Thursday, March 7, 2013
Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
The Foundation series actually covers a series of events covering over a thousand years of history. The premise is that Hari Seldon and a group of other people have developed the field of psycho-history to such an extent that they can prove, with mathematical certainty, what events will happen in the future. What is most concerning to Seldon and his compatriots is that they have predicted the inevitable fall of the Galactic Empire within the next three hundred years followed by a dark age spanning thirty thousand years during which the vast majority of human knowledge will be lost. However Seldon has managed, through the field of psycho-history, to determine a plan to shorten the inevitable dark age by a thousand years and speed the foundation of the Second Galactic Empire. While I found the idea of being able to predict future history with mathematical certainty a little far-fetched, I thought the premise was interesting and it was exciting to watch the political and socioeconomic situations develop over hundreds of years.
I do have one minor issue with Foundation in specific, the division of the book into five separate short stories. The problem I had with the short stories was I felt that once I finally understood what was going on we jumped forward fifty years and had to be briefed on what happened in the meantime. While I personally found it frustrating for the first half of the book, I must admit I finally got used to it. Furthermore, since this is a series of stories that take place over a thousand year time span I understand the need to jump forward in time so the books don't take forever to complete.
The thing that I really ended up liking about Foundation was its really apparent influence on later sci-fi works, specifically some of my perennial favorites, Warhammer 40,000 and Star Wars. The capital of the Galactic Empire, Trantor, is probably the inception of the idea of a hive city, a planet completely covered by an urban landscape with a population in the tens or hundreds of billions. Furthermore such planets are completely dependent on dozens of agricultural worlds for daily supplies of foodstuffs to keep the billions of people fed. Countless such worlds exist in the 40k universe and the capital city of Coruscant from Star Wars is like Trantor to a T.
The influence of Foundation on Warhammer 40,000 is even more apparent when we get to the Foundation itself and the course of action that its leaders take to help shorten the dark age. The first is the creation of the church of the Galactic Spirit which I am going to say is definitely the inspiration for the Adeptus Mechanicus of the 40k universe, right down to the red robes. The only real difference I've noticed is that in Foundation the highest members of the techpriests actually know how the technology works, while in the Adeptus Mechanicus even the highest Magos of Mars only knows technology as a series of religious rituals and couldn't tell you how it works, just that it does. The other really fascinating influence was the Traders of the Foundation, merchants with licenses to do damn near whatever they see fit within a few rather loose guidelines in the pursuit of profit. The incredibly similar Rogue Traders of 40k are probably directly influenced by the Traders of Foundation and I'm looking forward to reading more from this series and seeing how it influenced the science fiction genre.
Perhaps the thing I found most interesting about this book was the initial discussion by Hari Seldon about the gradual fall of the Galactic Empire and a number of factors which are contributing to the downfall of that empire. The reason I found it particularly relevant to me was the fact that the American empire is collapsing as we speak. I know I don't really get political here on the blog but with the ongoing internal struggles facing the government of the United States and the apparent decline of American power definitely suggest to me that the American empire which policed the post World War II world is definitely on a rapid decline. Despite being written in the 1940's and probably being about the then-collapsing British empire, I find its commentary still as relevant seventy years later.
I really ended up liking Foundation and I fully intend to read the rest of at least the original trilogy and review it this month. Hopefully in the future I will find the rest of the books in this series and will find them just as entertaining and informative as the first one. I definitely recommend all of my readers go read this book and look into reading more books from Asimov as well.