58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 13 July 2004
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2002
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2012
Foundation and Empire is the second volume in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Originally published as two novellas, Foundation and Empire the novel is made up of "The General" and "The Mule".
In "The General", as the Galactic Empire crumbles, General Bel Riose launches an attack on the Foundation. Although the Foundation is theoretically stronger than the Empire, General Bel Riose has access to greater resources and personnel and so his attack does begin to threaten the Foundation. A Foundation citizen named Devers intercepts a communication that details the General's double dealings and attempts to escape to Trantor so that he can show the communication to the Emperor and hopefully stop the attack.
"The Mule" is set roughly one hundred years after "The General". The Empire has crumbled, Trantor has been sacked by invaders, and most of the galaxy has split into barbaric factions. Due to its extensive trading routes, the Foundation is now the major power in the galaxy. Until, that is, a new threat arises in the form of a growing army of barbarians led by a mysterious individual known as the Mule. Once it is discovered that Hari Seldon has failed to predict the existence of the Mule, Foundation citizens Toran and Bayta Darell, along with psychologist Ebling Mis and a refugee clown named Magnifico Giganticus, travel the galaxy attempting to locate the Second Foundation that had been established by Seldon.
Although a much darker and more intense book, Foundation and Empire is an excellent follow up to Foundation. Asimov's writing is excellent as ever, with his descriptions of the alien worlds and his characterisations being particularly strong. The whole Foundation series is fantastic and Foundation and Empire is further proof that Isaac Asimov is one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2012
This is a book, indeed a series, which is based on a one single idea.
It's a good idea, to be fair. At its core is that history becomes as formulaic as physics, in that events can be predicted with absolute precision. The inventor of this technique, Seldon, discovers that the galactic empire is on the verge of collapse. To prevent the onset of a thousand years of a new, galactic-wide 'dark ages', he persuades the government to sponsor two foundations. This is the story of the first one, and its first few hundred years since its founding as it struggles to survive amongst a galactic civilisation that is collapsing. The inhabitants of the Foundation are aided by recordings from Seldon, who has predicted their futures (but intriguingly, Seldon essentially took the secret of his new science with him to his grave - so no one else can see what is coming down the line).
As I said, this book covers the first few centuries of the Foundation as they struggle with various neighbours and triumph by trade, war, and even religion, over differing and predicted 'Seldon Crises.' This is also one of the book's major problems.
The characters. After putting the book down I have to say that not one of the characters stayed with me for more than a few days. Each of the heroic characters share specific traits that to me seemed to indicate they had been pulled out of a box to fill a requirement. Their journeys and experiences are too bland to warrant any fond memories . . .
So in essence, it's a novel underpinned by one great idea, but where pretty much everything else remains the same - even though we are supposed to be so far in the future that earth has been forgotten and FTL travel is commonplace (to start with). It is a book that neglects any other foresight into human nature and how that would have changed with such technology in favour for focusing on the single concept of Seldon's scientific history.
Still, it's a good book, and an easy intro to classic sci-fi.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2009
Foundation is broken up into five different 'books' which all occur at slightly different points of time and have different characters. At first this was a challenge for me because it really doesn't allow for much character development, however once you get into the second third of the book you become less interested in the human characters and more interested in the 'character' of the Foundation and how it is progressing through time.
So my main problem with Foundation is lack of character development, especially early on. Also from memory i think theres only one female in the whole book and she has a very minor role. However if you're not looking for character but are looking for good solid science fiction Foundation is most deffinately worth a read, a classic in that case.
I'd recommend Foundation to anyone but it's probably best if you've read other sci-fi first because this book, unike lots of other sci-fi works doesn't give much but hard sci-fi, not that that's a bad thing ofcourse.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Asimov participated in American science fiction's golden age, helping to convert pulp fantasy stories into realistic predictions of the future based on current science. It is remarkable that he wrote the Foundation while a young man, barely 20 I believe, a work with grand themes and the cornerstone of his massive and sprawling future history of mankind, which I believe went into more than 50 volumes.
The basic plot is that a scientists created a new discipline, psycho-statistics I believe, that could predict the future behavior of huge masses of humans. He then attempts to mold - or at least influence - man's fate over the next 30,000 years. What is truly amazing is that Asimov succeeds in these volumes. In a way, he should have stopped here with the series. The ideas are crisp and not yoked into a determined framework, so are fresh with lively characters. Later novels in the series feel more stilted, bound by concepts more than by a plain old good story.
A sci fi classic.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
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!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2003
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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!