Foundation by Isaac Asimov
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.
Good gravy, Isaac Asimov is a brilliant writer! Foundation is Science Fiction at its best. It wasn’t anything like I expected, however. I guess I was thinking it was going to have more to do with science and technology development rather than a political drama. But hey, a political drama on the edge of the galaxy amid the decline of history’s greatest empire sounds like the only political drama I am interested in!
Rather than following a single character on an adventure, each section in Foundation follows a different character as they move through history. This allowed for some very cool world building as we see the galaxy across a couple of hundred years, and it is changing significantly during this time. However, it could also be a little jarring, and it sometimes took a couple of chapters to figure out what was going on and how these new characters were related to the overall narrative.
Good Science Fiction explores problems we are facing in our own society. The crux of Foundation is that mankind can not remain stagnant, we can either progress or regress. Empires fall, societies fall, when we can no longer continue to move forward and we begin to move backward. The fall of Asimov’s Galactic Empire mirrors the fall of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire … could it also mirror the fall of our own? He predicts we will move back to “barbarian” acts of frequent war for no reason, regress to old technologies, especially where power is concerned, and stop creating new questions for science to answer and doing new research to answer them. It is a warning to respect scientists and their work, as well as artists and artisans. It is a warning to look at where we are going and what it might lead to.
What surprised me the most about Foundation was how easily it read. I’ve never loved mid-20th-century literature (especially American), and I’ve never been a big reader of hard sci-fi, so I was expecting this book to be dense and slow. I expected little dialogue, boring characters, and a sweeping sci-fi epic that was a little over my head. I was so, so wrong. The writing style flowed smoothly in language that was simple and direct. The dialogue was, if a little dated, snarky and entertaining. The characters were dynamic and fascinating, and more than a little clever. And while this series could definitely be described as an epic, Foundation itself is a small book with a big story that anyone could wrap their head around.
So while maybe not as exciting as it could have been, Foundation was a well-written masterpiece. My brother-in-law yesterday mentioned that George Lucas was inspired by Foundation for Star Wars. Countless other Science Fiction authors draw their inspiration from Asimov and his works. This is one of the most influential novels of all time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.