Sunday, March 16, 2014

foundation and empire

Its been a while; I read the first in the Foundation series back in 2011. Foundation and Empire is the second in the original trilogy, which many credit for creating the boom in space-based science fiction since then. Isaac Asimov wrote Foundation while he was in his early thirties, in 1951, and the follow-ups came in the years after, 1952 and 53, but Asimov returned to Foundation for additional volumes in the 80s, eventually expanding the franchise to seven novels. These additional 4 books are sometimes referred to as the Extended Foundation novels. On a somewhat related note, I also read a short story by Orson Scott Card a while ago, which riffed on the Foundation series.

The Foundation series is interesting if only due to its vastness. The story arc encompasses the entire galaxy, thousands (millions?) of worlds, hundreds of characters, and a thousand years; all on the same story arc. worth repeating, I thought Asimov decided to look at the galaxy-wide implications of a single idea: Foundation, as it ripples throughout the entire inhabited galaxy, over the course of a thousand years. Mind boggling in scope. But the very idea of Foundation is so interesting, that it drives the story, generation after generation, from planetary system to system.

Looking back at this classic tale now, I'm struck by the things that Asimov imagined, and others that he didn't. He does make the point that over such huge expanses, such as the galaxy, and the time periods we're talking about--a future so far distant that man has populated the entire galaxy, so far in the future that there is no memory, no extant record even, of where man originated--that things necessarily change. So I guess I can see that its possible for some things to have changed dramatically, or even to have gone through cycles, but even Asimov wasn't brave enough to write a story where women are equal to men for his 1951 audience.

Some other things Asimov foresaw: tobacco would be propagated out into the ether, and still widely utilized, space ships and ground cars run on 'nuclear' fuel, printed newspapers are still in daily use, private messages are physically sent in little, hard-to-open canisters, well-to-do middle class folks have servants in their households, and when a woman in the room gives her opinion, the men are surprised, a little amused, but do (thankfully) take her seriously and don't throw her out.

Enough about the 50s, Foundation, for all of its dated-ness, is a great story, or maybe more accurately, its a series of linked and related short stories. Foundation and Empire follows on in a chronological pattern from Foundation, tracing the history of this galactic millennium and chronicling the challenges to Hari Seldon's plan. I'm looking forward to the final book, Second Foundation.

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