Science fiction for public administrators
Presumably thousands of years in the future, mankind has colonized thousands of planets, most of which are governed by a Galactic Empire. While the Empire does have its dystopian side, this big government generally keeps human civilization from devolving into utter chaos. Hari Seldon, however, foresees an impending catastrophic fall in the Empire’s future. Seldon is humanity’s foremost practitioner of psychohistory. Through a thorough analytical knowledge of human nature and complex modeling of historical probabilities, psychohistorians are able to provide detailed predictions of humanity’s probable future. With the end of civilization looming large, the Empire establishes a scientific foundation on a remote outpost, with Seldon in charge, to compile a Galactic Encyclopedia of all human knowledge. But is that the Foundation’s only purpose, or is there a hidden, ulterior motive to this monumental undertaking?
Foundation is well-thought-out, but it is a bit boring, and I never really cared about any of the characters. The main problem with this story is that there’s too much about government and fictional politics. It reads like Asimov was playing a role-playing game about how to manage an interplanetary empire, and you get to watch. This novel should be the monthly selection of a book club for city bureaucrats or foreign diplomats. In contrast, Frank Herbert’s Dune books also have a lot of government in them, but in addition they have a lot to say about religion, genetic engineering, the environment, and other interesting matters. The Dune world is multifaceted, whereas the Foundation world is rather one-dimensional. All the characters are defined by their bureaucratic titles, with only minimum personality, and one gets the feeling that they are all white men. I don’t recall a woman in the entire book. I also think it was a poor choice to give the two main characters—Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin—such similar names. That must have been an intentional choice by Asimov, but it’s needlessly confusing.
Another mark against Foundation is that it ends on a low note. Of the novel’s five sections, which take place decades apart, the last part, The Merchant Princes, is by far the least interesting. The stakes feel a lot lower here than in the earlier sections, and the book’s only interesting characters—Seldon and Hardin—are long gone. This closing story presents a diplomatic conundrum that was so confusing I found it difficult to care about the result.
The concept of psychohistory is Foundation’s most original and intriguing contribution to the science fiction genre. The narrative possibilities of that concept, however, don’t seem to have been fully exploited by Asimov in this book. Perhaps one has to read the remaining three Foundation novels to get the full scope of Asimov’s glorious creation, but this first installment doesn’t make me want to read six more books in this world.
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.