In May, 1942, Isaac Asimov began to publish short stories set in the Foundation universe in Astounding Magazine. The first four stories were collected in Foundation in 1951, which was followed up by Foundation and Empire in 1952, Second Foundation in 1953, and Foundation’s Edge in 1982. Asimov wrote two prequels once this quadrilogy was complete, Foundation and Earth, and Prelude to Foundation.
This future history begins in the last days of the Galactic Empire. A young man, Gaal Dornick, gets his first taste of the exciting life and politics of the Empire when he moves from a rural planet to the capital planet, Trantor, to assist an aging psychohistorian, Hari Seldon, with his encyclopedia project. Seldon’s work is not very popular with the nobility of the Empire, as he has predicted the doom of the political structure that holds the galaxy together.
Once the Empire falls, the novel follows the history of the Foundation, the community that develops around Seldon’s encyclopedia project to preserve civilization during the impending galactic Dark Age. As the Foundation faces conflict with neighboring forces in the area, mayor Salvador Hardin contrives a plan to keep the planet Terminus out of the hands of ill-intentioned warlords by pitting them against each other — and by presenting the Foundation as a techno-religious epicenter. Later in Asimov’s future, traders begin to distribute secular technology to the planets of the large region of space controlled by the Foundation. Despite arrests, close scrapes with death, and conflict with techno-religious leaders, the traders gain power. One of their most daring merchants, Hober Mallow, becomes mayor of the increasingly secularized Foundation. He finds that the original Galactic Empire may not be dead after all.
There is no actual spirituality in this novel. The religion developed by the Foundation to maintain power over the periphery is a false religion, built on technology, secret knowledge. and show. If one looks at this future history as a metaphor for the fall of Rome, the technological religion is obviously Asimov’s stand-in for Christianity. Some may find his comparison and commentary offensive.
There are mentions of some violent acts such as ray gun fights, galactic wars, and the torture and execution of a “priest”, but nothing happens “onscreen” or is depicted graphically.
The word “Hell” is used as an expletive a few times. Otherwise, the profanity used by characters is derived from the society and history Asimov has created.
Alcohol and cigarettes are used throughout the book, but there is no depiction of drunkenness.
Other Negative Themes
Lying and cheating, as well as the abolition of religion, are displayed as positive forces for societal change.
Asimov gives very interesting insights into the way society and culture develops and changes. He shows the triumph of humanity against the relentless march of corrupting time.
The characters in this novel are well fleshed out, even though they are all relegated to a few chapters each. They represent different points in the future of humanity, and have different and unique ways to solve the problems of The Foundation. Despite the frequent time and character changes, I felt myself drawn into each new story as it came. One of my frustrations in the story was that a few of the later characters (the traders and trader-princes) seemed very similar. Also, there was little representation of female characters as part of future society.
The plot of Foundation is a fascinating history that focuses on the struggles of individual leaders for life, liberty, and peace. The different points in history are told as a series of vignettes, each with individual tensions and resolutions. The stories include a lot of dialogue, which guides the eye quickly down each page. The world Asimov has built is a rich, vast, and fascinating one, which earns the Foundation series its reputation as some of the best science fiction ever written.
Asimov presents a fascinating portrait of a possible future, as well as the creative men who might inhabit it and save it. The underlying commentary on the fall of Rome and the forces that have shaped the western world make this a true classic of science fiction literature.
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+ Classic of science fiction + Well-crafted prose and universe
- Anti-religious viewpoint
The Bottom Line
Asimov presents a fascinating portrait of a possible future, as well as the creative men who might inhabit and save it. The underlying commentary on the fall of Rome and the forces that have shaped the western world make this a true classic of science fiction literature.