Isaac Asimov and the Foundation Series

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

Isaac Asimov is one of the most read, accessible, and prolific science fiction writers that has ever lived.  One might say he helped define the genre. He has written popular works on science and the history of science, as well as a number of science-fiction classics, including I, Robot (1950), and the Foundation Trilogy (1951-53). He is most well known for having written these series. I have recently reread the entire foundation series (six novels), and am reminded again as to just how groundbreaking these ideas must have been in his time. I highly recommend that if you are looking for a book, and you like science fiction, pick up one of Isaac’s.

 

Brief Summary on Why I Love Science Fiction

I believe that science fiction is significantly more difficult to write than other types of realistic fiction. In realistic fiction, even though the characters or plot may not be real, the story at least takes place inside the world of the reader, which allows the writer liberties in things that need not be explained. It takes a very talented writer to be able to brief the reader on a world that is not familiar, while not detracting from the story he is trying to tell.  Good science fiction has a way of building their universe in the reader’s mind so subtly that you don’t realize it’s happening.  Achieving that level of immersion is difficult.

Foundation

In foundation, the galaxy has been populated by humans – 11 million planets all under one empire. Asimov’s love of history shines through his work as a reminder that history does have a certain penchant for repeating itself, and though the galactic empire has remained a steady force for thousands and thousands of years, like all empires, it is beginning to break down. Hari Seldon,  a bright mathematician, may have the only thing capable of preventing the fall of the empire, or at least at reducing the barbaric years to come after the fall. If he can statistically evaluate quadrillions of humans using his new mathematics of psychohistory, he may be able to reasonably predict the future despite the chaos effect.  Put to good use, this knowledge of the future can be used to guide the fallen empire to be better than its former glory in only 1000 years, instead of the 20,000 years it will take if unaided.

And with that as the backdrop, Isaac introduces you to characters of the foundation, the future of the second galactic empire, statistically predicted to succeed even though they don’t know what lies ahead of them.

Seldon

I love how Isaac uses the foundation novels to explore concepts of determinism, the dangers of a stagnation in scientific discovery, and on the very nature of science – both applied and psychological.  I also appreciate his approach of extrapolating the same problems that exist today when trying to govern our civilization to the challenges that will exist in an interstellar civilization. Just as fringe territory was too difficult for the Romans to defend, so is the fringe of the galaxy.  Asimov deals with interstellar economics, and how some worlds will be dedicated to the production of food, or metals, or simply administration of the empire. Nationalist pride becomes pride of your home planet. Perhaps my favorite aspects are in his insinuations of the scientific advances that will take place when we start to understand more about the capabilities of our own minds…

The novels are not challenging to get through, usually less than 1000 pages, and should be easy to find.  If you are interesting in more about Isaac Asimov or where to find his books, check out the links below.

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be…. This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.

-ISAAC ASIMOV, Asimov on Science Fiction

 ~PL

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Foundation Series: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, Foundation’s Edge, Foundation and Earth (prequels: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation)

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