Jan-Maat's Reviews > The Foundation Trilogy

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
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Jun 06, 14

bookshelves: 20th-century, novel, usa, science-fiction

The Foundation trilogy is made up from a series of short stories published between 1942 and 1953. At the dawn of American dominance Asimov as a fiction writer was inspired to write about decline and fall, rather like Edward Gibbon but with science-fiction as his medium.

Asimov was fond of locked door murder mysteries and this technique of creating a seemingly impossible situation and resolving it cleverly is one that he used in the Foundation series. The resolutions are clever. The series is enjoyable for its interest in big questions rather than big battles in spaces with loads of exploding things.

But back to locked door mysteries. First Asimov locks the door by inventing a concept that he calls psychohistory. This is a super-science that allows the reasonably precise prediction of the future and this is the basis of the whole set of stories. Super scientist Harri Seldon using his magic powers mcguffin technique of psychohistory realises that the Galactic Empire in which he lives is going to decline and collapse into a horrible galactic dark age in the very near future. However he has also calculated that by planting a colony of scientists in a safe spot this dark age can be minimised. This Foundation will undergo various ups and downs and existential threats as it grows to create a future galactic republic, all of which ups and downs are predicted by psychohistory and by means of a fancy nuclear powered hologram thingamajig, he, Harri Seldon, can broadcast suitably condescending messages to impress the people of the future. The door is closed - how can the stories be interesting if the results are known and predictable in advance - and the key turns in the lock.

The first solution is that the people of Foundation don't have access to the predictions and so fulfil them unwittingly. Then random events do occur (particularly in Foundation and Empire), but don't turn out to have a long term impact. Finally it turns out that a super secret cabal of psycho-historians had been hidden away to keep the plan on course. In the last of these early stories the Foundation becomes aware of this Second Foundation and embarks on a McCarthite witch-hunt for them.

Very much of its time with its fear of infiltration by people with mysterious mental powers (think of The Manchurian Candidate), its interest in technology as the under pining of power and its concern with Imperial rise and fall.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Caroline (last edited May 29, 2014 07:42AM) (new)

Caroline As a teenager I was hooked on science fiction - and to me it is never clearer that the past is another country than when I read reviews like this. I am not inspired.

I like the idea of a fancy nuclear powered hologram thingamajig, but suspect that has more to do with you than Asimov.


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Caroline wrote: "As a teenager I was hooked on science fiction - and to me it is never clearer that the past is another country than when I read reviews like this."

Me too, really. I read, or at least it feels like I read a lot of science fiction when I was young, but I don't have the taste for it any more


message 3: by Caroline (new)

Caroline :-(


message 4: by Zanna (new)

Zanna fun review = ) sounds like a good read. My dad is very very slowly writing a novel inspired by Asimov (but he is too busy to even read). I guess my love of physics/astronomy/sci-fi comes from my Dad, who got it from reading Asimov. And now I teach physics (and English. And math. And biology & chemistry) so there you go. Ripples...


message 5: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Zanna wrote: "fun review = ) sounds like a good read. My dad is very very slowly writing a novel inspired by Asimov (but he is too busy to even read). I guess my love of physics/astronomy/sci-fi comes from my Da..."

Funny I don't think of Asimov as being particularly scientific, my impression is that he is more interested in softer studies like sociology and politics even though his PhD was in Biochemistry.

Teaching is a good profession, at least in principle I'm sure it is as annoying as any other on a day to day basis, I take my hat off to you.


message 6: by Zanna (new)

Zanna At the same time as I was reading Asimov I was devouring New Scientist is daily astonishment and delight. But of course what appealed to me in Asimov were the optimistic ethics and politics - just like in Star Trek. Which links into how it's a package for me. When I see an explosion in space in a Star Trek movie and hear silence, I'm going *mmmmmmm correct physics* but also the whole time I'm also like *mmmmm peace and egalitarianism* so these two satisfaction centres in my enjoyment matrix are associated with each other (but these anarcha-feminist days I am nowhere near satisfied with Star Trek's or Asimov's politics/sociology).

(of course I think if you understand what energy and other resources are you can't fail to become an environmentalist? So studying science informs my ethics and politics in a profound way. And it's always tempting to imagine a timeplace wherewhen resource crises and conflicts have been resolved)


message 7: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Zanna wrote: "(of course I think if you understand what energy and other resources are you can't fail to become an environmentalist? So studying science informs my ethics and politics in a profound way."

That sounds very reasonable and logical, but there seem to be plenty who are apparently happy to take the money while they can instead.


message 8: by Zanna (new)

Zanna yeah.
well.


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