Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: The Foundation Trilogy

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series

For someone who loves the genre of science fiction as much as I do, it’s really surprising how little of the work of the big three I’ve read. Indeed, I’ve read almost none of their work. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, the big three were Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. In the eyes of many, they are the pillars upon which all of modern science fiction stands. When I was younger, my mom read me an Asimov short story about a woman tasked with being a caretaker for a Neanderthal who was brought forward in time, and it was a delightful little story, but when I read The Gods Themselves around Christmas last year I was highly disappointed. Still, Asimov is one of the greats, and one of his most praised pieces of work is The Foundation Trilogy, and my sister gave it to me for Christmas, so I finally got around to reading it.

The basic premise of the story is that almost the entire galaxy is settled by humans, who are all under the reign of a vast interstellar empire, but a scientist named Hari Seldon has figured out by the use of mathematical sociology that the empire is going to fall and that this will lead to thousands upon thousands of years of a galactic dark age. Seldon develops a plan, however, to shorten this dark age by founding two colonies of scientists, called Foundations, at opposite ends of the galaxy. From these Foundations, a second empire will arise much sooner than it otherwise would have. That’s just the background, however, and the book follows the thousands of years of the Foundations development.

The book is far from perfect, but it’s an extremely fascinating world and an exciting story. Sometimes the writing can be awkward, the fact that it was originally published serially means we get a summary of what the story is about at the beginning of every section of the book and it sometimes falls into the trap of expositional dialogue. Ultimately, however, the book is about ideas and in this arena it succeeds. By far the best part of the book is that which centers on the Mule, but I can’t say anything more about that without spoiling what makes it great.

I definitely enjoyed this trilogy, and if you’re someone with an interest in science fiction you should pick it up. If nothing else, you see where a lot of people got their inspiration. Trantor is a proto-Corruscant, and the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40k borrows heavily from the ideas in the trilogy.

Note: I do, however, think it’s entirely absurd that this trilogy won the one time Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” over The Lord of the Rings. That, is a travesty.