I Finally Finished Foundation

It took me way longer than it should have to finish Foundation.

But here’s the thing: I’m moving to Prague on Wednesday. I’ve been a BIT busy with shopping for things I need, packing, figuring out paperwork, and spending time with family and friends. I haven’t been reading as much as usual.

Incidentally, I’ll be blogging about my adventures in Prague. If you’re interested, you can Czech it out here.

So, Foundation.

This book has nearly everything I profess to love: there’s political intrigue, commentary on religion and history, tension between trade and Empire, and all sorts of other things…AND IT’S ALL IN SPACE.

I should have adored this book. But I didn’t. For some reason, I had trouble following a lot of it. It seemed to jump between characters and time periods so abruptly, yet spend so little time setting up the context for the “Seldon crises” and political tensions that I had trouble understanding the intricacies of what was going on.

The basic plot of Foundation (and, probably, the series) is that the Galactic Empire is declining. Psychohistorian Hari Seldon uses math and psychology to figure out when and how it will finally collapse. Then he allows himself to be exiled to an outer-ring planet and sets his followers on the path to reduce the period of chaos created by the vacuum of power (in terms of actual Earth history, this would be the equivalent of shortening the so-called Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire).

I was fascinated by the implication of the Hari Seldon “project.” The idea that you can use psychohistory – psychology and a knowledge of house history works, I think? – to predict future events is fascinating. As a historian, it made me wonder what that could mean. Seldon predicts several “crises” along the Foundation’s path to a new future. Each time, the possible outcomes (and choices that those involved can make) narrow toward one final result. Essentially, the outline of the Foundation’s history seems to be pretty well set up; the characters in the book just have to fill in the details.

This, of course, brings up questions of free will and historians’ responsibility and whether or not anyone can really figure out the course of the future so accurately. I think this concerns me so much because I’m a historian. But, I mean, there are people who are saying that America will collapse. What if they claimed to know exactly when and how that would happen? What if historians could glean from past events and present conditions what would happen in the future? Would people believe them? Would they figure out what was going to happen too late to change it? Is the future already predetermined?

That’s not really what Foundation was about, but it was what interested me the most. I know that Foundation is the first in a series, and I imagine that the psychohistory question will be a central theme in the rest of the books. It makes me want to read more of the books to find out more.

However, I don’t know if I’ll be able to. I really feel like Asimov took what could have been a really cool thing and half-assed it. I feel bad saying that, because I want to like Asimov. The writing itself is good and it’s an awesome idea and a good story. The gaps in the narrative bothered me, though. I think mostly it was the pacing of the book that bothered me. We see how the Foundation moves from one crisis into the “next step,” but we don’t get to see how that step really plays out.

For example, we find out that religion has become the way that the Foundation controls nuclear power. But we don’t get to see how that developed. We see the conception of the idea, its initial execution, and the end result. But we don’t get any development. I realize that if we were shown everything that happened between crises, the series would never end, probably. I just wish we found out more. It just felt like there were gaps in the plot.

Maybe these gaps will be filled in, somehow, in later books. I don’t know. I just wanted to like Foundation more than I did.

Rating: *** (I wanted to give it two, but I’m willing to admit that I may have been distracted because of my impending move abroad. That might have affected my concentration and impression of the book.)
Up Next: Alias Grace. 


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