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Foundation

posted on September 2, 2021

During the late summer of 1941, Isaac Asimov began work on his transcendent masterpiece Foundation. He has described on many occasions how he decided to take the lessons of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and apply them to the future of the galaxy writ large. It sounds simple enough, but it was a 21 year-old Jewish writer living in Brooklyn who got there first. And it changed science fiction and began moving the genre from BEMs and into more thoughtful extrapolations of where life could be going.

The plot basically involves the creation of a psychohistory by a scientist/psychologist named Hari Seldon. Psychohistory is a tool by which Seldon hopes to quickly return society from a dark age that he sees following the Galactic Empire’s collapse. Anticipated challenges are set up and the overcome by the Foundation, the vehicle of Seldon’s plans for a rebirth of civilization. As each challenge is overcome, the now dead Seldon shows up as a hologram to congratulate everybody.

In terms of style, Asimov also moves SF from an almost exclusive action oriented form, to stories dominated by people having conversations. The fascinating part is how Asimov makes these conversations so engaging and interesting. It’s just one of a number of things that make the Foundation stories such a great read, and why they hold up so well to this day. And why I’m so looking forward to reading the Second Foundation.