Foundation – By Issac Asimov

“Foundation” is a gripping work of science fiction that is based in the far future. Humanity has expanded throughout the galaxy and has colonized every planet under the rule of the Galactic Empire. The Empire, covers the entire Milky Way an is incomprehensible in size. This leads to a view that it is indestructible, and essentially eternal. At least, by most of its residents. Hari Seldon, a psycho-historian (A job that melds both psychology and history to predict broad political trends in the future) predicts a Romanesque decline and fall of the Galactic Empire. More specifically, he predicts that it will take 30,000 years to reform a Galactic Empire and gain back the scientific advances that will be lost. In order to prevent said collapse, he sets up a “Foundation” of science on the edge of the Galaxy, essentially a world filled with scientists who’s job is to catalog science and history. Seldon predicts that the foundation will form a second empire in 1000 years and save the Galaxy many hardships. The reader then sees the future of this foundation in 100 years as it deals with empires in the outer fringe of the galaxy that threaten it. But this whole idea brings up some really fundamental questions about human nature. Why does Hari Seldon go through this ordeal, and it is a huge ordeal, when he wont see even the slightest results? He talks with the emperor about this very thing, and his answer doesn’t seem to be explain much. He just talks about idealism and his identification with the mystical term “Humanity”. Honestly, I think the character point that Asminov is trying to prove is that even the smartest man in the Galaxy, a man who (correctly) predicts what no one else does, doesn’t understand humanity. He realizes the concept, but he cant even explain his own connection with that concept. Even the most brilliant people in the book deal with that idea of connection in a vast sea of humanity.

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12 responses to “Foundation – By Issac Asimov

  1. Alex Li

    You bring up many good points about Hari Seldon’s connections and his thoughts about humanity, but the question you ask about Hari Seldon’s purpose and his intentions with the encyclopedia are sort of answered at the end of part II, showing that Seldon’s true purpose wasnt the encyclopedia at all. What I was wondering specifically was the connection between the first main character presented, Gaal Dornick, and the second part on Terminus with the council and the likes. I don’t understand why bring up Gaal as a character except for exposition. What I do enjoy about the book is the small parenthetical citations before each chapter from Encyclopedia Galactica. It adds just a tiny bit more to the story that I wouldn’t have expected from Asimov. I also think that Asimov’s world is really interesting, and how each characters interact with one another. Asimov’s characters have personality and are believable (excpet maybe Seldon’s ability for predictions). “Foundation” so far has kept me turning pages, and I can’t wait to find out what is actually in the vault and what is Seldon’s true purpose for Terminus.

  2. Max Chu

    You both bring up many interesting points to discuss. Joe, I agree with Alex in that Hari never intended the encyclopedia to be the main goal. It was only used as a distraction. It will be interesting to see when Hari’s true intentions are revealed and what happens after that.
    Another point I want to talk about is the whole psychohistory deal. I feel like this would not work to the accuracy predicted in the book. Hari and Gaal talk about the probability of events happening to the tenth of a percent. This just seems too good to be true to me. Obviously, the circumstances are different in the world Asimov has created, but it still seems unrealistic. Another question that comes from psychohistory is whether fate or free will determines a person’s life. In the case of psychohistory, it is said that it can only accurately predict the outcomes of a group of people and not the individual. This implies that one person may have free will, but the society does not. Psychohistory is based on the fact that human nature so predictable, people can analyze it and find possibilities of the future. This is a really interesting concept because if the individual has free will, can he not change the will of the society?

  3. Quick comment, I was discussing the end goal of saving humanity, not the means through which it is accomplished. Big distinction.

  4. Max Chu

    The next section in Foundation continues the story of the people working for Hari Seldon’s foundation. The kingdom of Anacreon has continued to conflict with Foundation. They now have the power to take over Terminus, but the current leader of foundation, Salvor Hardin, uses the Foundation’s power over technology to overcome the conflict. Also, he uses the religious wing of the Foundation to discourage people from attacking Terminus. The section then ends with Hari Seldon appearing in holographic form and congratulating Foundation for getting through the second crisis with religious means.
    Through this entire section, the true meaning of Seldon’s plan is still not clear. The encyclopedia was dismissed as a distraction, but his actual plan is still not revealed. He wants to help the galaxy through the dark-age, but no one knows how this will happen. Right now he is relying on the people of Foundation to get through crises on their own. He only appears after each crisis is over. From the events in this section of the book, it seems to me that Seldon’s plan was to create a new more powerful empire with the people of Foundation as rulers. Foundation holds all the power in technology and they were just tested on how to deal with conflict. Also, hologram of Hari tells them that many new challenges will be faced in the future. This sounds like more chances for the people of Foundation to learn how to build an empire.

  5. So I think the metaphor of Seldon as an almost omnipresent god is really important in this part of the book. I agree that his plan is to create another empire, that much is implied when he talks about rejoining the empire in 1 millennium rather than 30, but how Seldon appears to be a religious figure is much more important. He literally acts almost exactly as God does during the exodus. Normally I wouldn’t start citing biblical text, but this story is very westernized (The empire is essentially just Rome) so I think it is important we bring it up. As background information, the exodus, biblically speaking, is when God sends his chosen people away from Egypt, to find the promised land. Its a 40 year journey and God leads his people throughout the entire time. Already a lot of comparisons pop up. Seldon’s chosen people were the scientists who came to Terminus, he sends them away from a crumbling empire, and they are going to form a new place. Seldon also is leading his people, but only to a few, never revealing his full plan.
    Now that that point is thoroughly proven and Alex-proofed (yes, you Alex, you know you were planning to disagree) I think its important to ask why Asminov decided to write this specific element. Personally, I love it just because it works so well with the elements of Roman history (there even is Pax Romana) but I only have theories why Asminov added this feature. Maybe he wanted Seldon to appear more powerful, maybe he wanted to make the plan even more mysterious, or maybe he wants to foreshadow future events. Either way this deification of Seldon makes the book much more enjoyable and fun.

    • Alex Li

      In fact, I wasn’t planning to agree, and the fact that you brought it up is actually quite interesting. It has many parralels to the story of exodus in the bible, Hari being god and leading his people away from a place that he knows that they can’t stay. I don’t know the bible stories that well (understandibly), but if god decided to keep his plans secret to his subjects in the story, then the parallel you drew is surprisingly accurate. Rome on the other hand might be a more debatable. Yes I agree about your parallels when it comes to Seldon’s empire being an empire itself, but other than that, I don’t see the correlation between the Roman Empire and Hari Seldon’s empire. Where do the stories aline? On a side note, the book itself keeps getting more and more interesting as the plot progresses and gets deeper. The only thing that has been bugging me for a while is the same as my first blog post. I don’t like the way that Asimov created a character in the first part of the novel, then completely disregarded him. I want to hear more about him. Aside from my complaints, I am thoroughly enjoying Foundation and I am looking forward to learning more about Seldon’s new empire.

      • So in the third part of Foundation the Climax happens, or rather it doesn’t. Its strange to think of, but I wouldn’t say this book has a climax. Certainly at certain points in the book characters reach a stage where they fight the antagonist, and peak in character development. But honestly, the events play out more like a realistic history. For example Mallow, a trader who disagrees with the governments religious foundation, doesn’t break a worlds disagreement with nuclear technology with fighting or even extremely clever thinking. He does it in an almost boring way of trade and behind the back bartering. Its much more representative of actual history. In Harry Potter, my go to example book, Harry has this giant final confrontation with Voldemort, and that is allowed in the fictional world JK Rowling has built up. It wouldn’t fit in Foundation, because, much like the post Roman history it is based upon, its realistic. For example, several of the problems with the masses are solved with the age old methods of gold, religion, and gladiator arenas. The protagonist doesn’t show them the error of their ways, instead they just focus the masses on something else, while always dangling the promise of the Seldon plan just in sight. In many ways, Foundation could be interpreted as a statement on human nature, within the background of science fiction. And that makes this book so much more satisfying than just a basic science fiction.

  6. Alex Li

    The first chapter of part III (which I am going to focus on in this blog post) really grabbed my attention. It brought on the result of Hardin’s position of power and the introduction of the rival political party that rises up to challenge Hardin; it is quite interesting that Asimov decided to incorporate some politiical issues into the book. The two competitors can be seen as very stereotypical idea of political conflict. Hardin represents tried and true, older political views that have been there for many years and have been proven to work and has kept policy enacted. The challenger, a younger man by the name of Sermack represents the newer, untested ideas that the younger generation brings to the table. He talks to Hardin about how he has new radical ideas of change and ideas that will work, but haven’t been tested. Hardin’s ideas have been in place in the many years prior. The thing is that Hardin’s rule has been slowly deteriorating and his policymaking slowly getting worse. Sermack sees this slowing and decides to act and challenge Hardin’s place in the government. This political dilemma rises as a result. Should the people elect the same leader they have been successful and have been under for so many years, or should they risk it and go with a new leader with new, fresh ideas that they have never seen before. I am intrigued with this overall story arc and am excited to see what happens down the line.

  7. I am also very interested in the aspect of politics that Asimov chose to add to his novel. So far, a lot of the book has been the leaders of Foundation dealing with the other kingdoms and threats through politics. There have been many chances for conflict through war or other violent methods, but the strategies of the Foundation leaders have been to give science or other aid to the other kingdoms or governments, or appeasement. This actually causes more conflict because some think appeasement is the wrong way of dealing with conflict. This concept actually relates to what we are learning in history. During the time period of the World Wars, many governments practiced appeasement in order to avoid violence. Likewise, the scholars and scientists of Foundation would rather not fight a war, so they gave others what they wanted. But unlike the Allied governments after WWI, the Foundation was still able to control the other governments. They were able to manipulate the others with the technology that only they possessed. This book was written around the time of WWI and WWII, so it might have been Asimov’s criticism of the Allied governments of WWI and handled the end of WWI. Joe’s example of the Roman Empire also seems to fit very well with the way the politics in this book happen. This book seems to show how politics affect the development and fall of civilizations.

  8. Foundation Review; 7/10

    I personally did not like this book all that much. I feel like there was just too much exposition and yet to me it was hard to follow. The book is essentially 5 separate stories about the Foundation. Also, while it is amazing how an author in 1941 could write a book that focused so much on politics and actual science at a time period when sci-fi was full of action and adventure, I personally find the book almost boring. In every section, there is some sort of threat to Foundation through physical attack by other “governments” and then the conflict is resolved through manipulation of the leader of the other “government” and then the book moves on to the next section. The novel mostly focuses on how characters solved problems through political manipulation, which I don’t find interesting. I also did not like the ending. I realize that this is the first book in a series, but the book ends with Foundation placing an embargo on another planet and the conflict being solved. This leaves no setup for the next book and leaves the reader not really wanting to read the next books to find out what happens.

    The novel also brings up some pretty profound issues such as free will and individuality, both through the idea of psychohistory.

    Overall, I would recommend this book to someone who likes having a mind-opening book and the resolution of conflicts through political manipulation.

  9. Alex Li

    Foundation – By Issac Asimov
    8/10

    The reason I gave Asimov’s book 8/10 is in short, because it is the first book in a series, and it shows immensely. Like Max, I didn’t enjoy the amount of exposition presented throughout the novel. I did however enjoy the thoughtfulness of the ideas of human nature and psychology brought up during the parts regarding psychohistory. I also enjoyed the political views and political storylines that Asimov brings up regarding manipulation, and political espionage. Overall, I enjoyed Foundation, but the fact that it was the first in the series and the fact that it showed so much sort of detracted from the experience of reading the novel. I definitely didn’t enjoy this as much as I did 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was still quite good and a joy to read.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys complex storylines and lots of exposition. Also to people who enjoy reading series of books in order, as this book sets up many things to be answered in following storylines.

    • Foundation – By Issac Asminov
      10/10, Would Read Again.

      I recognize the problems that Alex and Max bring up concerning the multiple protagonists, yet I don’t really see them as problems. I actually love the historical style that Asminov brings up, creating the mythology through his own characters, then having different characters separate fact from fiction. While this style may not work in other books, I feel like the plot’s deep integration with Roman history and the realistic way it solves problems makes this style work. Furthermore, Asminov makes every character likable in their own way. Some of them are brave and courageous, others shrewd and compromising.

      Much like real history, Asminov leaves much interpretation and guesswork to his book. I would recommend this to anyone who loves science fiction and history, as it is a good blend of both genres.

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