Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: The Foundation series

The winner of the once-off Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966, the Foundation series of books have had a profound impact on the world of science fiction. Originally written as a trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation) in the 1950s, Asimov’s publishers pressured him to write a sequel, resulting in Foundation’s Edge being published in 1982, followed soon after by Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.

The main concept surrounding the series is the belief by scientist Hari Seldon that the future of the Galactic civilisation could be determined by applying a mathematical principle he had developed called psychohistory. The principle of the theory is that the behaviour of a large mass of people can be predicted using the law of mass action. Seldon uses psychohistory to predict the decay and collapse of the Galactic Empire, and contrives a plan whereby the resulting anarchy and barbarism would be limited to a thousand years before the rise of a new central civilisation, instead of thirty thousand years.

Seldon establishes two Foundations at opposite ends of the Galaxy, the first a repository of all human knowledge, where the inhabitants of the planet Terminus are working on creating a galactic Encyclopaedia and are initially unaware of Seldon’s plan or of the existence of the Second Foundation.

How the Foundation responds in times of crisis is the test for Seldon’s theory of psychohistory, and each successive leader of the planet Terminus has critical challenges to meet. Eventually the leadership of the First Foundation slides into decay and dictatorship, and Seldon’s plan is challenged by an unpredicted variable, the rise of a galactic conqueror, known as the Mule, who is able to control others by his mutated telepathic abilities. He topples the Foundation and Seldon’s plan hangs by a thread. The Second Foundation, a clandestine group with empathetic powers, acts to set the Galaxy back on par with the Plan. Further on in the series, the search for the Second Foundation intensifies and the involvement of robots is eventually revealed.

The prequels delve into Hari Seldon’s efforts to set up the two Foundations at the beginning of the decline of the Galactic Empire and his relationship with the oldest humanoid robot in the Galaxy.

It is worth noting that that this series beat the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien to receive the special Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series. Asimov’s plots and scientific theories are gripping, enthralling and intriguing and this series is easily his best and most inventive work.

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