Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

4 stars

After The Stars My Destination and now this, I’m going to have to add a lot more 50’s sci-fi to my reading list. I’d initially thought that my attempting to take on Asimov would be a little like this…

Happily, I found that Foundation was not at all dryly academic as I’d anticipated and is, in fact, really accessible and surprisingly funny.

Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian, by which I don’t mean that he’s into Henry VIII and stabs people. Instead, psychohistory is an advanced form of mathematics applied to large populations, through which Seldon can accurately predict the fall of the Galactic Empire and the thousands of years of barbarism which will follow. The fall cannot be averted, but through the application of psychohistory Seldon can do something about how long the age of barbarism will last, by manipulating humanity onto a path towards a new Empire through the successful navigation of a series of crises.

Less a story and more a series of glimpses into those crises and the people pitted against them, there’s not much ‘action’ within but there are a lot of ideas and a lot of outwitting of enemies and events in a series of conversations in which one of the players, at least, is always a few moves ahead of everyone else.

If I had any criticisms it would be that our main players, regardless of who they are or at what time they’re floating about in (sort of) history, they all sound like the same man. And it also seems that men writing sci-fi in the 50’s don’t seem able to imagine women in any roles other than the ones they already held at that time and so we are either invisible or, as in the case of the lone woman we meet, easily distracted by jewellery.

Still, it wasn’t enough to detract from what was, ultimately, a great little read.

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