Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Isaac Asimov
Completed 8/5/2020, Reviewed 8/5/2020
3 stars

I first read the first four Foundation books about six years ago.  I didn’t write a review for the first three because I read them in anticipation of the fourth, Foundation’s Edge, during my Hugo winners reading marathon.  But I did give a brief summary of my thoughts of each book in my review of Edge.  Back then, I liked the first four stories and didn’t care for the fifth. (The first three books are collections of short stories, novellas, and novelettes about the Foundation).  This time, I didn’t care for the first three stories, liked the fourth, and really liked the fifth.  Overall, though, I found all five stories of this book to be too overloaded with exposition.  It’s all “Well let me tell you how I did this” or “Let me tell you what happened” rather than showing me through action.  And granted, these stories were written in the ‘40s, but, OMG, this book is about a bunch of cigar smoking privileged white guys who control or try to control the future of the galaxy.
Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian who through mathematics predicts that the galactic empire is about to fall apart and be replaced by millennia of dark ages.  In response, he creates a foundation whose goal is to preserve all human knowledge, make it available to everyone, and in effect reduce the coming dark ages to a single thousand years.  Each story presents a crisis that if successfully overcome as Seldon predicts through the science of psychohistory, the galaxy comes closer to its goal of a renaissance within the thousand-year time frame.  The crises are religious, political, and economic.  Every crisis is confronted head-on by some powerful individual man against all odds and the forces of other powers that be.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, my biggest problem is the exposition.  Every story has long one-sided dialogues that reveal how the Empire is falling apart and how the Foundation is surviving.  Aside from this, the character development is problematic.  I found it to be quite minimal.  The characters are memorable because of what they do, not who they are.  They have no backgrounds, few emotions, and no growth.  I guess the point of the stories is not the people characters, but the characters of the rising Foundation and the declining Empire.  Oh yeah, there is one female character, the wife of one of the rulers of one of the planets in one of the stories.  She makes two appearances, both short, and she’s annoying.

I found the writing to be terse, not very readable.  It was almost like reading philosophical or political tracts during all the exposition.  In my previous reading of these books, I found Edge to be better written, even though it still had a lot of exposition.  What I find hard to believe, particularly after rereading and not really enjoying this first book, is that The Foundation Trilogy won a one-time Hugo award for Best All-Time Series, beating The Lord of the Rings.  I guess, though, the Foundation Trilogy was a watermark for Science Fiction the way LOTR was for Fantasy.  Still, it seems like blasphemy.

I give this book three stars out of five.  I was definitely disappointed in my second reading of it.  This rating is kind of an average of my two readings.  I don’t get the hype, but maybe I would have if I read these stories when they were first published.  Reading them today, they definitely feel like a product of their time.

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