Book 475: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Today’s guest blogger is Jeffrey Blakeley. He writes about Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, a book I have not had the pleasure of reading yet.

Of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006) I have finished nearly twenty titles. But I was struck by book #475 Foundation the most. As a student of mathematics, I’ve been a persistent fan of all things science fiction and was delighted that Mr. Asimov’s book had made the list. The book remains the first of a trilogy that was later expanded to form eleven books detailing a 1000 year period. The entire series was modeled after the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but adapted for a galactic scale. In this Asimov has combined the best of science with fiction to create a future well beyond the imaginings of his 1940’s reality.

Despite the books current status, it had very humble origins. It was originally released as a series of five short stories in a monthly science fiction publication. These publications were broken up by Mr. Asimov’s time as a teacher and his enlistment in the army during World War II. Then after the story was completed it took ten years and two disastrous publications before Doubleday Books acquired the rights. The rest is history. After such a slow start the book could only pick up steam. This culminated in 1966 when the Foundation trilogy, consisting of the first three books, won the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series. Now more than fifty years after its first publication Foundation remains a testament to the genius of imagination.

A List of Important Characters: Divided By Story

I. The Psychohistorians

Hari Seldon – Protagonist, Mathematician, Inventor of Psychohistory

Linge Chen – Antagonist, Acting Emperor of the Galaxy

II. The Encyclopedists

Lewis Pirenne – Head of the Board of Trustees

Salvor Hardin – Protagonist, First Mayor of Terminus

III. The Mayors

Wienis – Antagonist, Regent of Anacreon

Salvor Hardin – Protagonist

IV. The Traders

Ponyets – Protagonist, Trader

Pherl – Askone Government Official

V. The Merchant Princes

Hober Mallow – Protagonist, Trader and First of the Merchant Princes

Asper Argo – Leader of the Republic of Korell

Summary and Analysis:

The book itself is less than a hundred pages. This makes any summary or analysis rather difficult, because it will inevitably ruin the book for the uninformed reader. In this way, I implore all readers to use caution in continuing this summary.

The book begins in the way of all my favorite stories, with a simple trick. They introduce a boy, completely genuine and curious, to an environment not his own. This way the reader can relate when the protagonist is faced with the challenges of his new world.

The boy, Gaal Dornick, is an aspiring mathematician fresh from school. He’s recently traveled to the heart of the Galactic Empire to interview for a job with Hari Seldon, a famous mathematician. Hari Seldon in a feat of genius has evolved a branch of mathematics known as Psychohistory to predict the sociology of the galaxy. The course of his work has led to the discovery of the impending fall of the Galactic Empire. In an attempt to limit the fallout of this disastrous event Seldon has created a project that will lead to the creation of a second great empire in a thousand years.

Upon arrival to the capital planet Gaal is arrested by the Galactic Empire who fear the validity of Seldon’s prediction. After a hasty trial the conflict is resolved when Seldon convinces Linge Chen, the acting emperor, to establish a foundation whose purpose would be the publication of an Encyclopia Galactica. This monumental publication would be meant to preserve the knowledge of the Galaxy forever. But maintains a cover for Asimov’s new empire.

The foundation is established on two worlds at opposing ends of the galaxy. So that when the current empire begins to crumble the technologically superior foundation will begin its inevitable assent.

Under this pretense Asimov begins to build an empire the size of his imagination. He spends most of the book dealing with the challenges of creating a budding empire. These challenges present themselves in the form of Seldon crises where the conflicts present themselves as a combination of internal and external social problems resulting in only one solution. These solutions have been predicted with statistical certainty by Hari Seldon, who is supposed to have mapped the evolution of the second great galactic empire.

Asimov’s real genius lies in his ability to reinvent ideas. He engages his readers by manipulating the same themes to new affect repeatedly. There is forethought to his writing that precludes logic in its inevitable conclusion. If you’re looking for an engaging read full of fresh ideas Foundation is just the book for you.

Paperback copies of Foundation are available at most major retail bookstores for less than ten dollars. I strongly recommend picking up a copy. It might just open your mind to a whole new world.

Happy Reading!

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