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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars laid the foundation for much of today's scifi
Asimov's Foundation series was more aptly named than many suspect. Over the years it has served as an inspiration to many science fiction masterpieces, and became the benchmark by which all other epic science fiction was based. Much of today's space opera owes much to the original vast planet-spanning tale of the birth of a civilisation guided through the ages by the...
Published on 13 July 2004

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important Sci Fi novel
I have just re-read all 7 of Asimov's Foundation novels, having originally read them in the 1980s. For those of you new to the series it consists of 2 'prequel' novels, the original trilogy (which are actually a series of short stories originally written for a magazine published in three volumes, followed by two sequel novels. The four novels were written decades after...
Published on 17 July 2012 by Big Bad Bill


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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars laid the foundation for much of today's scifi, 13 July 2004
By A Customer
Asimov's Foundation series was more aptly named than many suspect. Over the years it has served as an inspiration to many science fiction masterpieces, and became the benchmark by which all other epic science fiction was based. Much of today's space opera owes much to the original vast planet-spanning tale of the birth of a civilisation guided through the ages by the God-like hand of Seldon, and its testament to the enduring legacy of the work that its still as awe inspiring a tale as it was more than half a century ago. True, some of the technologies and settings are a little dated but that's not where the strength of the series lies.
If you're unfamiliar with the Foundation work, they are basically a series of short stories taking place over a number of centuries that chart the rise of an intergalactic civilisation from humble origins to a vast galactic power, and the trials and tribulations that shaped it, narrated from the perspective of its major historical figures, such as prominent civic leaders, military heroes, merchant traders, brilliant scientists etc. Underpinning all this is the strange figure of genius Hari Seldon, who predicted the whole course of future events through his discipline of psychohistory, a science that predicts the actions of whole civilisations and societies over a grand time-scale.
Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the fictional Encyclopedia Galactica on the events portrayed in the following scene as if the whole series is a look back at history from some undisclosed future. It lends a wonderful sense of grandness to the stories as well as being an original and novel way of introducing the new setting. As I mentioned earlier, each chapter takes place several decades after the previous one so characters who were 'upstart young rebels' in one story become 'noble visionaires' in the next scene, and 'legendery heroes' in the one after that. The chapters all focus on a Seldon Crisis, which are a series of predicted crises that would mark a new stepping stone to greatness, and are accompanied at the conclusion of the section by the appearance of the long dead hologram of Hari Seldon popping up every few centuries describing the events that have just occured.
The character of Seldon and the way he evolves from crackpot theorist, to brilliant but misunderstood genius, to an almost prophetic role is wonderfully moving, as are the other important characters throughout the novel, and the development of the Foundation and its gradual dominance through various means (including religion, trade and war) is spell binding. Asimov touches on many themes here: the role of religion as a tool of conquest, the magicianry associated with any highly advanced technological society, the inevitable bureaucracy that any establishment eventually succumbs to, the predictability of mob-mentality. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful themes are only lightly touched upon, which is a shame although Asimov's clear simple writing style and light humour make his work accessible to anyone.
If you can ignore the surface details and the slightly comic-bookish settings then you will enjoy one of the most pivotal and ambitious science fiction series written. I also highly recommend the two sequels.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Golden Age Asimov, 26 Sep 2008
Originally serialised in John W Campbell's `Astounding'. This trilogy became Asimov's most famous (if not his best) work. Allegedly, Campbell refused to accept stories in which aliens were superior to humans in any fashion so Asimov decided that his Galactic Empire would have no aliens at all.
It is set against a background of a Galactic Empire, comprised of millions of worlds, all improbably controlled from the governmental central world of Trantor.
The Empire has lasted for thousands of years and has become a stagnant society.
Scientist and psychologist Hari Seldon has developed the statistical science of Psychohistory which, by examining the interactions of billions of people, can predict future trends to a high degree of accuracy and has foreseen the fall of the Empire within five hundred years.
`Foundation' is the story of his plan of damage limitation.
He cannot prevent the fall of The Empire but he can set forces in motion which will reduce the intervening period of barbarism and set the foundation for a new better Empire.
Two Foundations are established at `either end' of the Galaxy ostensibly as a base for the production of the Encyclopaedia Galactica. From these, Seldon predicts, an inevitable process of cause and effect will engender a renaissance across a galaxy slowly falling into barbarism.
Although he is dead by the time the narrative gets into its stride, Asimov is able to bring Seldon back through the neat device of the Foundation Time-Vault in which Seldon has left holographic messages which are set running at the projected times of crises for the community.
Thus, although we move forward through time in leaps and bounds of fifty to a hundred years, Seldon provides a linking device throughout the narrative.
One could argue that these tales are merely a series of puzzles, problems to be solved by the reader before Seldon's prophecies fulfil themselves.
Social and political forces, according to Seldon's predictions, will collide until the Foundation reaches a crisis and can only move in one direction.
The book contains some obvious absurdities and anachronisms by today's standards, and some appalling characterisation such the Scarlet Pimpernel figure of the Imperial Ambassador, Lord Dorwin. Planets on the edge of the galaxy break away from central Imperial control and revert to `Kingdoms' but Asimov never considers that the process may fracture further into warring nations upon individual worlds. Each planet (or group of planets) has one `king' and remains a unified society.
As the Foundation was settled on a metal-scarce planet by a population of academics and scientists, they have the advantage of retaining knowledge and engineering skills which is being lost to the rest of the Galaxy. By wily political trickery the Foundation begins to extend its control over the nearby `barbarian' systems, employing Mayor Hardin's trademark pacifist phrase `Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.'
The crumbling Empire itself employs the Roman Empire as a model. A central controlling government, its resources overstretched, has grown stagnant and decadent, lacking development and innovation while at the edges the barbarians creep in.
There's a case for arguing that this is hardly SF at all. The one SF element is Psychohistory and Seldon has ensured that none of the people on Terminus are psychohistorians and though there are space-ships and forcefields these amount to no more than background colour.
The beauty of `Foundation' lies in its clever plotting which somehow overcomes the shortcomings of the books. There are virtually no female characters at all. Cigars are surprisingly popular and the very notion of an Emperor of a Galaxy stretches one's belief.
What is most lacking is any sense of scale. We never really get any attempt from Asimov to portray the sheer size of the Galaxy, or even of the area of space which this book deals with. Asimov's Galaxy seems remarkably claustrophobic, and he makes it seem like a cosy local neighbourhood.
On the other hand, it may be that very cosiness which makes it so endearing, and sixty years on from its first publication in 1942 it still reads as clever and exciting and surprising.
Later novels in which Asimov attempted to conflate all his work into one Galactic history are best avoided. A trilogy of posthumous sequels by Brin, Bear and Benford have also recently been published.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE original space adventure..., 21 Nov 2002
By 
Philip Roberts (Brighton - UK) - See all my reviews
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Imagine a time, set so far in the future... A time when Humans have left Earth to explore, and settled throughout the Galaxy, a time where the idea that mankind ever only inhabited ONE planet, is thought to be an old wives tale.
Foundation is just that. The foundation for all other sci-fi adventures. So many books and films have followed in the steps of Foundation, and Asimov really has lead the way for people to let their imagination run riot and imagine what on the one hand, is so far fetched, but on the other leaves us wondering "well maybe..."
Everything in Foundation has a sort of logic, the theory that the future can be mapped out by mathematical equations. However even in the future, ideas can be thought of as heretic, and people with ideas that do not fit in with the norm, are cast away, to the edge of space where they can cause no trouble.
Foundation, and the following classics will stretch your imagination and throw you into a World of 'fantasy' that seems to have a lifeline to reality. Considering the Foundation series of Asimovs books were written so long ago, they are still fresh enough, and still have an edge to hold onto the reader until the very last page.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle Story Development Can Lull You into Stalled Thinking, 24 May 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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Ultimately, the hardest decision about the Foundation books is to decide the order in which to read them. Maybe I'm being ridiculous, but I think you will enjoy them more if you read them in the order they were written. If so, this is the second book. If you have not yet read Foundation, then you need to go back and do so before tackling this one.
Your other choice is to read the prequels first, then go onto Foundation. In that case, this is the fourth book you should read.
Whichever choice you make, don't read this book first.
On the surface, Foundation and Empire will seem like an uninspired playing out of Hari Seldon's vision for the future. Ah! But there's much more happening, so pay attention. When you get to the end of the book, you may find you have missed the mainstream and will have to go back. Don't worry, almost everyone has that reaction.
Asimov is a brilliant conceptual writer, but not someone who slaved over every word (in fact, he was famous for writing most of his many books in only 1 or 2 drafts, with little editing after that). This book begins to develop the full Foundation concept in all of its stunning beauty.
In many ways, you will be reading this book from the eyes of the first Foundation. But that's the unimportant one. The real action is with the second Foundation. Be sure to keep that in mind.
When you meet the Mule, don't think of him as an aberration but rather as an extension of today's potential. That will make the book more interesting for you.
Many people find this book to be the least interesting one of the Foundation series. Let me warn you that reading this one will greatly increase your pleasure in the following books beginning with the Second Foundation (which is your next pleasant reading assignment).
Enjoy this irresistible series!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hari Seldon's plan receives a kick from the Mule, 27 April 2003
By A Customer
I totally liked the pattern that Isaac Asimov established in "Foundation," the first volume in what we know refer to as the original Foundation trilogy. Hari Seldon created the revolutionary science of psychohistory and mapped out a future for humanity that would allow thirty thousand years of barbarism between the existing galactic empire and the future one to be reduced to only one thousand years. Through the effort of the psychohistorians the Foundation was established with its encyclopedists. Then we saw the rise of the Mayors, the Traders, and the Merchant Princes, each representing a step on the path laid out with mathematical precision by Hari Seldon over the first two centuries of the millennium he plotted out.
I was looking forward to a continuing series of Seldon Crises as the Foundation played out the rise of human civilization, thinking that what we had hear with what Arnold Toynbee had done with his study of ancient civilizations extended into a future that covered an entire galaxy. But Asimov was setting us up for something unexpected in "Foundation and Empire"; the idea was that at this stage the Foundation would be threatened by the final power play of the dying Empire. But the universe is apparently tired of Hari Seldon playing with his mathematically loaded dice and has thrown the entire plan into doubt by creating a mutant, nicknamed "The Mule." Now the Foundation, the Seldon Plan and the entire galaxy is facing a new and powerful threat.
When I first read "Foundation and Empire" I was rather dismayed at the big change in direction. But, of course, Asimov knew what he was doing. He had already proven the validity of psychohistory, at least within the context of his futuristic novel, and there really is no reason to put out another four books (at two hundred years apiece) to complete the plan. Historians might find this interesting, but Science Fiction fans were going to want more than that from Asimov. Indeed, the Mule proves to be, both in terms of the story and the trilogy, the link between the Foundation and the Second Foundation. The Foundation trilogy is classic science fiction from the genre's self-proclaimed Golden Age, and even if the writing style seems dated or quaint, it remains a seminal series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 6 Sep 2007
By 
Bobby Elliott (Erskine, UK) - See all my reviews
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I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science fiction and politics. I won't write a synopsis since other reviewers have already done that, but suffice to say that this book is short, easy to read and very thought-provoking, if a little dated.

While reading it, I kept wondering why no-one had ever made a movie out of it. It's ideal source material, with its strong plot and episodic narrative. It's like Star Wars for grown-ups. I guess the politics aren't to Hollywood's liking with its dual themes of control by religion and the avarice of royalty. Pity since it would make a truly wonderful film (or series of films). Maybe one day. In the meantime, read it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation: still brilliant., 28 Aug 2014
(I originally published this review under the pseudonym "Kenneth Andrews" on Helium.com)

Foundation was first published in the early 1950s and for a long time was regarded as an essential science-fiction novel. In truth it still is, but following the death of author Isaac Asimov, its stock has declined, as the former giant of science-fiction has become known mostly as the guy who wrote the book for that Will Smith movie by the general public. Asimov's fortunes have dwindled as formerly under-rated authors such as drug experimenting insane genius Philip K Dick have been re-evaluated and started to take over more of the bookshelf.

Today, most science-fiction afficionados know Asimov mostly for his three laws of robotics. The Foundation series is a bit more space opera, however, an audacious tale of the fall of a galactic Empire, and the attempts to keep the light of civilisation burning.

Foundation tosses away more good ideas than some science-fiction writers get in a lifetime. The premise is set up by Hari Seldon, an unlikely combination of mathematician and psychologist, who starts his own science. Psychohistory boils down socio-economic trends in order to enable a psychologist to predict the future, up to a point. Seldon predicts the fall of the Empire, and sets up the Foundation – a hundred thousand scientists who will compile an enormous Encyclopedia on a distant world to keep science and technology alive during the resulting dark ages.

Isaac Asimov's ambition with Foundation exceeds even this audacious premise, however. Seldon is dead long before the end of the first of the book's five sections, and the novel encompasses about two centuries of the Foundation's work. The Encyclopedia is revealed to be a sham, and Seldon returns from beyond the grave to tell the scientists that their true work is not just to record information – but to spread technology back to the galaxy and form the eventual nucleus of a second Empire.

Foundation is decades ahead of its time. Although much of the science now looks quite quaint (atomic energy is the holy grail of science), the Foundation scientists, and the priests and traders who succeed them as the novel progresses, are crafty and cunning. The Foundation, based on remote planet Terminus, are beset on all sides by powerful and militaristic enemies, with limited resources and ignored by the remnants of the Empire. They have to get by with only occasional prophecies from the galaxy's greatest psychohistorian and their own intelligence.

This first novel in the Foundation series sees the project face a number of crises, all of which seem certain to plunge the Foundation scientists into war. Taking their cue from the pioneering mayor Salvor Hardin's maxim ("violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"), the suspense of this novel lies in how Foundation try to AVOID each conflict that arises. Each potential war that erupts threatens to destroy the project, and the various successive leaders try and find impossible solutions for peace. Asimov is a master storyteller, and the rabbits he pulls out of the hat for each crisis are magnificent plot twists, misdirecting readers completely.

Foundation's storyline and engaging characters are timeless, as is the conflict between religion and commerce that forms the backbone of much of the book. Is this a perfect novel then? Of course not. Although you can overlook the advancing tide of science rendering obsolete some of the atomic marvels in the book, the fact is that society has moved on as well as science. One female character appears in the entire book, and she's a shrewish wife who is silenced by a pretty piece of (atomic, naturally) jewellery. The only time women are even mentioned is when a trader suggests that a rival government will collapse when the wives complain their washing machines have broken down...

So, Foundation is not entirely politically correct. But it scores massive numbers of points for the masterful twists in the storyline, and for the sheer breadth of its canvas. The only other real disappointment is that it ends a little abruptly, at the conclusion of a crisis which is not quite as acute as those which preceded it. But even then, Foundation is paving the way for the novels which would follow it...
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important Sci Fi novel, 17 July 2012
By 
Big Bad Bill "Big Bad Bill" (Somwhere on the Celtic Fringe) - See all my reviews
I have just re-read all 7 of Asimov's Foundation novels, having originally read them in the 1980s. For those of you new to the series it consists of 2 'prequel' novels, the original trilogy (which are actually a series of short stories originally written for a magazine published in three volumes, followed by two sequel novels. The four novels were written decades after the short stories in the original trilogy. This book (Foundation) is the third book (the first of the original trilogy), it was the first Foundation book I read (as I started before the prequels were published).

This is considered to be a very important sci fi story from the golden age of sci fi, but the modern reader needs to be aware that it is rather different than you might expect. First the fact that it is made up of a sequence of related short stories means that it does not read like a unified novel. There is little character development etc. You see far less of this in modern books, because most authors now jump straight into novels rather than starting writing short stories (for which there is just not the same market now). The second thing is that Asimov was never about predicting or focusing on advanced technology. As such much about the tech that is mentioned is either out of date or rather daft. An example of this is that in the story as the 12,000 year old Galactic Empire declines that many worlds lose the ability to use nuclear power. This in itself is not what is daft, it is that despite having to used coal and oil these planets can still have interstellar space ships etc. Asimov's depiction of computer technology is also rather easy to laugh at now - use of microfilm etc. to store records, punch card computers etc.

Now this will all seem very negative, but the truth is while coming across as quaint, these characteristics actually do not really matter. Asimov's story is not centred on technology, but on society, and what he describes in Foundation is as valid now as it was when written. Personally I like his more recent full length novels, but the original trilogy is also still well worth a read. I have rated this as three stars not because the tech is outdated but because I am not a fan of short stories.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grand SF in the old tradition, 19 Dec 2002
By 
Patrick Shepherd "hyperpat" (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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The 'Golden Age' of science fiction (typically defined as the period shortly after John W. Campbell took charge of Astounding magazine to the late '40s) produced many of the seminal ideas now taken for granted (and almost cliched) by the SF genre. Foundation was certainly part of this era, defining two major ideas: that the entire galaxy would be populated by humans (no aliens around - an early look at the idea that we might just be unique), and that mass human behavior can be codified in mathematical algorithms and to a certain extent is predictable. These ideas, along with several other lesser ones, form the background basis for Foundation, where the galaxy-spanning Empire (closely modeled on the Roman Empire) is in decline and Hari Seldon has created the initial equations of psychohistory, which predict the eventual complete collapse of the Empire and an ensuing 'Dark Age' lasting 30,000 years. Although Seldon can see no way to prevent the Empire's collapse, he does see a way to reduce the resulting Dark Age length to about 1000 years, by setting up a Foundation in the far reaches of the galaxy, whose nominal mission is to preserve man's accumulated knowledge in a repository called the Encyclopedia Galactica.
With this as the background, the story revolves around particular points in the Foundation's existence where it is in danger of being destroyed or overrun. Originally written as separate stories, each crisis episode's (all foreseen via the magic of Seldon's mathematics) resolution progressively moves the Foundation forward from a backwater, isolated, and ivory-tower society towards an active political power, capable of dominating its surrounding stellar mini-empires, becoming an island of light in a sea of darkness and ignorance.
Viewing each episode by itself, none of them are representatives of great writing, marred by weak characterization (a typical Asimov failing) and almost hackneyed plotting. The massive shift in viewpoint and background at the start of each episode is also jarring, as the reader must readjust to a whole new set of conditions each time. However, the power of this book and its two successors is in the grand scope of the entire story line, very typical of stories of this era, as they are far more idea centered than character or plot driven. This book almost cannot be evaluated by itself, isolated from the rest of this set, because the full panorama and scale of the complete story far outweighs the individual contribution of each piece of it.
As an introduction to the Seldon universe, this first book is adequate, with surprisingly little dating, given that the separate pieces of this book were written almost 60 years ago. Yes, there are places where vacuum tubes still reign, but they sit right next to the use of holographic images, which weren't even on the scientific horizon when this was written. But the technology here is almost irrelevant, as the focus is on how to guide and shape a society of humans, to develop a proper government within which individuals can grow and be creative, while at the same time there is a background thread that asks if all human actions are pre-ordained.
Take the time to read this; ignore some of the blatant examples of '40s pulp-level style. Look instead for the great ideas and their interrelationships; feel the sense of wonder. But to fully experience why this is considered one of the best classics in the field, Foundation & Empire and Second Foundation are immediately required follow up reading.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation Series' second helping, 4 Aug 2008
By 
Mr. Liam Edward Sharratt "Olmecius" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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The second in Asimov's `Foundation Series' differs slightly to the first book in the fact that it is only split into two sections, with complete narratives and continuous sets of characters. However, this does not alter the pace of the storytelling and allows the reader to form longer-lasting relationships with the characters; especially in the second section. There are also the characteristic plot twists which we have gotten used to with Asimov's writing.

The second section entitled `The Mule' follows a newlywed couple; one a native of a planet called Haven from the Independent Trading states and the other a citizen of the Foundation. They go in search of a mysterious figure called the Mule who is intent on conquering the Foundation and uniting the Galaxy under his leadership. The fact that he is a mutant somehow allows him to manipulate events in his favour with the possible consequence of bringing the `Seldon Plan' to it's knees, and therefore the future of the Foundation and humanity.
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