You can’t claim to be well-rounded in science fiction if you haven’t read Foundation – a collection of stories written between 1941 and 1949, and assembled into a book in 1951 – followed quickly by the second and third volumes. This was the Golden Age, and the trilogy’s been called the beginning of modern science fiction and the greatest scifi series ever. I’m sure this second accolade will be debated until the sun burns out.
In the first book – Foundation – don’t expect a lot of action. Each story is primarily conversations among the characters – the style is almost Socratic in its questions, answers, and explanations. Amazon ranks the book under Political and Literary Fiction as well as Science Fiction Anthologies.
Warning: I read the hardcover edition, and some reviewers claim the Kindle version has been re-edited and “butchered.”
Asimov used elements of science fiction that are still with us today: force fields, hyperspace, and holograms. Nuclear power was the epitome of high-tech and fills the books – everything is nuclear from refrigerators to spaceships, run with nuclear generators the size of your thumb. But there’s also microfilm and – gasp – paper. The combination makes for an interesting read.
Stories mean different things to readers in different times and places. Given America’s current billionaire occupation of the government and explosion of fake news’ influence on the public, I found Asimov’s vision depressing and cynical.
All his governments are dictatorships – usually kingdoms and empires – sometimes with worthless bureaucracies. There are trillions of humans (nothing but humans, everywhere in the galaxy) but they appear only in negative terms as mobs and oblivious fools. Even the heroes manipulate populations on a planetary scale without remorse, and religion is a cynical tool of “conquest by missionary.” The Foundation pushes its agenda by making technologies appear magical to the mobs, using priests who (mostly) embrace supernatural explanations. The Foundation gains control because “the chief characteristic of the religion of science is that it works.”
Regarding another modern concern, if you follow the War on Women in America, you’ll notice that Foundation heroes are all men. Few women appear in the stories, not even as decoration. It makes me wonder where the galaxy’s population comes from, because the stories span centuries, jumping from one historic crisis to the next. This narrow vision isn’t universal in Asimov’s works, by the way. One of my favorite Asimov novels, The Gods Themselves, could almost be listed under LGBTQ (though all alien.)
I recommend the book more for its historical context than for fun. But many people love it. With over 2,000 reviews on Amazon (yes – over two thousand!) Foundation rates 4.4 stars.
BREAKING NEWS: Skydance Television production company is bringing the Foundation trilogy to the small screen: “‘The Foundation Trilogy’ is a set of short stories which have been tried both cinematically and as a series for HBO but just hasn’t been able to get off the ground.” I bet I know why – they stories aren’t very photogentic, especially in the beginning.
Lots of Amazon reviewers mention they read the trilogy long ago and enjoyed finding the books again. Not everyone, however, recaptured their earlier enthusiasm.
Reading Foundation now, I was shocked at the novel’s simplicity… In fact, in comparing Foundation with [Dune, Reality Dysfunction, and Dark Forest], you would almost have to term it as a YA title… I would not recommend this series to anyone who has already read many of the other science fiction classics. I would however, strongly urge anyone with a teenager to purchase it as an introduction to science fiction. Steven M. Anthony
One more quibble: why do publishers put such awful covers on classics?
Looking ahead, I see more action and a female character in Book 2 – Foundation and Empire. I plan to push on to the end.
All my books, including the On Mars series, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers, including Smashwords and Create Space for paperbacks. Four of my On Mars books are available now. I can’t claim to be a classic! but read one today.