David Sarkies's Reviews > Foundation's Edge

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
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May 06, 15

bookshelves: sci-fi
Recommended to David by: My Dad
Recommended for: Those who love Asimov
Read from October 09 to 14, 1994, read count: 1

Asimov begins a new stage in his Fiction
24 May 2012

In this review I would like to say a few things about Isaac Asimov, not because the book is bad, or boring, but because I felt that somewhere I should do so and the the first review that I write on one of his books is a good place to start. I will write a bit about this book, but the thing is that this book is a sequel to what I consider to be Asimov's best work of science-fiction, and unfortunately, as can be expected, the long awaited sequel (written almost thirty years after the original trilogy) does not (and cannot) live up to what I consider to be the pinnacle of his writing.

Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer, and in fact he wrote much, much more than the science-fiction stories with which we are all familiar. In fact Wikipedia says that he has written at least one piece in each of the ten major categories of the dewey decimal system (though his piece in the 100s is a forward to a book on humanism, though I must admit that this still counts). I remember when I was wondering through the religiom section of the Barr Smith Library (the Adelaide University Library) I discovered a two volume book written by him which was a commentary on the Bible. Now, the reason I found that interesting is that one of the main arguments that Christians love to use is that atheists have gone out of their way to disprove the Bible, and everybody who has attempted to do this have ended up becoming a Christian. Well, speak about over generalisation, especially since when I do it for a small thing they will jump down my throat. In fact, I quite admire Asimov for writing these books because it is very clear that he would have read the Bible to write the commentary, despite the fact that he was an atheist.

Asimov's science-fiction writing can be divided into two sections: the first (and his better period) between around 1940 and 1955 and the second period from 1980. From what I have discovered, Asimov stopped writing science-fiction after the Russians launched Sputnik and focused more on non-fiction. Asimov was a scientist, a biologist I believe (oh, and he was also born in Russia, but emigrated to America when he was quite young). In a way I do find the man to be very impressive, since despite being a scientist, he made his fame writing fiction, and pretty damn good fiction at that. In his first period you will find most of his famous books such as I Robot and the Foundation Trilogy (though I Robot is a collection of short stories that he wrote much earlier, all of them about robots).

If you are familiar with Asimov though you will notice a significant difference between his earlier and his later writings. In many ways Asimov is the quintessential philosopher, and while one might jump up and say 'no, he was a scientist' we must remember that it is only very recently that science and philosophy have become two distinct fields, with philosophy these days being primarily concerned with ethics. In the Ancient World philosophy and science were considered the same discipline, and many of the ancient philosophers (Plato and Aristotle included) wrote texts dealing with both subjects. So, in many ways, his early writings take a more philosophical bent and tend speculate on the direction humanity is heading, though I will discuss the various themes when I reread the relevant books.

His later writings tend to be a lot more commercialised, and we see him trying to add more depth to his characters and also attempting to help them relate a lot more, to the point where he will even attempt romantic relationships. However, I have to say that when he does attempt that he tends to fail abysmally. That is not to say that these books are bad, they are not. As is expected from Asimov, they are very well written and accessible to many readers that do not have his scientific background, however, as an author of fictional characters, unfortunately he does tend to fail. You may wonder why he returned to writing science-fiction later on in his life, and the only reason I can state is that it was due to popular demand (and hey, if I was reading Asimov back then, I would also be hoping that he would continue to write fiction).

Another thing that Asimov does is to use science-fiction as a means of constructing a mystery novel. In some of his books he has the main character investigating a murder, and Asimov has actually written murder mysteries, however, as Conan Doyle demonstrated (though he did set the standard for mystery novels) a mystery is not necessarily a murder, but something unknown that needs to be revealed. I have seen this with some of Simak's writings, particularly Shakespeare's Planet, where the main characters are attempting to work out the mystery of the planet. Foundation's Edge is similar because it is the start of the quest to discover the origins of humanity (and this quest ends in Foundation and Earth).

This leads on to my final point (and I am sorry that I did not say much about this book, but I guess I got sidetracked a lot) and that is the idea that once humanity begins to colonise the stars and the expand out across the galaxy, as time passes, knowledge of origins soon become lost. In a way, humanity's home is where they were born, and as one moves away from their origin, they begin to distance themselves from that place as well. We see it beginning to happen in our world, however our extensive literary output since the Renaissance has kept a record of our origins. Take the nativism movement in the United States where the Anglo inhabitants are now beginning to call themselves Native Americans (and this idea was even parodied in the Simpsons).

Of course, all of this is speculation, and Asimov assumes a number of things, being that there are habitable planets, that there is no other intelligent life, and that the vast distances between the stars can be traversed in little time. There is also the assumption that the colonies began to develop their own separate identities, and distance themselves from their point of origin. This is another thing that Asimov does, and does well: he explores how culture develops and he uses science-fiction as a means to explore these ideas.
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