blakeR's Reviews > Foundation and Empire

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
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bookshelves: scifi-fantasy-horror

Less episodic than the first (Foundation), which was a plus. But it makes all the more apparent Asimov's complete inability to create memorable or sympathetic characters. This means that each of the two halves read like over-long short stories. Part I is a suspense-thriller, solved by a ridiculous and anti-climactic deus ex machina, while Part II telegraphs its twist-ending so far in advance that the last few chapters are simply redundant.

There's no arguing the brilliance of Asimov's ideas -- on science, politics, economics, war, etc. -- all of which come into play in these stories. But his writing itself borders on horrendous. Dialogue is unrealistic and the lovers' language in Part II was particularly stilted and corny, although this could have just been a product of being written in the 50s. Transitions are nonexistent, making some of the scene-jumps confusing at best. A simple empty line would have helped a lot to show the change of scenery (perhaps a problem only of the old edition that I read). Last, the aforementioned characters are poorly developed.

It's one thing for Asimov to utilize his normal style of enigma/suspense followed by solution/resolution. This style works well for short stories even if they get monotonous after a while. But when stretched over 100 pages and combined with characters you don't care about, it makes for not much more than a mildly challenging brain teaser: interesting to be sure, but ultimately rather unfulfilling.

All this would normally combine for two-star status, but I grant it a third in deference to Asimov's genius and the sheer scope of the enterprise he created with this series. He was clearly an idea man, worrying much less or not at all about the literary aspect of his works. I can respect that, even if it doesn't make for a very satisfying novel.

Cross-posted at Not Bad Movie and Book Reviews.

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Reading Progress

November 13, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 15, 2009 – Shelved as: scifi-fantasy-horror
November 15, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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Dr M I agree completely regarding this book's shortcomings -- and consequentially gave it two stars, barely. I fail to see much genius in this book, compared with, say, "I, Robot".

I particular though, I'm curious as to what genius you see in Asimov's ideas "on science, politics, economics, war, etc." as they appear in this book. Personally I found his ideas crude at best.

message 2: by blakeR (last edited Jul 26, 2011 08:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

blakeR The genius I was referring to has more to do with the conception of the series as a whole, and also his other works (particularly the Robot stuff that you cited). I read this particular book too long ago to remember specifically what (if anything) impressed me as "good ideas," but I seem to remember the geo-political scenarios as being decent examples of the ingenuity of his idea-work as a whole. It's at least a relevant precursor to what Orson Scott Card has recently been doing with, say, the Ender's Shadow series.

It's also important to remember how long ago Asimov was writing this stuff. Some of the Machiavellian political maneuvering he describes in his Foundation series is absolutely pertinent to today's environment (60+ years later), and the capitalism-run-amok he describes throughout his Robot works is nothing less than prescient considering the current economic reality in which we live.

In the ideological sense, I think a lot of Asimov's work rates up there with Huxley's Brave New World. Not as nuanced (or "cruder" as you might put it), but the meat of it is there. Thanks for commenting.

Luke Devenish Yes, I guess you're right about the first half being a tad anti-climactic. I was too kind to say it!

Rodrigo About what you said of non existence of transactions, I guess he did that way to leave to our imagination, to force our minds to think what may happened. It's not a book that says everything to you and you just eat what is put in your mouth.

Muddle head Totally agree to Asimov being an 'idea man', but on his writing style, Asimov admitted that he just wants to write crisp and clear and not for any literary awards or glory! At least he didn't pretend to write a literary masterpiece and compromised on the presentation of his story/ideas. I feel that the same ideas if penned down by someone else would have made epic reads! And i liked the books written by later in the 80s much more than his earlier Foundation trilogy or the Robot series. The later books like the Prelude and the ending to the Robot series had certain human emotion involved which i believe, creeped in, owing to Asimov's age of 60+ and his life's experiences...

Jack Lu I was going to write a review for this book but you have done it so well that I'll just leave a comment here.

I agree with every point you've made. There was a total lack of character development in book two. I care for none of them. Unlike Foundation, which I read with glee, in this one, I had to summon the enthusiasm to finish it. I would not go so far as to say it was tortuous but it was incomparable to the previous novel in all respects.

sigh. now I wonder if I should go ahead and start the last of the trilogy.

blakeR Thanks for the comment. The last of the trilogy was my favorite, so I hope you read and enjoy it.

Ellioth Mess Well... I always think that history is the real protagonist in the trilogy of foundation.

Márk Reif I agree mostly with your comment, expect I think that exactly the more periodic nature of the first Foundation book is what made it better. It left less space for character development which simply isn't happening with Asimov. In Foundation and Empire because we followed the same characters for so long we ought to have some realistic character elements, but nor Bayta nor her husband made me believe they are humans, they felt like story devices, there just because without them the events couldn't unfold.

blakeR You're right, they're definitely story devices. If you approach this series as just a bunch of short stories it probably makes it better. I didn't at the time, which is why I enjoyed the more cohesive second installment to the first, though in hindsight I think it's pretty much a toss-up. Thanks for the comment!

message 11: by Ida (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ida I'm not sure what to think of it... I mean, he is the creator of some of the most sympathetic robots I've known. I also tend to remember having read short stories and novels with actual characters in them.

As to the issue with lovers, the women so far have either been none existent or reduced to wife-status which is partially simply 50s and partially... well I never remember Asimov having written real female characters, even where they had played major roles in the story - thinking of the robots of dawn.

Still I couldn't tell whether he was plain bad with characters in foundation series or he tried to emphasize how single human beings were insignificant on the scale of psychohistory and went with typos instead of characters.

blakeR That's an interesting way to look at it, Ida, and no doubt much more sympathetic than I was feeling at the time of writing this review. I just took the thin characters to mean that he didn't really care about them and thus neither should I -- I didn't connect it to a broader theme.

I love his I, Robot stories but have never read the entire series. But even the stories I enjoy more as brain-teasers, trying to figure out how they were able to circumvent the three laws this time out. I haven't read enough of his other books to know how he eventually developed as a writer. Do you have anything to recommend me as an example of his best writing?

message 13: by Tim (new)

Tim Adkins The OP's review sums it up perfectly. This is a tough book to get through due to the complete lack of character development.

blakeR Thanks Tim.

message 15: by Josh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Josh Lewis Just finished this novel (onto the next in the series because I hate leaving things unfinished) and I have to agree with your review. His writing in this novel is fairly dry and the content a product of his time. However, I also have to agree with some comments here that his later Robot stories (Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire) are way better than his earlier works. I thought his detective story on the Robot universe backdrop was excellently done, and would definitely recommend those if you haven't read them. I wouldn't recommend Prelude to Foundation, though, because it suffers from a different problem: personally I thought it was oversexualized and Hari's epiphany was telegraphed early on, as you said about this book. Great review!

blakeR Thanks Josh. I've always loved the Robot stories and I'll likely check out the rest of them on your recommendation.

Marta Well, you wrote this review 10 years ago. I wrote mine yesterday. And it seems like almost the same review. I swear I have not seen yours...

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