Nyx Book Reviews

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Review: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Title: Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov
Series: Foundation #1
Rating: 3 Stars

256 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Spectra
Bought

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The Galactic Empire, which spans the entire galaxy, is going to crumble. It’s inevitable. The only factor that humanity can influence is how long the period of chaos and destruction, which will follow the collapse of the Empire, will last.

Foundation is the second book I read by Isaac Asimov, I, Robot being the first. Again, this book seems to consist more of a series of connected short stories rather than one complete novel. Each story features a different set of characters in a different time, and often, a different place.

Asimov brings some pretty awesome ideas to the table – one of Foundation‘s main themes is that of psychohistory, which basically allows people to predict the future of large masses of people through mathematics. What I like about this “science” is that it’s something plausible. This is basically what both psychology and economics attempt to do – to predict behaviour. In reality psychohistory is impossible because of the insane number of variables, but as a part of science-fiction I can definitely appreciate this invention.

Where I, Robot was more concerned with humanity, Foundation seems to point out how human history in many ways is cyclical. The collapse of the Galactic Empire brings the Roman Empire to mind, and the parallels between the role of Foundation in reducing the length of the “dark ages” after the collapse are clearly inspired by European history. On an intellectually historic, sociologic, and scientific level, Foundation offers a lot of food for thought, once one digs behind the surface of the story.

I have one problem with Asimov though.

Dude.

Why is there only one named female character in the entire book?

I have a certain level of understanding concerning books that have been written in earlier times. I don’t expect them to espouse feminist ideals. I don’t even expect the ladies in them to be equal to the male characters, because I know that in certain times, men and women were designated to other “spheres”. But truly, I find it inexcusable the way Asimov’s world is a fully masculine world, without a single woman that is actually part of the plot. The aforementioned named female is only used as comic relief, and rather poorly chosen comic relief as well.

Apart from the irrational lack of females, Asimov just does not write well-rounded characters. They do all sound exactly the same. I simply have a hard time truly liking a book that features more than eight undistinguishable male characters. They’re mouth pieces for his ideas, and nothing more.

Asimov’s ideas are great, but his storytelling is lacking in many ways.

Blurb

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.

Other reviews you might be interested in
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
  • The Hot Zone by Jayne Castle
  • Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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    • http://www.spajonas.com/ S. J. Pajonas

      This made me laugh because your review is very spot-on about Asimov. So, imagine me at 15 years old, reading this book 25 years ago, and there not being ANY science fiction around with female characters in it. Really, I had no science fiction books at that time to look towards that had great female protagonists, which is why I write those books now. But I was at the age where I still loved these books for the ideas and the stories, and in my head, I glossed over the lack of females because it was all I had. I look back at my scifi favorites, Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, with a bit of wistfulness. That was a different time and place for sure.

      Also, I think I may have told you that Foundation was originally published as shorter works in magazines which is why it feels choppy and not as connected. That gets better later in the series. Definitely read his Robot Novels if you can. I love R. Daneel Olivaw and Elijah Bailey!

      • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

        I can’t imagine growing up without any female spec-fic bookish role models. I grew up with Hermoine, who made being bossy and studious and bookish look so cool, and she made up for any book that did not have any good female role models for me.

        As for the magazines – I think you did tell me that about I, Robot, but I’m not sure about Foundation. Short stories seem to be pretty much the standard format of science fiction of that era, so it didn’t come as much as a surprise after I, Robot. I don’t think it’s my favourite way of telling a story, because in the end it’s always slightly fragmentary.

        Also, I’m glad you’re writing the protagonists you missed when you were young. Although science fiction as a genre has come a long way, there still seems to some male bias. We can use all of the cool ladies 😀

        • http://www.spajonas.com/ S. J. Pajonas

          I’ll have to double check but I’m pretty sure Foundation was published in installments. Magazines were the thing back then and that was how so many scifi legends got their start!

    • http://www.thequietpeople.com/ Beth

      Why are science fiction/fantasy so male-centric, though? I mean, I know that society would change, as you point out, but surely that doesn’t mean that NOTHING exciting/interesting/worth writing about would happen to women, does it? I hate books like that… Urgh. I mean, I’m not exactly an avid sci-fi fan (end of the world things scare me, tbh), but I will be avoiding this on principle, I think!
      Beth x
      http://www.thequietpeople.com

      • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

        When this was written, close after the Second World War, women were relegated to the home. That was their place, and therefore they wouldn’t have any influence on society at large, as that was the sphere of men. So I get it, it was a cultural thing, but I don’t like how many science fiction writers just went with that. They had the power to change anything about society in their books, but they just accepted that women didn’t do anything useful. It’s definitely frustrating as a modern reader

    • Rindis

      The first part was written specifically for the book, but everything else was originally published as short stories. (I Robot is also a short story collection.)

      As for the theme, Asimov was directly inspired by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The fall of this great shining galactic civilization into darkness and anarchy is straight out of the traditional view of the end of the Roman Empire.

      Speaking of traditionalism, Asimov comes out of the early days of SF, when the driving force is, as often as not, was ideas. Come up with a speculative idea, demonstrate it in prose. Asimov shows this more than most as his style is extremely spartan, and has a minimum of characterization, though that slowly got better over the years. This also extends to his plots which are generally uncluttered by anything non-essential to the action.

      • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

        I haven’t read that book by Gibbon, but I could definitely tell that Asimov was making a parallel between Roman civilisation and the following “dark” Middle Ages, only on a galactic scale.

        As someone reading from a twenty-first century perspective, I have a hard time truly enjoying Asimov’s “idea to prose” style. I read for storytelling too, and that’s missing in his novels. In that respect, I prefer contemporary fiction, even though I find Asimov’s ideas interesting