Thursday, August 14, 2014

Foundation and Earth, by Isaac Asimov

WARNING: What with one thing and another, I'm not able to adequately talk about this book without going into spoilers. I apologize in advance. For my readers who wish to avoid spoilers the short version is this book was so bad I threw it against the wall once, and probably would have done it numerous times. Please avoid this book.

Okay, so I'm kind of regretting continuing with the Foundation series. Really, really regretting my decision to commit this whole month to the other four books Asimov wrote relating to the Foundation series. Let me explain. Foundation and Earth takes place pretty much immediately after Foundation's Edge and Golan Trevize's decision in favor of the entire galaxy becoming a super-organism holistic entity known as Galaxia, albeit very gradually. However Trevize is not sure why he made that decision and seeks to have it justified by some source of outside information. The source that Trevize selects is the mythical origin planet of Earth, believing that there will be something that will tell him if he made the right choice. And so with that Trevize and friends head off into the galaxy to begin their search.

Honestly, if this had simply been a space adventure to find mythical Earth-That-Was and discovering more about galactic history along the way, I'd totally be behind it. I liked the space history aspects of the Foundation series in the earlier books, and I enjoyed watching the characters try to sift truth out of the numerous, and sometimes contradictory, legends surrounding the origin planet. Personally I found their disbelief in a satellite as large as our moon, as well as a planet with as impressive rings as Saturn, to be worth a few chuckles. And I will say that this book has, more than anything else, made me want to read the Robot series novels by Asimov to see a first-hand non-distorted perspective of this ancient human history.

The trouble is that the book is not content to be just another space archeology adventure, which I would totally be behind! The problem is that it seems every thirty pages or so this book is absolutely determined to get into another tedious argument over morality. I will admit that in my own personal perspective I find arguments about morality to be best restricted to a philosophical forum and such arguments are very seldom well-done when it comes to fiction, often feeling very shoe-horned into the narrative. In this particular instance Trevize constantly gets into arguments with Bliss, Gaia's representative on this particular little expedition, over the merits of individualism versus Galaxia's collective consciousness. Most of these arguments just sort of fizzle out with no real conclusion in favor of one side or the other, which is made all the more frustrating because it means we get to hear more of the arguments! It got so bad that I eventually thew the book against the wall about page three hundred or so after the sixth or seventh such argument. And keep in mind I'm a bibliophile that finds even the slightest desecration of a book tantamount to sacrilege, that's how pissed off the book made me.

Furthermore, the more you think about it, the creepier Gaia's shared consciousness gets. On the planet the trees all grow in straight lines, of their own volition. It always rains exactly the right amount to keep everything healthy, people only have children when it's deemed appropriate to the balance for them to have children, basically every aspect in respect to free will is completely taken from you. Furthermore, everything on the planet from the birds and bees to its molten core and the clouds are part of the planet's collective consciousness. Even your poop is part of it! I wish I was kidding but we are specifically told by Bliss that even her waste shares in the consciousness of Gaia. Is anyone else creeped the hell out by that? Because I am.

Granted, there are extremes to free will as well, and we're shown that in at least one very good example on the crew's adventures when they arrive on Solaria. The Solarians are isolationists in the extreme, who can barely bring themselves to look upon the image of another Solarian, the idea of even being within a kilometer of another one is simply unthinkable. The Solarians all live in robot-tended, isolated estates, perfectly content in their “freedom” from other beings and being free to do whatever they please. Bliss is quick to point out that this is a result of free will and individualism, while Trevize is quick to point out that this is an absolute extreme and is in no way indicative of the ultimate route of individualism. I'm left with the feeling that Asimov was trying desperately to come up with a good reason why Galaxia represents a good choice for the future of humanity but he keeps coming up short in the novel.

Ultimately, they do find Earth at the end, although even Trevize wonders aloud why he thinks he'll find an answer on Earth. (Which personally made me wonder why we were bothering with this story anyway.) But the payoff is just so terrible. We spend nearly five hundred pages going through tedious moral arguments, getting dragged slowly across the galaxy and making me personally wonder if humanity is worth saving, and you know what the reason Trevize settles on? We need to form a galaxy-spanning consciousness because space aliens from another galaxy might invade us, and that's our best way to defend against them.

If you just went “What?” you're not alone, because I'm right there with you dear reader. Space invaders from another galaxy is your best argument? Not, achieving harmony with the cosmos. Not, creating a higher evolutionary state of existence. Not, effective immortality because every part of you remains a part of the greater whole, albeit perhaps in a diminished form. No. Space invaders from the next galaxy over. Not even factual space invaders mind you, but potential space invaders. I just...I can't even....

As I've already committed to this month being another Foundation Month, and I already have Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, I will be continuing my reading of the Foundation series, albeit with ever-increased apprehension. I ardently hope that these books will be less frustrating than Foundation and Earth has been, but I'm not exactly sanguine about the prospect.

- Kalpar

1 comment:

  1. Personally I like foundation and earth a bit. Some parts are slow annoying and drawn out and I like to simply skip over or speed read the long arguments over Gaia. But compared to the other foundation books it's fun, and involved, and is a continuation of the previous books that are much drier. Foundation series would appeal to fans of history, as well. (That was his intent too.)