For the past couple of weeks I have been participating in a group read of Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings hosted the event. Now that we have completed the novel I can sum up my thoughts and provide a review of the novel. This review will count towards one of my reading challenges, Award Winning Books, hosted by Gathering Books. Foundation, is the first volume of a trilogy and the series won the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966.
Asimov has written or edited over 500 books. This fact alone sounds like science fiction. Was the guy a robot? To add to his impressive resume, he has won the Hugo Award four times and the Nebula Award once. He was born in Russia and when he was still young, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. He studied chemistry at Columbia University. In 1949 he received his doctorate and became a biochemistry instructor at Boston University School of Medicine. By 1955, he was an Associate Professor. However, in 1958 he retired from BU and started to write full-time. Considering how much he wrote, I think his definition of full-time is a lot different from mine. He was a regular contributor to the popular SF magazines during his day. I have always associated Asimov with science fiction, but he also wrote detective mystery stories, a History of North America (four volumes), a Guide to the Bible (two volumes), textbooks, and books on different aspects of science, and an autobiography (two volumes). When did he sleep?
The novel Foundation, is the first of a trilogy. In the opening pages, Hari Seldon is charged with treason since his theory of Psychohistory predicts that the Galactic Empire will ultimately collapse. Seldon believes that if people continue down the same path, the Empire will fall and there will be thousands of years of suffering before a new Empire begins again. However, he claims that if he can continue his research and have a staff of intelligent people to compile the Encycopedia Galactica, the suffering will only last one thousand years. The government agrees to send Seldon and his Encyclopedists to Terminus, a planet that is out of the way. It is hard to tell if they believe his theory or if they just want to isolate the trouble maker.
The new inhabitants on Terminus are surrounded by four influential planets, and the scholars do not have an army. What they have is their intellect. To complicate matters, Seldon didn’t live much longer after the Foundation was established on the inconsequential planet in a very large galaxy. The novel consists of several short stories over a large span of time. Through these stories you meet Salvor Hardin, the Mayor, who uses his smarts and manipulation to protect his small planet and his power. Another memorable character, Hober Mallow, a trader, uses his wits to make a lot of money and to get power.
Usually I am drawn to novels that have wonderful character development. This is not one of those novels. Asimov’s book is not about the characters, but it is about the story. His short stories will discuss certain individuals, and I found as I settled into that story, he would drop it and pick up a different thread many years later. At first this was jarring, but I quickly got used to it. One thing that kept my interest was that Seldon set up a Foundation on Terminus, but what the actual goal of the Foundation is a mystery. The mystery intrigued me and prodded me along.
Also, if you love a story with good guys, this isn’t your cup of tea. None of the characters in this book are the typical good guy. Everyone uses unsavory methods to get what they want. I found myself cheering for some of the characters since they were the underdogs, but they still played dirty. However, I didn’t like the more powerful guys acting like bullies. And it was refreshing to read about people who used their smarts instead of weapons to defeat their enemies.
If I read this review before agreeing to the group read I probably would have passed on the novel. And I would have missed out. Even though this novel uses an unusual way to tell the story I really enjoyed the experience. If you would like to read the discussions please visit this page for week one and this one for week two. Also, Carl is hosting a group read of the second book in the trilogy, Foundation and Empire. I am doing my best to track down the second novel before the group read begins the first discussion. Unfortunately, the only copy at my local library is checked out. If you have the book checked out, please return it. Just kidding…maybe.