The original Foundation Trilogy focused on the fall of the enormous Galactic Empire, and plans for the saving of human civilization (...moreEdge of Greatness
The original Foundation Trilogy focused on the fall of the enormous Galactic Empire, and plans for the saving of human civilization (or at least acceleration of its resurgence) by the psychohistorian Hari Seldon. His science of psychohistory mathematically predicted the crises to beset human, and specifically his First and Second Foundations, organizations that would develop pre-eminence in scientific technology and telepathy, respectively. Much of the first trilogy focused on the telepath The Mule, a man of unknown origins who nearly brought the entire (First) Foundation to its knees and conquered much of the known galaxy. The Second Foundation was believed to be destroyed by the members of the First Foundation, who did not want a group of benevolent, paternalistic telepaths controlling the universe.
Or so the First Foundation believed. In point of fact, there continue to be questions about the plans for human civilization laid down by Hari Seldon centuries earlier. Who can best carry out those plans? How accurate are his predictions? If his predictions have been wayward once, will they not be so again? A relatively unknown councilman on Terminus, Golan Trevize, is troubled by such questions. So sets in motion a plot that brings together the leaders of Foundation and interest in a new planet, Gaia, which has hitherto remained independent in all antecedent history of the universe. Which to all our characters would seem an impossibility, so thorough has been the conquering and re-conquering of the millions of stars in the galaxy.
Foundation’s Edge holds a special place in my scifi pantheon. It took the self-contained Foundation universe and expanded it to a set of metaphysical questions about the nature of humanity and our future. While it’s not a sophisticated treatment, Asimov’s series deal more in conversation and philosophy than in starships or weapons. He wants to talk about our technology, our robots, our relationship with nature, our thirst for domination. Separately, and as a novel-length plot device, “Edge” interweaves the Foundation Universe into many of his previous works, ostensibly taking place in the same story continuum. Readers of scifi, new and old, are likely to find a worthy story in the pages of the Foundation series. Merely remember you are reading an older novel (this from the 1980s, the first Trilogy and it’s unsophisticated gender roles being from the 1950s), and you will not be disappointed. (less)
The great psychohistorian Hari Seldon predicted a threat to the Galactice Empire and the endurance of The Foundation, a constella...moreAnother Seldon Crisis
The great psychohistorian Hari Seldon predicted a threat to the Galactice Empire and the endurance of The Foundation, a constellation of planets and advanced technology which he helped create, throughout the centuries. His predictions of future history were so accurate in fact, and were used to respond to so many threats over 300 years, that the residents of the Foundation became complacent. Any new menace to their planets or way of life – any new “Seldon Crisis” – would be no match for the intellect of the long-dead psychohistorian. He would present himself in an impeccably timed recording and explain the inevitability and manner of their victory.
Except for an emerging renegade leader, The Mule, who seems to be conquering neighboring star systems with impunity. His background unknown, his motivations unclear, and the source of his power a mystery, the citizens of the Trantor, Siwenna, Kalgan, and other systems are fearful that their worlds are the next to be assimilated. The warnings of a few vigilant Foundation citizens fall on the deaf ears of the ruling class, convinced of the messianic foretellings of their founder.
“Foundation and Empire” is perhaps better than its preceding novel. We see the first major female character in this series, and hers is an integral role. More worlds and motivations are explored, and the passage of time less rushed than in Foundation. We do not traverse multiple centuries and generations, instead developing a sustained narrative with a few choice characters. You can see the prose flavor and styling that will lend itself to Dune a few decades later. Isaac Asimov isn’t interested in the adage “show, don’t tell.” Almost all major events (the rise and fall of men and empires, battles, confrontations) happen off-screen, and the lifeblood of the narrative is conversation. The narrator is hardly omniscient, or is at least negligent of his all-knowing, all-reporting-to-the-reader responsibilities. You are graced to conversation between the protagonists, the antagonists, and the innocent bystanders, and to no firefights whatsoever. This couldn’t be accomplished any other way.(less)
Brief treatment of Christianity and Atheism, many of which written when Shelley was 19 years old! The most effective is not the title essay, "The Nece...moreBrief treatment of Christianity and Atheism, many of which written when Shelley was 19 years old! The most effective is not the title essay, "The Necessity of Atheism" (half is translated from the French), but instead the last work, a Socratic dialogue between Theosophus and Eusebes regarding the veracity of supernatural claims. They discuss the evidence for God, the claims of Christ, and the major problems with the major monotheisms, all with a quick wit and razor-sharp reasoning that should avail all of us.(less)
Sir Thomas More was a man of principles inviolable, (view spoiler)[ and for such would he meet his doom (hide spoiler)]. He was a family man, a religious man - Saintly, even - and could not be tricked, bullied, or altogether coerced to break an oath he had made in good faith, even at the behest of Henry VIII.
Robert Bolt's introduction to the play enriches the entire experience. We get to understand why More's story was so compelling to him, and what he hoped to achieve with the narrative. I was able to appreciate how a relatively educated modern playwright found beauty in the pious fervor of a 16th century Chancellor, and find that beauty myself.
Lessons are on display here that are all-too important in our times. About compromising our principles even though we might suffer no ill effects by doing so. One such exchange highlights this all too well:
MORE ... What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Genre fiction is fantastic. Expectations are dashed. “Science fiction” as a phrase evokes images of blasters, faster-than-light-speeds, and alie...moreSpace!
Genre fiction is fantastic. Expectations are dashed. “Science fiction” as a phrase evokes images of blasters, faster-than-light-speeds, and alien movie costumes. When you take a chance on the seminal works of classic science fiction (e.g. Dune, Foundation, Stranger in a Strange Land), you will find your expectations exceeded exponentially.
"Foundation"’s plot is built upon ideas and conversation. A burgeoning field of scientific inquiry, psychohistory, poses a perceived threat to the Galactic Empire. It’s lion, Hari Seldon, is able to use the mathematics of probability to predict future events with incredible accuracy. He is dedicating his life to preparation for impending catastrophe. To say more would be ruinous to the uninitiated. The book’s opening pages are furious fast-paced conversations between hyper-literate men.
The novel is divided into parts, each leaping forward in time from 3-70 years from the previous section. Each deals with the next (predicted) catastrophe or threat to human civilization, at least in the corner of the Universe to which we are treated. It’s great fun. No weapons are used, no ships engage, very little conflict is evident save witty barbs (but man, they are zingers). As a reader, I began to wonder if the scifi luminaries of yesteryear simply wrote better. Asimov certainly does.
Each section has a new main protagonist who borders on being a Mary Stu. He is cleverer than everyone else. He is several steps ahead of his detractors and enemies. He eventually shows his hand in a flourishing display of intellect and panache, sometimes in a courtroom, or on a broadcast, or in the company of government leadership. One potential critique of “Foundation” is this: there is a cyclical pattern of reveals by The Smartest Man in the Room. You may be able to see these coming a mile away by novel’s end. (less)