Foundation (Foundation #1)
By: Isaac Asimov
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.
I think I mentioned it in a Sci-Fi Month post a few years ago (Aha! Found said post) that I wanted to read this book but never got around to it. Well, at long last I finally picked this book up, determined to read it–and just in time for Sci-Fi Month this year too 🙂
I don’t know why, but it did startle me that this book is sort of like a short story collection in that there are four parts to the novel, each part set in a particular period before and within the founding of Foundation and the various challenges that the new establishment faces. The concept was intriguing: of one man setting aside the best minds in the Empire to preserve knowledge for future generations as the Galactic Empire slowly churns its way to oblivion. Foundation is meant to be a neutral institution, above the politics that ravages the Empire and its surroundings, and yet various political groups come knocking at its door, trying to sway it to their side through persuasion and threat of force. What was especially interesting about reading these interconnected stories was its evolution over time, how it started as a collective of thinkers and becoming something of a pseudo-religion in the process as the galaxy’s best and brightest travel to Foundation and study–often many of them returning home to becoming priests while those who were the best remain as researchers. It was a curious evolution amongst other ideas floating around in this novel–the role of the intellectual, the course of civilisation, etc.
Having said that, I did find the last two parts–on “The Traders” and “The Merchant-Princes”–a little more boring compared to the earlier stories, probably because the stories are moving away from Hari Seldon’s initial conception of Foundation and its initial establishment. Nonetheless it is interesting to see how far Foundation can come from Hari Seldon’s time, how much he had predicted, and how much is ahead for them to deal with.
All in all I’m glad to have finally read Foundation and I can see why it’s such a classic and why it spawned how many novels afterwards set in this world: the concepts were interesting as was the world-building and Asimov’s observations about the rise and fall of civilisations are quite astute. I don’t know when I’d get around to reading the other books in this series but I’d definitely be curious in doing so at some point as this book was not only fascinating but also pretty accessible; it was easy to slip into the story and start reading it. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in science fiction!