Foundation – Isaac Asimov

The idea behind this story (the first of a trilogy) is very cool:

In a world some thousand of centuries in the future, where space travel is as common as travelling to another country today, Hari Seldon is a prominent psychohistorian who predicts the downfall of the Galactic Empire within the next century. It’s an amazing idea, psychohistory. Blending historical research with psychology and mathematics, Hari and his team can predict that the empire will sink into barbarism.

In an effort to stop this, Seldon sets up the Foundation, initially dedicated to creating an encyclopedia. But essentially this is a rouse. Their purpose isn’t to make a book, but to shift the future of mankind. The Foundation moves a huge amount of people to a planet on the outskirts of the empire, where they then wait to hear further instruction from him. Seldon has foreseen future events, so recorded video (or holographic recordings?) to address the people of the future.

I’ve only read the first of the three books, so I assume they will span the full 1,000 years of Seldon’s theory and keep referencing him.

I must admit, I got a bit lost in all the politics. It’s interesting that most of the book is dialogue and there is not much actual action. The book also skips suddenly to thirty, fifty or more years in the future and we are confronted with an entirely new group of people with different intentions and issues, so it’s a bit tricky to keep up with.

Asimov wrote this during the 1940s, to be first published as a whole novel in 1951. Now that we’re over 60 years in the future, it’s so interesting to read his predictions of the future. I know this is a work of fiction, but still he must have put some of his predictions into the setting of the book. Here’s an excerpt that I can relate to:

   He could not see the ground. It was lost in the ever-increasing complexities of man-made structures. He could see no horizon other than that of metal against sky, stretching out to almost uniform greyness… all the busy traffic of billions of men were going on, he knew, beneath the metal skin of the world.

There was no green to be seen; no green, no soil, no life other than man.

Sometimes this is how I feel when I head into the city for work! This is where things could go. It’s scary and unpleasant to think cities could continue increasing, with metal taking over the beautiful greenness of nature. I feels completely inhuman to be moving away from nature in this way with cities expanding and careers focused on computers, machines and indoors.

There’s one area, however, that I think Asimov completely missed the mark. And how can we blame him, given the time in which he grew up?

“The small household appliances will go first. After half a year of this stalemate that you abhor, a woman’s atomic knife won’t work any more. Her stove begins failing. Her washer doesn’t do a good job. The temperature-humidity control in her house dies on a hot summer day. What happens?”

Bahahahahaha! When I read this I suddenly realised the lack of female characters in the book. The future, according to Asimov, is apparently still completely dominated by men and women are interested only in keeping a tidy house for her husband.

I’m no feminist – but if Asimov had written this story today I think females would have had to play a much bigger role in the big political decisions and powerful roles of the Galactic Empire and the Foundation. No longer are we placid housewives startled by pretty jewellery. No longer are we absent from politics and important roles. Women are going to play a much bigger part in the future, but Asimov couldn’t see that from his 1940s standpoint.

This was an interesting read but I don’t know if I’ll ever bother finishing the trilogy.


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