In the Foundation series Prelude to Foundation (published in 1988) is actually a prequel to Foundation, which was first published in 1951. Main characIn the Foundation series Prelude to Foundation (published in 1988) is actually a prequel to Foundation, which was first published in 1951. Main character Hari Seldon's theory of psychohistory--the mathematics of prediction--has just been revealed for the first time. However, it's still only theory, and he has yet to discover the formulae necessary to make his theory viable. This doesn't stop the emperor of the Galactic Empire from taking notice and Hari is summoned to a meeting. The Emperor wants to use psychohistory to strengthen his diminishing grip on his own people, but Hari insists that his theory isn't practical. After this disappointing meeting, Hari discovers that his freedom, and perhaps even his life, may be at risk; that even though his theory is just that, theory, all around him the politcally manipulative want him for their own agendas.
Hari is helped by a journalist named Hummin to hide among the different sectors of Trantor, a planet entirely domed and populated by diverse groups of people. Dors, a beautiful historian, becomes Hari's companion during his forays into the different sectors. She's there to help him learn about history, but she's also determined to protect him--as instructed by the increasingly mysterious Hummin. Although Hari hadn't originally planned to learn the history necessary to make psychohistory work, his drive to find the answers are fueled by the threat to his survival. The result is that he begins to learn the 'history' part of psychohistory and the role it plays in prediction. And it's his visits to the different sectors that give him clues about how he can practically apply psychohistory.
Asimov's characters are interesting, but unfortunately not fully dimensional. They seem to adapt too quickly to new and difficult situations and spend a great deal of time standing around talking. Using conversation to advance the plot doesn't much help with characterization either, and leaves us without a true understanding of the depth of Hari Seldon. In the end, although I was relieved at the outcome (this book was written after the original series, so of course we know Hari won't die), I struggled to feel a connection with any of the characters.
The writing style is mostly functional and not particularly descriptive, and as a result the narration fell short in places were I wanted more detail. This book is supposed to explain the beginnings of psychohistory, but seemed to skim the top of what it was really about and the details about how Hari put the pieces together. Even though Hari was supposed to be in danger, I never really felt the immediacy of it. They strolled through the different sectors, worried about the emperor, but we never really feel Hari's fear.
Prelude to Foundation was written during or immediately after the Cold War, and Asimov's social commentary conveys social injustices and class struggles rather heavy-handedly. His theme of the challenge of maintaining social order continues on through the rest of the series, but I still wonder at Hari's motivation. He says he wants to help, but I don't really feel his urgency or understand why, especially since helping a decaying empire seems too monumental a task for one person. Asimov simply isn't a subtle enough writer to make the story of Hari's beginnings--the struggle of a single individual against the backdrop of vast societal forces--compelling, as it would require more drama and his writing is too straight-forward. Fortunately, Asimov's commentaries on science and mathematics are much more interesting and engaging, which is his real strength.
Prelude to Foundation was likely written for the fans of the Foundation series who were curious about Hari's beginnings, hence it has some interesting ideas, but nothing truly outstanding. For example, the different sectors on Trantor that Hari visits are interesting, but aren't explained with any real depth. However, there is a fascinating twist at the end that I didn't see coming, and although Hari has to take some logical leaps to get there, it still worked for me. If you want to read the real meat of the series stick to Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. ...more
The Host takes place in the future where a parasitic alien race who call themselves 'souls' has taken the minds and bodies of humanity, continuing theThe Host takes place in the future where a parasitic alien race who call themselves 'souls' has taken the minds and bodies of humanity, continuing the lives of their hosts relatively unchanged. Melanie Stryder is a 'wild' human without a host, living in rebellion-until she's caught and Wanderer is inserted into her spinal column to take over her body. Only Melanie's presence refuses to disappear and Wanderer has to deal with the overwhelming emotions she had for the men in her life-her younger brother Jamie and her love, Jared.
Instead of Melanie succumbing like she's supposed to, the tables are turned and it's Wanderer who finds herself incapable of continuing her life without Jared and Jamie. Melanie's memories and feelings cause her alien parasite to become so overwhelmed with emotion that she sets out to find them, almost killing herself in the process.
I'll have to grant Meyer one thing, she can sure get into the nitty-gritty emotions and minutiae of the agony Melanie/Wanderer go through as they try to cope with their situation. The characterization is interesting-particularly how a host's body influences the souls in them, how not only memories and mental personality, but the physical differences of a host influences a soul. She explores this concept with satisfying detail as the soul's fundamental personality is changed by Melanie's presence.
Meyer's prose is consistent through her novels. She has great flow and description and that continues here. There are descriptions of the different planets Wanderer has lived on and the hosts she's lived her life through. The concept behind it is interesting and the alien race's approach to things is written logically and straightforward without too much boring extras.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the setting. Melanie/Wanderer are able to find a group of humans in the Arizona desert in underground caverns. There they grow food and are well enough hidden away that they are safe. Unfortunately, the Seeker who is assigned to Wanderer won't give up, convinced that her charge didn't die in the desert.
Sadly, like Meyer's vampire novels, you read about 400 pages of 'oh I feel so conflicted' before anything happens. And Wanderer spends so much time feeling scared and passive to only have occasional moments of aggressive behavior that her actions seemed contradictory. Meyer does her best to explain away these inconsistencies, but I was still left reeling and incredulous at times.
The last quarter of the book the pace picks up and the 400 pages of build-up promise an exciting conclusion-to only deliver a forced happy ending. Ah well. It was fun while it lasted.