Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future -- to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire -- both scientis...

Title:Foundation
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0553803719
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:244 pages

Foundation Reviews

  • Christy

    Honestly, I don't get why this book/series is so popular. There are some interesting elements to it (for instance, the use of religion as a tool of mass control and the implicit resultant argument that religion is no more than a fraud, "the opiate of the people," after all), but the book gave me little to enjoy or dig into. The forces of the novel are broad, historical, dealing with masses of people; this means that there is little to no room for individual characters here and little to be done

    Honestly, I don't get why this book/series is so popular. There are some interesting elements to it (for instance, the use of religion as a tool of mass control and the implicit resultant argument that religion is no more than a fraud, "the opiate of the people," after all), but the book gave me little to enjoy or dig into. The forces of the novel are broad, historical, dealing with masses of people; this means that there is little to no room for individual characters here and little to be done by the few characters who do appear. One leader says, in fact, in response to a crisis, the threat of warfare and annihilation, "I'm going to do nothing. One hundred percent of nothing, and that is the secret of this crisis" (191). This is a recurring theme. Plus, there are no female characters to speak of. One man's wife makes a brief and apparently unnecessary appearance for a page-long chapter, but that's it. All else is done by and to men.

    There are a couple of minor things I do like about the book. One is Salvor Hardin's statement that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," which I like for its endorsement of nonviolent alternatives. Another is the characters' habit of saying "Space" or "Galaxy" instead of God when they exclaim or curse.

  • Kane

    Foundation. The name is apt.

    Isaac Asimov's sprawling scifi tale is the rock on which much of today's space opera is built. Truer scifi historians than me would cite the late 1920s and pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and E. E. "Doc" Smith as the DNA donors that spawned a thousand space operas. They would be right, but Asimov's fame towers above all others. His 1952 story of the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire is space opera's... foundation.

    Unfortunately, the analogy continues. Fou

    Foundation. The name is apt.

    Isaac Asimov's sprawling scifi tale is the rock on which much of today's space opera is built. Truer scifi historians than me would cite the late 1920s and pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and E. E. "Doc" Smith as the DNA donors that spawned a thousand space operas. They would be right, but Asimov's fame towers above all others. His 1952 story of the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire is space opera's... foundation.

    Unfortunately, the analogy continues. Foundation has all the elements of poor writing that makes stuffy literary aristocrats stick their noses up at the genre. And rightfully so. Flat characters, a lack of economical yet creative prose, and endless dialogue are the genre's Achilles heel, and not in a cool Ilium way.

    This rant covers only Foundation itself. Despite owning an old edition which includes the entire original trilogy, I only managed to slog through the first book. Barely.

    The first chapter with Hari Seldon and a death-or-exile-decision was promising. But the plot device that makes the story potentially interesting also pulls it apart like the gravity of a gas giant. Foundation spans decades and with each shift into a new era, you're introduced to new characters. You learn almost nothing about them and in some scenes the dialogue is so pervasive, violating the hallowed "show-don't-tell" rule so thouroughly, I was actually unsure where these people were.

    One of my favorite parts of reading science fiction is being exposed to the new ideas of smart visionary authors. Good scifi ends up being right, cool or both. I obviously try to give anything as old as Foundation more of a pass on this front but I really didn't find any of its concepts mind-bending, or even mind-tickling. Psychohistory, as I understood it, was alright. I guess. Statistics.

    Dated elements abruptly eject the reader from the ever so important suspension of disbelief. For days I couldn't shake the scene where two characters shared a bunch of "snuff". I thought, is it reasonable that humans are still using tobacco products 12,000 years in the future?? And snuff?? Atomic energy is the big technology in the Foundation universe. That's like, fascinating, and stuff.

    Immediately after I "finished" Foundation, I picked up Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire. A quote on the cover claimed "In the tradition of Asimov". Uh oh. But wait. Intellegent turns of phrase? Break-neck action? Verisimilitude in the progression of civilizations? Technology that drives the plot, is extremely inventive and is extrapolated from today's knowledge base? Well-thought out characters whose behaviour makes sense but is not cardboard predictable? Other wicked-cool oddities like undead royal families? No snuff? Yes, I'm in the safe and familiar bio-tech embrace of a trusted friend: New Space Opera.

    Stories like Foundation are the reason why we even needed a New Space Opera in the first place. Unlike the misadventure of New Coke, this was a significant improvement on the original. The authors of this reinvigorated genre like Banks, Hamilton and Westerfeld (with all due respect to Stephen Baxter and his physics lectures some call novels) focus on quality writing, character development and social commentary. Oh and scientific accuracy verging on "whooooa there". A few, like Dan Simmons' georgeous Hyperion, are masterworks in any genre.

    All this poison being said, I can easily watch old GI Joe and He-Man cartoons and marvel at their sheer genius while a 10-year old today would brand me an idiot. Nostalgia is a shiny prism through which we all view our past. If I had not first read Foundation in my thirties but instead in my teens this review would like be entitled "Asimov is like chewing on expensive snuff!". But alas I am stuck with current me.

    This review also marks several times now that I give poor grades to scifi written prior to 1980. I'm a linear person: old before new, read things in order, cake before coffee, no spoilers please. So I've attempted to read Asimov, Niven, Pohl and I have to say: meh. I now vow brown cow to not feel guilty by skipping the basement of my favorite genre and instead enjoy the first floor, second floor, jacuzzi, balcony and pool. I'll get to that basement. One day. When it's raining. Ooo look a squirrel!

    Being a solid fan of New Space Opera, I must give proper respect to works upon whose shoulders it stands. I do so. But as with many of you, I have more books on my to-read list than I can tackle in a lifetime. I must prune and trim aggressively and I'm afraid the rest of the Foundation series is likely to end up on the greenhouse floor. Hopefully before I'm dust a clever New Space Opera idea about extending human life expectancy will give me more time to explore books about advanced civilizations prone to cancer of the mouth due to snuff addictions. Until then, I give thanks to the Old and say bring on the New.

  • Kevin Kelsey

    A great story, told in a terribly boring fashion. One-dimensional characters engaged in various trade negotiations, political upheavals and general planning. Dry beyond belief. The concepts are very engaging--religion as a means of control, psychohistory, etc--but the telling of the story leaves much to be desired. Some sections are much better than others, particularly 1 & 3. There is a really good story between the lines here; one that I think would work much, much better as a television s

    A great story, told in a terribly boring fashion. One-dimensional characters engaged in various trade negotiations, political upheavals and general planning. Dry beyond belief. The concepts are very engaging--religion as a means of control, psychohistory, etc--but the telling of the story leaves much to be desired. Some sections are much better than others, particularly 1 & 3. There is a really good story between the lines here; one that I think would work much, much better as a television series.

  • Brad

    From my first reading of this Foundation Trilogy when I was fourteen to my latest reading today, I still put these in my top ten books of all time. No question.

    Why?

    So many reasons. And even though the characters and the short-story-like presentation of the different times are quite fine and memorable, it isn't these that I point to.

    It's the ideas.

    It's also how our history is writ large as SF.

    It's the social exploration. It's the re-establishment of civilization, one building block at a time. It

    From my first reading of this Foundation Trilogy when I was fourteen to my latest reading today, I still put these in my top ten books of all time. No question.

    Why?

    So many reasons. And even though the characters and the short-story-like presentation of the different times are quite fine and memorable, it isn't these that I point to.

    It's the ideas.

    It's also how our history is writ large as SF.

    It's the social exploration. It's the re-establishment of civilization, one building block at a time. It's the scary devolvement of all civilization, too. All dystopia and the glimmer of optimism. It's a grand slide and a hard scrabble in a far future galactic civilization that might as well be us in a mirror.

    I've since read Gibbon's

    and I've read about the ancient history of India's economic empire around 5 thousand years ago, mainly accomplished peacefully and with great demand, eventually leading to a grand civilization.

    Both of these histories played a huge part in Asimov's imagining of his empire, but it's mostly the Roman Empire's history that this book emulates, from the ousting of its malcontents, the fracturing of the provinces, the devolvement of knowledge and learning into dogma and religious pomp.

    Asimov curtails the worse parts of the Roman empire by having the Foundation eventually focus upon economics as a last-ditch stopping point before outright violence overwhelms the rest of the galaxy.

    It's not a perfect solution, but this is merely the first of three novels that absolutely need to be read together. :)

    I'm still absolutely amazed that history is retold so convincingly and grandly as an epic SF with such clear and sharp prose.

    Asimov has always been known as a wonderful teacher. Even his most entertaining and important works, such as this, always remain a testament to his own learning and his absolute insistence on making everything perfectly understood to his audience.

    The novel is ambitious, wide-sweeping, and terrifying. It's honestly mind-blowing, taken together with the other two, just how much information and development and implications are poured out onto the page. :)

    If this is any indication, I think we're all doomed to repeat our History. :)

    Of course, with all the things we know now, I'd have loved to see how Asimov would have written this today. :)

  • Adina

    2.5* rounded up to 3 for the idea.

    I postponed writing the review as I was hoping that something would click in my head and I would realize just how magnificent this novel is. It did not happen, unfortunately.

    First of all, I was made to believe that this is a SF book. It isn’t. Not really. It is more of a socio-political one. It is not even a novel, but a set of stories who present a series of political, sociological, psychological and religious ideas all based on the famous Psychohistory conce

    2.5* rounded up to 3 for the idea.

    I postponed writing the review as I was hoping that something would click in my head and I would realize just how magnificent this novel is. It did not happen, unfortunately.

    First of all, I was made to believe that this is a SF book. It isn’t. Not really. It is more of a socio-political one. It is not even a novel, but a set of stories who present a series of political, sociological, psychological and religious ideas all based on the famous Psychohistory concept. The ease with which a religion can be created and the power it can have over the masses scared me as it is so valid even today. To use religion to control planets was a brilliant and scary idea and it felt the most interesting part of the book.

    The premise of the Foundation is brilliant, I admit. However, it would have been marvelous if the author have made me care about any of it. The characters had no growth, no real personality and the prose was so dry. The book is mainly a series of dialogues between different people who scheme and try to outrun each other with their cunning and intelligence in order to gain power. The fact that the whole thing takes place in space feels secondary to me.

    Please do not throw virtual tomatoes at me for what I am about to say. Here it goes…I believe Asimov is not a very good writer. It seems he can only write in dialogue and descriptive passage longer than a paragraph gives him the chills. This is a pity as it adds up to the (false) idea some people have that SF is not literature. I read enough of the genre to know that there are well written SF novels but I don’t think this one (or the Prelude) is one of them.

    If the novel is not very well written, too sciency or too deep than it is fun, right? Well, not really. It has its moments but mostly it is filler, filler and at the end we realize how smart the main guy of the story was.

    A funny thing that I observed is that there are only male characters except for a single chapter about a bitchy, sour wife who makes life miserable for one of the rulers of a planet. I know, I know, it’s the time the book was written. I am not offended. Still, I could not observe a phrase that went something like this: On the Foundation planet (forgot its name) there were X people together with their wives and children. So wives are not people, interesting idea.

    I appreciate the idea of the series and it could have been a wonderful experience had it been written by someone else. Like Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert.

  • Bookdragon Sean

    The scope of this is just hugely imaginative. The idea is to create the new, and perfect, galactic empire. The old one is dying. But new empires don’t just pop up overnight; it takes years for the right circumstances to arise; it takes years for all the pieces to slot perfectly into place. The brightest mind of the age has used his incredibly farfetched, yet incredibly brilliant, psychohistory to predict the exact date the empire will fall. He has

    The scope of this is just hugely imaginative. The idea is to create the new, and perfect, galactic empire. The old one is dying. But new empires don’t just pop up overnight; it takes years for the right circumstances to arise; it takes years for all the pieces to slot perfectly into place. The brightest mind of the age has used his incredibly farfetched, yet incredibly brilliant, psychohistory to predict the exact date the empire will fall. He has used this field of academia to predict the future, and because of this he can alter events, long after his death, and guide his fledgling civilisation into power.

    The old empire will crumble in exactly 300 years, so he manipulates the ruling body to send him, and his following, to a remote planet that will eventually develop into something grand. The settlers are all scientists, and they’re all set on one manipulated goal. Harry Seldon controls the future from the grave; he knew what would happen, and he knew exactly when the people of the future should act. He predicted that it would take 1000 years for the new empire to be born. So he appears to them in real moments of crisis in pre-recorded holograms to guide them in the right direction.

    It’s a remarkable book, so broad and innovative. I’m shocked reading this today; imagine what it would have bene like reading it in the 50s. It clearly defines so much of the genre. Star Wars and Star Trek clearly drew upon Asimov’s foundation. Would they have existed without it? The parallels are here. It’s a visionary book, though there are a few problems with it. All the characters are scientists and politicians; they are powerful and driven; they are singular in their forceful purposes. None of them really have the chance to develop. That’s not the purpose of this story. The idea is to show the development of a nation, of an empire, across the centuries. I found it hard to fully invest in it because of this. The scenes that didn’t have Harry Seldon in felt a little flat. He was the glue that held it together, the rest of the characters were forgettable.

    Thus, there is no action or real climax. Structurally speaking, this is essentially five short stories put together. They’re decades apart, and so were the characters. It shows the development of an empire, but from a great deal of distance. There was no real human element or emotions involved. This work is practically a work of genius, though it was impossible to fully care about the story because everything was objectified. It was a major case of show rather than tell. So I couldn’t rate it five stars even if I was tempted to. I’m a realist, I know he couldn’t have told the story any other way, but for me it lacked the human angle.

    This was a great book, though it lacked that vital element of storytelling. It was very deceiving at the start too; it was quite dry. I almost gave up with it, but I’m glad I persisted. I will be reading further into the series to see how things go, but I will most likely only go so far as the original trilogy.


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