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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.

Pebble in the Sky

posted on April 6, 2021

 

Pebble in the Sky is the third of Asimov’s empire novels in terms of timeline, but the first in chronologically written order, and, in my humble opinion, the best. It had originally been written as a novella called Grow Old Along With Me, the title of Robert Browning’s paean to old age (Interesting to have read this when I was young, and to be reading it now in my youthful old age. Makes you pause). Anyway, the novella was rejected a couple of times and nearly lost to the dustbin of history when Asimov received an offer for it to be published if he would turn it into a novel, which he did.

This is the place where Asimov first established the fact that the Earth was radioactive (chronologically) and something he had to account for in the other robot and empire novels until he finally retconned the thing and provided the explanation in Robots and Empire. In the timeline order, it brings us a step closer to the Foundation books. The Empire is still growing and has yet to show signs of decay.

And it’s a time travel novel that also considers the practice of euthanasia on a population neutral zero sum Earth. Also, Earth as the origin of mankind has not been lost to history yet. All of this is folded into a great tale Asimovianally told. Just for grins, I read the original Grow Old Along With Me and it’s a fascinatingly different piece and kind of instructive about the art of writing if, like me, you’re into that sort of thing. The original can be found in a book called The Alternate Asimov’s. Next up on my march with Asimov through the galaxy… Prelude to Foundation.

 

The Currents of Space

posted on March 23, 2021

Much like the book that preceded it, The Currents of Space contains the capture, escape, chase elements of the popular pulps of the day. It’s distinguishing difference is Asimov’s continuing focus on the socio-political dynamics of a future Galactic Empire in it’s early stages. Whereas in The Stars like Dust, there was yet to be a unified political center to the galaxy, here Trantor has assumed that role. That being said, it only plays a small part in the story. In the tale itself, Asimov focuses on the lower castes of the developing Empire. At the start, he posits an interesting scientific extrapolation and then has his characters chasing after it for the remainder of the book. Asimov also has great fun playing various political entities off of one another, all building nicely to the final reveal.

While Asimov’s Foundation and his Empire stories are an inflection point between the old school space opera and the style of social commentary and cautionary tales that will emerge, this book still straddles the fault line to a degree. I had purchased this book through my Weekly Reader in Junior High School, and I have to say that, as with the previous books I’ve been re-reading, it held up well to the memories from my personal golden age.