Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review - Foundation

It has been 60 years since this book was first published in novel form in 1951.  It has been 45 years since this series (the original Foundation Trilogy) won the Hugo award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966, beating Lord of the Rings.  Whether Tolkien should have won is another story, but the fact that it's debatable should say something about the regard in which the series is held.

It has also been 25 years since I first read this book in 1986.  It seemed like a good time for a re-read.  I still have my original Del Rey copy from 1986.

Another of Asimov's books, The Stars, Like Dust, got me interested in reading science fiction.  The Foundation series cemented that interest for the past 25 years.  I was rather anxious to see if I felt it held up over time.

The novel is set far into the future, as a galactic-wide empire, which has ranged for 12,000 years is on the verge of collapse.  Predicting both the fall of the galactic empire and to prevent a possible dark age lasting 30,000 years, psychohistorian Hari Seldon, created two Foundations on opposite sides of the galaxy.  This book covers the next 155 years after their creation.

If you're looking for continuity of characters in this novel, you won't find it.  In fact, it's not even really fair to call it a true novel.  It's more like several short stories and novellas that occur in this same universe, arranged chronologically.  Given that it was originally a series of shorts published during World War 2, this shouldn't be too surprising.  The ideas are still very fascinating, though, despite the age.  I remember being enthralled with the idea of psychohistory, using complex mathematical models to predict sociological change on a massive scale.  Today with the prevalence of data mining in a number of fields, it's not looking so foreign.  Companies like Amazon using statistical models to try and predict what's going to sell at what price points, and what you might like.  Google mining you for data to try and find what ads would be the most appealing to you.  And where would politics be without statisticians and pollsters trying to guess the vagaries of direction of public opinion politics at any given moment.

There are a few drawbacks, however.  In describing some of the technologies, the series does show it's age. Also, Asimov's role of women was hopelessly stuck in the 40's.  Something my 12 year old brain didn't really pick up on during my first reading.

Still, this was a classic book.  I would consider it a must-read for anyone that considers themselves a true science fiction fan.

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