**spoiler alert** Plot. A boy, Paul Atreides, is born with all the advantages of a noble family: wealth, tutors, a powerful name, a comfortable life....more**spoiler alert** Plot. A boy, Paul Atreides, is born with all the advantages of a noble family: wealth, tutors, a powerful name, a comfortable life. He’s intelligent and talented and apparently also ‘against the rules’ since his mother, Lady Jessica (who’s the product of an elite group of women trained in the arts of various forms of awareness, combat, and mind control called the Bene Gesserit), was supposed to have a daughter. (But since Paul turns out to be super duper special, all is forgiven.) His family is sent to live on the desert planet Arrakis (Dune) at the behest of the Emperor, where Paul’s father, Leto, is supposed to rule as duke. It’s all a trap, of course, part of an intricate plot by the Harkonnens, the Atreides’ mortal enemies, to get rid of Leto in order to control Arrakis. Leto’s killed, leaving Paul and Jessica to flee into the harsh desert, where they are rescued by the Fremen, the native people who generally kill first and never even bother to ask questions later. However, since Paul and his mom are incredibly awesome, and had previously managed to win over the respect of the Fremen leader Kynes, they are spared. Meanwhile, the Evil Baron and his Evil Nephew are still scheming to exploit Arrakis’ primary resource – the spice melange – for their own benefit. The last 200 pages or so go like this: Paul’s awesomeness wins over the Fremen to the point that they begin to worship him as a messiah. After all, he fits their prophecy (the seed of which was planted generations before for this very situation), which proves his awesomeness. He calls himself “The Mouse” (Muad’Dib), teaches them some of his awesome ways, learns to ride a sandworm, emos about the future-past-present he sees in his visions, and cleverly outmaneuvers the Evil Baron, his Evil Nephew, and the Evil Emperor all in one day. The good guys win! There will be trees on Arrakis! Woo hoo! Oh, and everyone’s so hopped up on spice on Arrakis that their eyes are completely blue.
The plot is fairly intricate, with a lot of characters and details to keep straight. I’m a big fan of Good vs. Evil stories but I just couldn’t get into this one. There were two primary reasons for this: (1) it dragged in places, to the point where I would stop in the middle of a page and put the book away – something I never do; and (2) I didn’t care about the characters. And when I don’t care about the characters, it’s hard for me to care about the rest. (See below.) Wait, there’s another reason: TOO PREACHY. If I’d wanted to be beaten over the head with religious dogma (Paul = Jesus with a crysknife), political diatribe (Harkonnens = capitalist pigs (or maybe communists) who exploit the populace for profit), or ecological treatises (Arrakis = Middle East, CHOAM = big oil consuming industries), I’d read the bible, The Prince (Machiavelli), or Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), respectively.
Characters. There were a lot of characters in this book, many of whom were supporting characters that I would’ve liked to know more about but didn’t have the chance to. And the main characters – the ones around whom the story revolves and the ones we’re supposed to care about – were generally so grating. Paul is The Great White Hope (I’m assuming he’s white; Kyle MacLachlan played him in the movie, after all) for the people of Arrakis (and the universe, too!). He’s a duke, a prophet, a messiah, and a badass fighter. He sees things others can’t. He can do everything well. He’s compassionate yet firm, kind yet cruel, and oh-so loyal and self-sacrificing. He can see the danger in being worshipped like a god, but can’t do anything about it, eventually using it to his own advantage. I couldn’t feel his pain, the few times he felt it (he was usually calculating and emotionless), and I didn’t buy his internal struggles. But oh my, it’s so hard to be him. Don’t forget, he’s suffered more than anyone! (Cue violin music.)
Then there’s his mother, Jessica. A strong female character? Yes, in many ways. She’s very intelligent, strong, and highly skilled in mind control (which is what the Bene Gesserit way is, come on), and like her son, becomes revered by the Fremen. (She’s the Mary figure in this story.) I like her more than I like Paul because she feels more: guilt, anger, sadness, grief, love. She’s more relatable. She protects her son like a lioness, but knows when to back off. She also feels guilt over the part she played in making sure Paul fulfilled the prophecy. These characteristics make her more sympathetic, more human, and I appreciated that.
The other predominant character in the book is the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (remember, this was published in 1965, during the Cold war when the Soviets were the world’s Big Bad, so the first name is amusing) , Atreides enemy and all-around despicable fellow. He’s very one-dimensional; he starts off bad and ends up bad. There are no layers to him at all, unless you consider his physique. Which brings me to the biggest (so to speak) issue I had with the Baron: he’s hugely obese (he carries his excess fat around on suspensors) and apparently a pedophile. Yes, pedophiles are disgusting human beings; I definitely agree. But does evil automatically mean fat? Perhaps this is hitting just a bit too close to home for me, but Herbert constantly referred to the man’s weight as if this was the one factor, above all others, that qualified him to be the villain. Not to mention that his fate is obvious from the first time we meet him, so not even a hint of surprise there.
The minor characters, for the most part, were terrific and showed the most depth. Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat, and even Duncan Idaho (who has the coolest character name in fiction, I swear) were characters I really enjoyed; I wish they had played a more prominent role in the book. Their loyalty, tenacity, and yes, inner demons, made them feel real to me. I could understand their motivations (especially those of Halleck and Hawat; Idaho dies early on), I knew why they did what they did. That’s the reason I liked them.
Overall, the interesting characters were relegated to the back burner while the main characters suffered from too much of a sense of their own importance.
Writing. Herbert does an excellent job of creating a world that is foreign to us, but still so much like our own that we can relate to it. I enjoyed reading about the life of the Fremen and their value of water, the way they adapted to their environment and used it to their advantage. It’s clear that Herbert had a vivid imagination and could see his settings so clearly, could create unique (and not-so-unique) challenges for his characters, could twist something familiar into something new. However, I felt he lacked in the human emotion aspect of his writing, his characterizations falling short of interesting in most cases. His habit of wandering off into paragraph after paragraph of internal thoughts and descriptions of awareness and prescience really slowed the story down. All in all, an interesting world filled with uninteresting characters. At least for me.
Final comments. I’m still new to science fiction, so perhaps I just haven’t had enough exposure to the genre to make a fair assessment. But while Herbert’s talent for world-building is obvious, his talent for character-building is lacking. I could picture Arrakis clearly in my head – the sand, the caves, even the worms – but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the motivations of the characters. I wanted to root for them, but with very few exceptions, I just couldn’t. I’m probably giving up on this series too soon – after all, a jillion 5-star reviews can’t all be wrong, yes? – but I don’t see myself continuing with it at this point.(less)
**spoiler alert** In Foundation's Edge, Asimov abandons his terse prose in favor of writing a longer, more fleshed-out story. And while this allows fo...more**spoiler alert** In Foundation's Edge, Asimov abandons his terse prose in favor of writing a longer, more fleshed-out story. And while this allows for more detail, it also serves to make the story drag in places. But more on that later.
Where are we at in terms of the plot? It's 500 years into the Seldon Plan and things are going smoothly. This is confirmed by Hari Seldon himself when he appears in hologram form during one of his post-Seldon Crisis appearances. The problem is, according to Golan Trevize, a young and ambitious Foundation councilman, everything's going a little too smoothly. His conclusion? The Second Foundation still exists, and it's controlling things in order to ensure the success of the Seldon Plan in their own favor.
Trevize, for his efforts, gets subsequently exiled, sent off on a state-of-the-art spaceship along with historian Janov Pelorat to ostensibly search for the legendary planet Earth, purported home of the first humans. But of course, his real objective is to find the location of the Second Foundation.
This is where things get a little complicated. And by a little, I mean a lot.
The strength of this book is its creativity and characters. No longer constrained by his own sparse prose, Asimov finally delves further into the background and motivations of his characters. We actually learn what makes Trevize and Pelorat tick, what drives their Second Foundation pursuer, Stor Gendibal, to follow them into space. We learn about their desires and interests. But this comes at a price, which is that the pace suffers. Sometimes Asmiov gets so bogged down in the minutiae (Trevize's spaceship computer, Pelorat's theories of Earth, and the Seldon Plan's mathematical equation, for example) that the story itself suffers. Also, the secondary story of the location of Earth gets a little tedious at times.
Enter Gaia, a mystical planet where everyone and everything are connected, where its inhabitants have even more powerful minds than the Second Foundationers. It's the home of the Mule. What do they want? To create a galaxy - an empire - where all things are connected and everything lives in harmony. But they need Trevize's help.
When things come to a head between the First Foundation, Second Foundation, and Gaia, it's up to Trevize to decide the outcome. Why? Because it seems he has a peculiar gift: He can draw the right conclusion from just a few scanty pieces of evidence. And he's not under any mind-controlling influence.
What does he choose? Well, I won't give it away. Suffice it to say that only one way would ensure the continuing success of the Seldon Plan, and because of his unique gift, he chooses wisely.
There were a couple other weaknesses of the book as well. First, I found the idea of Gaia a little... well, far-fetched. Yes, I know it's science fiction, but I couldn't quite wrap my mind around a planet on which every living thing (and even non-living thing) was psychically connected. This is probably a limit of my own imagination. Second, I find Trevize a bit unlikeable. He's arrogant and impetuous and a little too aware of his own awesomeness. On the whole, however, his character served his purpose well, and considering he's in the last installment, I should probably learn to like him.
All in all, an enjoyable book, but not the best installment by far.(less)
**spoiler alert** Book Three of the original Foundation series (the fifth overall, counting the prequels), this one is, by far, the most clever. I say...more**spoiler alert** Book Three of the original Foundation series (the fifth overall, counting the prequels), this one is, by far, the most clever. I say this simply because of the introduction of the Second Foundation.
Hari Seldon, the genius behind the science of psychohistory, set up two Foundations on opposite ends of the galaxy. Until now, we have only learned about the First Foundation, the technologically superior society that has outwitted its enemies to be the rulers of the galaxy (or at least a large part of it). Now we meet the Second Foundation. Like its counterpart, it's superior in one particular way, though not technologically: its inhabitants, especially its rulers, are able to control people's minds, thereby altering the course of events in order to keep the famous Seldon Plan on course.
There's only one problem: The First Foundation is on to them and they're not quite willing to be controlled by a group of people they can't even see.
Enter Arkady Darrell, a spunky, intelligent, and curious 14-year-old First Foundation girl who finds herself, through her own machinations, as a stowaway on a ship bound for Kalgan, where she meets a woman named Callia - a woman who turns out to be more than she appears. Finding herself needing to flee Kalgan, she then meets an unassuming farmer and his wife, who are visiting Kalgan from Trantor and who protect her from the authorities trying to seize her. They, too, are more than they appear to be.
Arkady also believes she's stumbled across the truth of the true location of the Second Foundation. It's located on Terminus, the home of the First Foundation! They've been living together the whole time!
By the end of the book, it looks as though the First Foundation, with the help of primitive Mental Static device, has defeated the Second Foundation. But as always, looks are deceiving. For it turns out that the Second Foundation is alive and well...on Trantor.
Like in the previous two novels in the original trilogy, Asimov's writing is succinct and really helps to move the story along. He doesn't waste time with needless description or fluff, but instead focuses on the crux of the narrative, getting right to the point. His characters, as in previous novels, are shallow in many respects, since Asimov spends little time tending to their characterizations. However, this in no way hurts the story. The characters are there simply to drive the story along, to play a role in the greater scheme of things, which is: Is it better to be ruled by technology or by psychology? What is the greater good, after all?
This is, of course, dealt with further in the next installment, Foundation's Edge.(less)
I have to say, I am really enjoying my foray into the land of science fiction. This is another great installment in the Foundation series.
After almost...moreI have to say, I am really enjoying my foray into the land of science fiction. This is another great installment in the Foundation series.
After almost three centuries of domination in the periphery of the Galaxy, the Foundation is in danger of being taken over by a mysterious conqueror call The Mule. In fact, even Hari Seldon - the brilliant mathematician whose science of psychohistory predicts that the Foundation will be the seed of a new, peaceful Galactic Empire - seems to have missed the appearance of this new and dangerous element in Galactic history. And if Hari Seldon couldn't predict it, the Foundation and the future of the Galactic Empire are surely doomed.
Asimov's writing style is straightforward and his imagination and storytelling are superb. My favorite parts of the story are the unique characters and the underlying idea that only a few tenacious and intelligent individuals can defeat the greater powers of evil and oppression that are working against them. The characters are real and relatable despite the sci-fi gadgets and futuristic setting. We root for them in their triumphs and feel their frustration and despair in defeat. What more could a reader ask for in a novel?
The ease with which Asimov weaves his tale through history and seamlessly ties new characters to previous ones is admirable and makes the move from book to book, installment to installment a breeze. And just like with his previous novels, his ability to world-build is astounding and one of the highlights of his writing.
The ending is left open, of course, in order to lead into the next part of the story. And I, for one, can't wait to dive right into it.(less)
Hari Seldon, old but still wily, manages to manipulate the Empire into letting him set up shop on opposing...moreIn the beginning, there was the Foundation.
Hari Seldon, old but still wily, manages to manipulate the Empire into letting him set up shop on opposing edges of the galaxy, where he can build his Foundation without interruption. This is, of course, part of his plan to save the galaxy from 30,000 years of anarchy and misery.
In other words, he's seen the future and it is very grim, indeed.
The Galactic Empire is slowly dying. The worlds on the fringes of the galaxy are breaking away, fighting amongst themselves for power and resources. The weakened Empire no longer has the ability or the desire to hold it all together. Every so often, occurrences referred to as Seldon Crises arise, which must be handled with care and cool heads if 30,000 years of chaos are to be avoided.
Foundation is a series of short stories that stick to a basic theme while jumping ahead in time and involving different key characters who recognize the rise of another Seldon Crisis and act accordingly. The one central thread throughout is the Foundation and its role in the future survival of the galaxy.
Asimov does a great job of making a far-flung future feel familiar. (How's that for alliteration?) Readers can relate to characters who, despite their time and place and sometimes strange customs, still seem like someone you know. The cultures Asimov deals with are also as recognizable as our own. For instance, the Foundation creates its own religion and uses it to control the masses. The Traders zip around the galaxy wowing people with nuclear-powered trinkets they've never seen before and using the leaders' own greed and ignorance to their own advantage. And at the heart of it all lies a handful of people who know the truth and are willing to do anything to ensure the future Seldon predicted. It ends, of course, a bit open-ended. There are more books in the series, after all.
Overall, a quick and fun read. Great characters and a believable, compelling story make it easy to see why these books are considered classics.(less)
I have to say, I have never been one for science fiction. The extent of my SF repertoire consists of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (does Fahre...moreI have to say, I have never been one for science fiction. The extent of my SF repertoire consists of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (does Fahrenheit 451 count?) and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series.
Asimov's Foundation series, though, definitely qualifies as the most 'serious' science fiction I've read so far.
Prelude to Foundation was written about 30 years after the original Foundation trilogy, but falls first in terms of story chronology. Hari Seldon, a brilliant mathematician, has recently completed a talk on his theory of psychohistory, a new science that, when used correctly, can make predictions about the future. The Galactic Emperor immediately sees advantages to this and wants Seldon all to himself, making predictions about the prosperity of the empire in order to keep the citizens in line and ensure the success of his reign.
Of course, the Emperor isn't the only one who wants a piece of Hari and his theory. Which is when the adventure begins.
With the help of Chetter Hummin, a reporter who has an agenda of his own, and Dors Venabili, a professor of history, Seldon finds himself whisked from region to region throughout the vast, domed world of Trantor, the center of the Galactic Empire. He's trying to hide from those Hummin has convinced him are up to no good when it comes to getting their hands on Hari's theory: the Emperor and the Mayor of Wye. Stick with me, Hummin urges him, if you want what's good for the Empire.
I really, really enjoyed this book. What I found most interesting was the world-building. The different regions that make up Trantor itself are all so vastly different from each other it's hard to believe they share the same planet. This is, of course, a not-so-opaque metaphor for Earth. In one region, women are extremely oppressed. In another, the stark contrast between the haves and have nots is so stark it's almost painful to read because it brings to the forefront some of the ills of today's world. So much diversity, barely able, at times, to coexist. Sound familiar? (Asimov also takes a few shots at religion, not so subtly hinting that religion, at its most extreme, leads to exclusion, closed-mindedness, and prejudice. How true.)
This book was very enjoyable. I liked the characters, the story, and the setting. Hari Seldon is brilliant and clinical, but he's also human. And the worlds Asimov brings to life are both strange and familiar. I am very glad I decided to pluck this one out of a book of freebies someone brought to my office. Mostly because it caused me to run right out and buy the rest of the series. (Thank you, Goodwill Bookstore, for having them all!)(less)
I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get around to reading this book (it was never required reading in school), but I'm very glad I finally decid...moreI'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get around to reading this book (it was never required reading in school), but I'm very glad I finally decided to. Having started it last night, I finished it this morning, reading the book in basically one sitting, which for me, is a measure of a good book. I simply could not put it down.
Guy Montag is a Fireman. He burns books. He likes burning books and he doesn't question why he does it. Until a brief friendship with a 17-year-old neighbor forces him to begin to question things, to see things differently. (Come to find out, his 'rebellious' side had already emerged before he even met her.) Soon he finds himself stifled by his rigid, artificial life. He realizes that, despite what he's been told, he isn't happy at all. And he decides to risk everything to find the truth. He's already begun, actually; he's been hoarding books, a crime against society and punishable by fire and prison.
Being a huge fan of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, I was hoping this one would prove to be just as beautiful. It didn't disappoint. Bradbury's sparse, driving prose and sharp storytelling are both firmly in place in Fahrenheit 451. I could feel Montag's despair and confusion and desperation. I was right there with him as he took a chance and took a leap, all for the sake of freedom. A tightly-woven plot and an all-too-scary look at the Future make this short novel well worth the time.
A future without books, filled with mindless television and illusions of happiness, where despair is suppressed in favor of a falsely shiny existence? That's a truly frightening prospect. And as Montag escapes his pursuers I found myself holding my breath. Come on, Guy. Come on. The idea of a single man - or a handful of rebels - deciding to live his own life instead of the one expected of him is one that has been used a lot in fiction. But when it is well-done, as it is here, it's a satisfying treat.
The idea that the books live on in the memories of a handful of people also offers a glimmer of hope, especially as the ragtag group of Book People head for the ruins of the war-ravaged city (to me, a thinly veiled reference to Sodom and Gomorrah). Rising from the ashes like the Phoenix, they begin again, hopefully to create a better future.