An exploration of the meaning of religion, politics, and knowledge, all against an epic backdrop of a multi-planetary human race, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is an important and influential science fiction text. It follows the efforts of varied characters after the collapse of the Galactic Empire, as they attempt to decipher the scientific yet prophetic calculations of ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon in order save the galactic population from further destruction.
“I did not expect to enjoy Foundation as much as I did”
A classic pulled from my dad’s bookshelf, I decided to read this seminal 1951 Asimov novel to distract me during the first few stressful weeks of term. Studying English means you read a lot of books, and it can kind of suck the fun out of reading, but I was determined to finish a book on my own time, and to use it as a means of pulling me out of my head for a while. I did not expect to enjoy Foundation as much as I did, though.
“The language endemic of the fifties [made] it a little repetitive, but I came to find it endearing”
Inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov moves Rome to space to consider a myriad of topics, from ecological destruction to the limits of space travel. It can be hard to get into at first, the language endemic of the fifties making it a little repetitive, but I came to find it endearing, and a huge part of the novel’s character. Split into five sections, the novel’s origins as short stories published in the mid-to-late forties in Astounding Stories of Super-Science is obvious, and its surreal and often just straight-up weird depictions of humans in space make it the era in which it was produced crystal clear.
“Never coming across a preachy, Asimov has some really important life lessons”
Foundation is not just about the trials and tribulations of futuristic, interstellar humans, however. It also discusses issues that are as relevant now as they were in Asimov’s time. He considers the role of religion, the power of varied forms of government, the purpose of knowledge, and the destructive cycle of humanity. There are plenty of moments when I was tempted to underline certain sentences or circle entire paragraphs, the messages contained within them were so pertinent. Never coming across a preachy, Asimov has some really important life lessons within his far-off exploration of a possible future. He urges the reader to ‘never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right’ and argues that ‘violence is the last refuge of the incompetent’.
Asimov clearly had a vision of a future that was still a long way out of reach for him, and for us in 2019. His sweeping imaginings of planets covered in dense, metal buildings, or of planetary systems mined to their cores, or of tiny spaceships illuminated and glowing in the light of a star, are delightfully reminiscent of Amazing Stories and other influential sci-fi comics, and foreshadow the tropes of the science fiction novels and films that came after it. It is not difficult to see how seminal ideas about space travel and non-earth habitation germinate in his writing.
As with most texts from the past, there are plenty of issues within its pages that age it. Female characters, for example, are almost completely absent, but for a scene where a woman is brought in to try on a magical cloak. The featuring of items that seem out of place in the future, like the presence of newspapers and cigars, can also throw the reader.
“A quick but far-reaching narrative”
Nevertheless, the novel is a fun read, and a fitting first book in the Foundation saga. It is a quick but far-reaching narrative and it is clear how Asimov affected not only the genre, but the future itself. From influencing Elon Musk to being directly referenced in shows like Star Trek and Futurama, Asimov struck gold and his legacy goes on beyond the pages.
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