Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Asimov's Foundation Series

This is one of the masterworks of science fiction and is probably the best known of Isaac Asimov's writing.  I had read it ages ago but he had written additional books so that which was once a trilogy I suppose would now be called a pentalogy as there are five volumes:

  1. Foundation
  2. Foundation and Empire
  3. Second Foundation
  4. Foundation's Edge
  5. Foundation and Earth
The first three comprise the original trilogy and the last two extend it.  Other of his works are also part of the story but are not as tightly-integrated as these five.

Something I had forgotten was how badly written the first book and, to some extent, the second had been.  They had been written as a series for, I believe, Analog and this necessitated a great deal of duplication in case people joined the series midway.  There's no great crime in this as he had no idea how big the Foundation would get and part of the fascination is observing the evolution.  As you work through the series, you will find the later volumes are quite gripping.

People often regard science fiction as nothing but hard science and only of interest to gearheads but the Foundation series, while containing a great deal of hard science, is not devoted to impressing you with Asimov's scientific expertise.  The story revolves around the disintegration of the galactic Empire and the invention of psychohistory to predict the evolution of the regrowth of a stronger and healthier second Empire, one that would take a thousand years to emerge rather than the thirty thousand that it would take otherwise.

Hari Seldon devised the science psychohistory and from this he plotted the behavior of the galaxy in much the same way that science predicts the behavior of the molecules in a gas.  Given a large enough population, whether gas molecules or the number of human beings in the galaxy, mathematical laws apply and these were used to plot the Seldon Plan for the galactic recovery.

To effect the Seldon Plan he created the Foundation on a desolate end of the galaxy where the population would be dedicated to improving technology for the new Empire.  What is not known to the First Foundation is that he also created a Second Foundation and this one did not focus on technology but rather on psychology.  The growth and conflicts between the two foundations are the basis for the story and it's much more than simply an exposition of scientific principles.

In Facebook you can show you have read a book and then it will request you rate it on a scale from one to five.  That may be adequate for comic books but this series deserves rather more respect than that and I recommend it highly.  Unlike the extensions to "Dune," this series stays tight through the additional volumes and they are well-worth your time.

2 comments:

Miguel said...

Alan,

I love Asimov's Foundation series also for his vision of continuing human progress.

BTW, I think the Foundation series actually ended up as a 'heptalogy' of seven volumes -- there is also a volume entitled "Forward The Foundation", and another entitled "Prelude to Foundation"!

FYI: I've found a group that has followed Asimov's mythopoeia, and even derived seven "psychohistorical equations" for the psychohistory of humanity on Earth.

They had to discover a new mathematics to pull it off.

Here's the link to their Seldonian equations --


http://www.dialectics.org/dialectics/...



Regards,

Miguel

Alan Fraser said...

Thanks and it appears I have some more reading to do!

It's astounding how much material is available on http://www.dialectics.org and how long it has been growing. There was a similar effect although I don't know how comprehensive that came from Larry Niven's Ringworld series as people worked out a great deal of the science of it and Niven incorporated at least some of it in subsequent Ringworld novels.