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Foundation is a collection of short stories originally serialized in Astounding stories starting in 1944. The first story published May 1944 was “Foundation”(Encyclopedists), then came “Bridle and Saddle”(The Mayors) in June 1944, followed by “The Big and The Little”(The Merchant Princes) in August 1944 and “The Wedge”(The Traders) in October 19441.
The serials were combined, renamed, rearranged (Traders before Merchant Princes), and a prequel named “The Psychohistorians” added to create the first Foundation book published by Gnome Press in 1951.
I read this book on Kindle. It was revised in 2004, published by Spectra, and sold by Random House2. I haven’t read the hardcopy of this book but apparently some terminology was updated (computers=calculators), spoilers removed from story to story, and a few conversations3. I can’t comment on if the changes had a material effect on the story. I generally believe updating the terminology makes older books better. It jarring to the reader to run up against terminology or phrasing which is unknown or difficult to understand. It’s a tricky topic though as I can understand the “purists” perspective. If you have an opinion on the matter please comment below.
Why I chose this book.
I chose Foundation as part of my self imposed “Masters Degree” of Science Fiction. Isaac Asimov is widely considered a master of Science Fiction. When Asimov died in 1992 the Chicago Tribune wrote an article where they said, “In the realm of science fiction he was a pioneer in elevating the genre from pulp-magazine adventure to a more intellectual level that dealt with sociology, history, mathematics and science.”4
As time goes on classic science fiction get less and less readable. It is no different than showing a child a rotary telephone or an out-house, they can guess what they are for but they have no practical or emotional experience with them. Whenever a legacy reference is made in which the reader has no experience he or she is jarred out of their imagination because the item is difficult to visualize.
What is the book about? (minor spoilers)
The book is about the fall of an expansive human Galactic Empire and
Foundation opens with the Psychohistorians. In this story Hari Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire using psychohistory. Psychohistory is the ability to predict the future using sociology and mathematics. Seldon speaks about his predictions which the current government does not appreciate. It seems unfathomable a civilization such as the Galactic Empire could fall in such a short amount of time.
Seldon convinces the Emperor to establish an organization called “The Foundation” to create the Encyclopedia Galactica which will document the entirety of human knowledge. The Emperor agrees documenting knowledge is a good idea and gives Seldon a useless planet at the edge of the galaxy where he can document and not cause any more civil unrest.
“The Encyclopedists” is the story where you start to get a real sense of the series plot. Throughout Foundation, there is a concept referred to a Seldon crisis. Each crisis marks a turning point in the Foundations future. The Encyclopedist focus on the evolving government of the Foundation and its interaction with its neighbors.
As the Foundation evolves and grows, it again faces internal and external political pressures; this is the primary plot of “The Mayors.” A political party known as the actionist is trying to force the Foundation to pre-emptively attack the planet of Anacreon. One of the tenants of the Foundation is that violence is a last resort. Salvor Hardin, the Mayor of Terminus and effective ruler of the Foundation, goes to Anacreon to solve the issue.
The next story is titled “The Traders.” The Foundation has set up traders who travel the galaxy trading nuclear gadgets for raw materials the Foundation requires. A trader is captured and sentenced to death on Askon. The Foundation sends another trader to find a way to save the trader and in turn, find a way to bring Askon into the Foundation.
The Merchant Princes
The last story in the book is “The Merchant Princes.” Politics within the Foundation are again evolving. This time the story follows a trader Hober Mallow as he is assigned to investigate a neighboring planet Korell where three Foundation ships have gone missing. Factions within the Foundation believe the Traders are smuggling technology to Korell enabling military power to threaten the Foundation.
Mallow learns the technology is of the old Empire and that Korell has no means to fix anything that
Story – 3 Stars
Since this is multiple short stories the antagonist and protagonist change. The length of the stories are not long enough to build characters and form and emotional bond. The stories read individually are good, not great.
The interesting part about Foundation is when you finish it and you step back and think about the book, it grows on you. The book tackles some political change on what was a planet in the periphery of a large empire to being the seat of power for a new empire. Foundation points out a government can start out with great intentions but will devolve and become corrupt if not regularly checked.
The Seldon crisises were as much about growth of the foundation political and economic system as it was defeating whatever the crisis actually was.
The reason I gave the book 3 stars is because during the reading process is wasn’t very engaging. Right when I was starting to enjoy the book it ended. Then, in the next chapter I had to “start over” learning characters and figuring out the plot.
When I did finish the book I felt there was no end. Foundation felt almost like a prequel. I don’t know what I was expecting because Foundation is the first book in the series. Either way, I had that “not finished” feeling when I closed the book.
Characters – 4 Stars
The characters of F
My two favorite characters were Salvor Hardin (The Mayors) and Hober Mallow (Merchant Princes). Both use political guile and strategic inaction to work through a Seldon Crisis. It reminds me that when there is a crisis, taking action is not the only choice.
Pace – 4 Stars
Judging the book as a whole the pace was adequate. I thought “The Traders” was a bit dull but necessary component to the overall story. There could have been an entire novel about Hari Seldon and psychohistory. It’s too bad that portion was so short. Gnome Press made the right call when they asked Asimov to write it and add it to the book.
Originality – 5 Stars
With books of this age I award 5 stars for originality. Asimov had a major hand in creating the genre. If some concepts were borrowed Asimov executed them in a way which elevated Foundation to classic status.
Technology – 4 Stars
The technology throughout
Asimov does a nice job of thinking through miniaturization, energy weapons, and shielding. Much of the technology throughout this book has still not been invented. There are some elements which date the book such as using a physical map of space to find planets. It’s minor though and considering the regression of technology when the Empire fell its plausible that there was a better way of navigation but the technology was lost and they have had to go back to physical maps.
Foundation is a must read
The best part about Foundation is thinking about it when you are done reading it. The individual stories are lessons about various human qualities, some good, some bad. Asimov converts some of these historic learnings such as the fall of Ancient Greece and applies them on a galactic scale. Foundation is a book you read with a group and then have several dinner parties to discuss.
Thanks for reading,
If you want to know more about Asimov or Foundation Series see below.
Book 1: Foundation https://amzn.to/2JNlKhS
Book 2: Foundation and Empire https://amzn.to/2Ml8mUp
Book 3: Second Foundation https://amzn.to/2ENlbR8
If you want to buy every Foundation book at once, Amazon has them in a lot for a discount https://amzn.to/2Mj6RG3 or on eBay, they are a little cheaper https://greg.reviews/2WaAARO
If you are a an absolute Asimov fanatic eBay has signed first edition books for sale… for 10 thousand dollars!! WOW https://greg.reviews/2Y3P5st
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