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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.

 

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.