told to us point blank again and again and again...
Sorry to be so long-winded. But this is an extremely frustrated fan writing! ;-)
on March 14, 2000
Firstly, I have read all three books in the new series. I would ask you to save your money, as the only real reason you would want to read these books is if you are an Asimov die-hard, and must include anything remotely Asimov-ian in your collecion.
I must say, though, that if you are insistent on reading this series anyway, skip this first one. Oh my God. Nothing like Asimov (as you can tell by these other reviews). Even Daneel acts differently, which is a shame.
It truly seems that when the Asimov estate approached Benford to write this novel, he quickly read the Foundation series, then merely tied in several story ideas Benford himself was working on anyway, slapped them together with a minimum of stitching, and turned them into something remotely Foundational.
I also noticed that you can get no real sense of time (in later books, Hari and Dors's pan adventure is explained to be quite a long period of time's worth, but you can't tell that at all from Benford's book -- it seems like only a week at most). As a matter of fact, if you read Bear's or Brin's entries (which are much better by the way -- Greg Bear's is more action-oriented and fast-paced, where poor David Brin has to bat clean-up and seems to do more explaining for the whole mis-begotten affair than anything else) you'll see the other two authors almost trying to shy away from Benford's novel: there's hardly anything mentioned in Bear's book regarding the Voltaire and Joan sims until the end (thank goodness -- they were annoying and the most pointless characters in this book, and, unfortunately, they were the majority of it), and Brin worked with the sims as best he could.
Avoid the first book, but give the other two a try. There's not much you'll miss at all if you don't read "Foundation's Fear" that couldn't be explained in three sentences. Actually, I think that's exactly how it was explained in the following books anyway! As mentioned before, even though I think the last two are better, Bear's book is a classic sci-fi action film in book form, and Brin's book almost makes you want to hate the robots for being so "controlling" of humans. But they're still better written and thought out than "Fear".
I've never read anything else by Mr. Benford, and not planning on it.
on November 2, 2000
Normally, I do a lot of my reading on the train (BART for those of you familiar with San Francisco), getting to and from work. An engrossing book keeps me awake and I read it relatively quickly. "Foundation's Fear", especially the first half of it, set a recond for putting me to sleep. There were days in when I only managed to read a couple of pages. A paragraph or two and I'd be out, even before the train started moving. As others here have pointed out, there is a lot of boring dialogue and description and much of it focuses around the Voltaire and Joan of Arc artificial entities. Hundreds of pages of philosophical noodling and descriptions of imaginary scenes conjured up in cyberspace become numbing.
Then there's psycohistory! Asimov used it as a vehicle to further his plot, he didn't try to flesh it out in detail. Benford does, and it just doesn't work on that level. If elaborate statistical analysis worked that well think what it could do to major sports. He also indulges in long-winded detailing of psychohistory's graphical output. This also goes on and on. And there's the imperial government, which is autocratic, but also seems to be subject to democratic constraints at the same time.
Benford discusses in the "Afterward" all the considerations involved in extending Asimov's Foundadtion series, and there were many. To his credit, he didn't try to imitate Asimov's style and he introduced technologies not used in the original books. And some parts of the book are faster-paced and more entertaining. I thought the section on "Panucopia" was the best, but there were other good scenes.
This book has it good points and its bad ones. It's two hundred pages too long and there are inconsistencies that are already well-documented by others. On the whole it isn't very satisfying. Those wanting to do the full sequence should be prepared to plod through, others probably should bypass this one altogether.
on July 7, 1999
I don't agree with many of the other reviewers that this book is a waste of time. I agree that it could have been written better, and that it certainly is not written in Asimov-style.
The characters are described far too detailed to be Asimov-style, too much thoughts, pondering, talk talk talk. I really hated the parts in which the sims go on forever. I really like the Foundation series, so I had to force myself to finish this book, to be able to read the next one properly.
Benford writes a story in which psychohistory is almost fully developed. I guess since it is good enough to predict the past, it should enable Seldon to make small extrapolations to predict the future. In Asimov's Foundation books, this was not the case, so why did Benford predict the past with it? Major contradiction.
I hate the wordprocessor disease. Just like Asimov and Clarke, people who use a wordprocessor create lengthy stories. Look at "Foundation" itself, it is short and energetic (I guess I am getting old: "they don't write stories like that nowadays").
Hari Seldon becomes Prime Minister of the Empire. This is utterly ridiculous. Thousands of pages have been written about the Foundation and it was never mentioned before.
Hari Schwarzenegger was very able to prevent being assasinated over and over again. Hari is a super hero. He is a stud as well, a sexual superman. His genes should be preserved for the Galactic Gene Pool.
In all stories related to the Foundation traveling is done with hyperships. Benford is too much a scientist to let go of his own ideas and introduces worm holes. I think he is showing no respect for the story. The worm holes just don;t fit.
Where the hell do the tiktoks come from. And to be able to make strange twists and turns in the story, he introduces sims, memes and alien civilations. Why didn't Asimov think of that? Maybe because such things are used only by people who want to want to use far-fetched SF-items to create a real SF-story. The Foundation series was not exciting enough, and hey look what the cat dragged in. I don't like it. Asimov didn't need it, Benford does.
The next Mister Fantastic item is dragged in by the cats: immersion in pans and raboons and even in Hari's own formulas and the Mesh. How convenient.
Gee, foundations, what a nice word, just drop it in somewhere, who cares. The word 'Foundation' has to be used somewhere in the book, so why not use it in the last chapters. Seldon is rambling away and suddenly there it is, the magic word.
I look forward to reading "Foundation and Chaos". My partner read both "Foundation's Fear" and it's follow-up, "Foundation and Chaos", and she told me the second is much much better. I guess I don't dislike it as much as I dislike "Foundation's fear".
If you like the Foundation series, please read this book. Don't let all the criticism bother you. This book still contains some nice SF-ideas and plot changes and philosophical development (I wished Benford would have used that for another book, and not for a book in the Foundation series).
on October 26, 1999
I disagree with those who criticize Benford for neither writing like Asimov nor adopting the now outmoded science underlying the great Foundation trilogy. Asimov himself developed a more polished style in later works, and, as a scientist, would doubtlessly approve the use of the most accurate technology. Such criticisms miss a more damning point -- that "Foundation's Fear" is a bad book by any standard. The book is bloated with pointless dialogue and description. The hamhanded plot telegraphs the "twists" so far in advance that their final arrival is cause for relief rather than surprise. The secondary characters are so paper thin that it's impossible to understand their motivations or to develop any sympathy for them. Benford does manage better with his main character. His exposition of Hari Seldon's character and of the development of psychohistory provide believable coverage for holes in Asimov's account. But Benford sacrifices some of the character's credibility by having Seldon engage in James Bondian heroics while avoiding a series of implausible assassination attempts. But worst of all are the scenes with the Voltaire and Joan of Arc artificial entities. Their actions and reactions to events around them are unrealistic, the development of their "characters" doesn't make sense, and and their philosophizing about artificial entities mostly rehashes points that have been made better by more skillful writers.
I borrowed this book from the library, and am glad that I didn't waste $6.00 on it. I advise everyone else to either do the same or skip straight to the vastly superior Greg Bear book, which can be read independent of "Foundation's Fear." If you insist on owning the book, wait to find it for 50 cents at flea markets, where it should be appearing in abundance soon.
on August 25, 2000
The original Foundation series by Asimov got off to a rocky start but finally evolved into a rather nice series with a grand sweep -- one where the character's personalities managed to shine through despite the confines of rigid psychohistory. This new Foundation series, by Benford, Brin and Bear starts off on shaky ground of its own with Benford's horrible first book, which places an onerous burden on the following two writers to clean up in his wake (which they do, eventually). But where Asimov's first Foundation novel was a little arid and amateurish at times, Benford's book is downright irritating. Gone are subtle characterizations of Asimov. Instead we get meme entities, wormholes, questionable social theory, unnecessary physics, and perhaps the most pretentious, irritating plot device ever invented -- the Joan of Arc and Voltaire interludes, which take up significant portions of this book and should be avoided at all cost. Never mind whether or not Benford creates a Foundation consistent with prior novels (he doesn't) or if he lays out his prose in a proper Asimovian manner (again, he doesn't, but technically he may actually be somewhat better than Asimov), the real question is if Benford has managed to add something to this series or take it in new directions. For that matter, Benford could have made Seldon into a raving psychopath as long as he managed to create a decent novel in the process, but instead we just get a bad book. There are several inexplicable segments where entire conversations are repeated verbatim from earlier sections; nearly every character begins their sentences with "Um" to the point it becomes maddening (someone should count the number of times that word appears throughout the novel and fine Benford accordingly); long passages in the novel get bogged down by long-winded theorizing and scientific jargon ... the list goes on and on, much like the book. Benford fails spectacularly on all fronts with this ill-conceived novel; kudos to Brin and Bear for salvaging as much as they could from this mess.
on July 16, 2006
Even though I was forewarned that Benford went down his own galactic wormhole with the storyline, I thought--as an Asimov fan--how far can he go with such a great foundation (no pun intended). Well he went pretty far a field but there is hope!
If you think skipping chapters is sacrilege go ahead and try to read the first two or three chapters that deal with the SIMs. If you have the same reaction many of the rest of us had--have no fear. Just skip ahead to the next chapter. Trust me--in this case it's allowed and you're not missing much. You can simply fill in the blanks in the story with "a random event occurred here that caused chaos" (kind of mental spackle job) and then go right back to the main storyline without missing a beat and spending too much time on the overblown SIM plotline which frankly Asimov would not ever have condoned writing. (Shame on the Estate)
The second book (thankfully) picks up the story well and in spite of the fact that Bear has to deal clean up the mess from book one he gets back to the roots quickly.
But if you're like me and feel morally compelled to read Book 1 before you crack the cover on 2 or 3, at least skip over the SIM chapters and get to nirvana faster.
on March 2, 2016
Gregory Benford has written compelling science fiction books. This is not one of them. The plot is a jumble. At first we are told that Hari will be the First Minister, then we are told that he is just a candidate and must compete for the job with a predictable, stereotypical evil bureaucrat. The part I hated most was the Voltaire - Joan sub-plot. It is pointless and boring in the extreme, but it takes up a third of the book. Fortunately, the second book in the series (Foundation and Chaos) is great. I was relieved to see that it stood entirely on its own -- it used almost nothing from Foundation's Fear.
on August 20, 2000
Don't get me wrong, this could be a good scifi novel, but it is a very bad foundation novel. The reason I bought this was not just because it's science fiction. I bought it because it was a foundation novel. And I am completely disappointed.
Forget about foundation for a min... If u r writing a novel that uses characters from another novel, don't you think you should take care to make sure that the characters act the same way in both novels? I don't care about numbers and calendars, but the characters make the novel! The characters in this novel are most certainly not the same as those in other foundation novels, even if they have the SAME NAME!! Let me give u a few examples... I have read all of Asimov's foundation, empire and robot novels.... I will try to use that knowledge to make my point.....
1. First major complaint: Two subsidiary characters with very little use to the story except for one discovery (and the nonsensical "pans") use up almost quarter of the book. That's 100 pages too many!!!!
2. Second major complaint: The stuff that happens to those 2 subsidiary characters is BORING!!! By reducing all the useless stuff about them, the book's size would have been decreased to a considerable extent. Is that why they were given so much space???
3. Third major complaint: The Hari Seldon who had trouble climbing up a platform as a professor (Forward the Foundation) now crawls through ventilation shafts, jumps through elevator shafts and acts like some kind of jackie chan!!!! I did not buy an Action series for god's sake!! Hari Seldon is THE main character of foundation series! Do not play with him. At the least PLEASE DON'T CHANGE HIM FROM AN OLD MAN TO A YOUNG ACROBAT. At that time he WAS an old man.
4. The aristocratic and proud Cleon I of Forward the Foundation, ever ready to execute people who act against him, has no resemblance to the helpless man of Foundation's fear who it seems cannot make a move without getting worried about what one of his subjects might do about it!!!!!!!!!! It's impossible for me to believe that Cleon cannot have his way, not because Seldon stops him, but because he is worried what one his subjects might do. He is too impulsive.
5. Democracy????? Council?????? Anybody who has read forward the foundation, must remember that in the reign of Cleon I there was no such thing as democracy [Namarti snickered. " In twenty thousand years, democracy has never been used for very long without falling apart"] - from forward the foundation!!!! AND this is very important. Without this one of the major premises for the story will vanish!!
6. How did the robot explorers make it safe for humanity to colonize, when they were not used by the people for colonization?? Remember Robots and Empire????
U get the idea.....
The author mentions that he did not want to mimic Asimov's style. That is exactly as it should be. But, the style he chose is completely wrong for this foundation novel.
So, according to me, the author has completely misrepresented almost every major character that came from an Asimov novel and used a style not suited for this novel!!!! This is a normal scifi novel masquerading as a foundation novel.
But I do think the idea that was setout in this novel about aliens is very interesting and exciting. That's the silver lining in this dark thundercloud!!! I hope it won't rain on the other books. I hope the alien idea will be worked out in a more believable (foundation) fashion in the next two books.
on January 20, 2016
The Foundation series, particularly the original trilogy, is considered among the best science fiction has to offer. This entry, which was written and published after Asimov's death, was ill conceived from the beginning. While it may rise to the level of relative mediocrity, it shows a complete lack of understanding of the Foundation series and the points Asimov advanced, while materially changing nearly every character for the worse. Ian as big an Asimov fan as you will find, and all I can say is avoid this one at all costs. It does nothing to preserve Asimov's legacy, and much to harm it. Disappointing...to say the least.