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Claude Barlow

posted on July 27, 2021

When Claude Barlow arrived in New York City on his sole trip to the Americas, the only other city he wanted to visit was Oskaloosa, Iowa. Why that was remains one of the unsolved concatenations of Barlow’s somewhat desultory biography. Many have chalked up the long rumored mystery visit to simple chicanery of some stripe, but recently an artifact was uncovered in a barn behind a house in Oskaloosa. It was a fragment of a score written and arranged by Barlow. Experts have confirmed that the work closely resembles Barlow’s in every respect and have hailed the finding as a rare addendum to the oeuvre. The good fortune of it being in America allowed it to escape the Barlow burnings* in Europe that summer. As such, it is an unwelcome addition to the Barlow canon.

*From The Life and Times of Claude Barlow – Volume 12 The Hater Years by Harry L. Dinkle

Forward the Foundation

posted on July 22, 2021

As with Prelude to Foundation, Asimov continues to lay the foundation groundwork for all of the Empire books to come. This time the final focus is on the development of the mentalics process that becomes the key to the success of the Second Foundation. The ability to read and influence minds is the final puzzle piece that opens the door to the implementation of the Seldon Plan. It’s here that Asimov will stretch real science to the breaking point. As if telepathy and being able to influence the minds of others isn’t leap enough at this point, it will eventually be stretched (and I do mean stretched) by allowing it to happen over parsecs of space. As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and Asimov will prove to be masterful and judicious in its application.

I’ve mentioned before in the reading of the earlier books in this biblical march through the oeuvre how I find that my perception of them changes on the second reading. Always it seems, for the better. It’s surprise how differently I see some of them on the second pass. I’ve wondered what I could chalk this up to, but, in this particular case, I know exactly what has changed. As the last chronological book that he wrote for this series, Asimov was writing from the perspective of an old man. Reading it now in my still youthful old age, I can pick up on the large and small losses he writes about that age affords as a natural consequence. He writes from the experience that he knows, and, if you’ve followed him for a lifetime as I have, his humanity touches you as distinctly now as it did in your youth. This subtext that runs under his fascinating science speculation and storytelling is part of the glue that he employs to bond with his readers.

 

Prelude to Foundation

posted on June 29, 2021

The interesting backstory as to how Prelude to Foundation came about is that one day, as Asimov was sharing an elevator ride in his apartment building with a young man who also lived there, the young man apparently suggested that Asimov write about how Hari Seldon came to develop Psychohistory. And the premise for a new book landed right in Asimov’s lap. I once had a band director call me to say that he had taken his band to Carnegie Hall and asked if I wanted to hear about it. I immediately dropped what I was working on and started taking notes. How cool is it when something like that happens? As a result, we get a deeper dive into the early life of Hari Seldon, a man who was merely a peripheral figure in the early Foundation novels. While his physical presence may have been slight, Seldon’s influence on those books was, of course, massive.

I’ve tried to be careful about spoilers, but, hey, this stuff has been out there for decades. If you haven’t read it by now, you’ve certainly had what the judicial system refers to as “implied access”,  so, henceforth, I’m throwing spoilers to the wind. The setting for the book is Trantor, the seat of the galactic empire and the ultimate home of the Second Foundation, where we find Seldon on his first trip there. Everything that Seldon does neatly folds into what we already know as Psychohistory and shows what led to it’s development. As he backfills Seldon’s and Psycohistory’s backstory, Asimov also insinuates elements from the robot stories as he begins the process of weaving his science fiction novels into one great tapestry. Reading this work as it was published back in the day was fun, but it’s a different kind of fun to read it in it’s fictional chronological order. It’s a ringside seat to a master storyteller at work.

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