Saturday, December 5, 2009

CBII Book 7: Prelude To Foundation - Isaac Asimov

I've read the original Foundation Trilogy three times starting when I was a young teenager and I consider myself an Asimov fan. That is why it pains me to say this: I had no idea that these 'other' Foundation books existed and I blame this on my father. When I read a book and enjoy it, I will always check the first few pages for a list of what else the author has written. You see, the edition of the Foundation trilogy I have was passed on from my dad and so it was quite old.  Due to this fact, there were no other Foundation books listed even though they had obviously been written by that time. Could I have taken the initiative to investigate whether Mr. Asimov had written any further novels in the series? Of course I could, but I was a teenage boy and had other.......priorities. The last time I read the trilogy was over ten years ago. I know this because I am positive I haven't read it since I got married. Please afford me some leway when making comparisons to the originals as my memory is a little fuzzy.

Prelude To Foundation is the story of mathemetition Hari Seldon's quest to establish the Laws of Psychohistory that will eventually save the galaxy from certain demise. Hari has just arrived on Trantor, a world of some fourty billion people and the central world of The Imperium to present his paper on the theory of using mathematics to predict the future of occurances of mankind. While well recieved, Hari's presentation isn't considered revolutionary and raises little interest beyond the cursory "well dones" in the scientific community. With one notable exception: the Emperor. Hari is summond to discuss his theory with the Emperor but the meeting quickly goes south. The Emperor wants Hari to predict the future of the imperium but cannot grasp that the theory is just that; a theory, it doesn't have a practical application. The Emperor is unconcerned with this revalation as, even if the predictions are not accurate, he can use Hari to further his political agenda. The Emperor's second in command Demerzel, a cunning and deft political strategist, suggests that they let Hari go and observe what his course of action is. It's Demerzel's position that they can pick up Hari anytime if he makes a breakthrough or if it seems that a rival political faction is going to make a move on him.

After  his meeting with the Emperor, Hari is understandibly preturbed and decides to take a walk in the park. While reflecting on his unlikely fate Hari meets a reporter named Hummin who, unlikely as it may be, is aware of the presentation and it's contents and expresses deep concern that Hari may be in danger from Demerzel. While the two are discussing the Emperors plans for Hari and all of the pitfalls asociated with them, Hari is accosted by a couple of thugs who take issue with his off-world attire and back-world mannerisms. They suggest that Hari may want to leave the planet immediately. In fact, they are more than willing to help him onto the next plane to his homeworld of Helicon. Hummin sees fit to interfere and help Hari hide. In their flight, he convinces Hari that the thugs were sent by Demerzel and Hari needs to find a safe refuge. He also convinces Hari that the empire is falling apart and Psychohistory is the only solution to preventing the collapse of civilization. For being a simple journalist, Hummin knows entirely too much and has far to many questionable connections. What follows is a chase through Trantor and  exposure to some of the most extreme cultures on the planet, all in an attempt to help Hari to establish the Laws of Psychohistory and save twenty-five million worlds all while avoiding Demerzel who may not be what we are lead to believe.

I have to admit that I was quite surprised when I started reading this particular entry in the series. It seemed that the style and story was far less complex than the original trilogy. In the original Trilogy Seldon is the greatest of men and the stories of him and his prophecies are the stuff of ledgend as well as the greatest hope for humanity.In the beginning, it was difficult to reconcile that man with this country bumpkin who is lost in a world he doesn't understand and makes nieve choices that constantly land him in trouble. Of course, as I continued to read through the book it becomes very apparent that this was Asimov's intention. As we watch Hari grows as a person and lose some of his back-water preconceptions, the story and the writing style grow along with him. It is a subtle but deftly executed change that I only really noticed upon reflection and the book really does benefit from Asimov's decision to write it in this fashion.

I'm also always impressed with the way Asimov writes about fictional cultures and religions but makes it very easy to draw correlations to cultures that exist in our own worlds. He's not shy about laying the pros and cons of each successive culture or religion that he writes about and pointing out there pitfalls but it never comes across as pretentious or preachy. As a matter of fact, he usually uses these instances to point out our own shortcomings as it is fairly obvious, at times, when he's being critical of contemorary cutom, religion and culture. If there's one criticism that I've heard a few times about Asimov's writing, it about the roll that women play in his work. It's been said that, in many instances, women play subserviant characters in his books and I can't really argue that fact. What I will argue is that, in my opinion, the women in his books usually turn out to be people of the strongest character and end up being crucial to the success of whatever story they pertain to. Indeed, in many instances they are also the central protagonists and tend to be more captivating than the male characters. Also, as Asimov's books deal so intimately with society, religion and culture, it would be dishonest to the story and the reader if he did not present to us our own hypocracy.

Prelude To Foundation is and excellent addition to the series that helps us understand the motivations and issues that forced the establishment of The Foundation. It is well written, richley detailed and presents us an oppourtunity to learn about ourselves as we move into our own future. It also underscores many of our own issues that we may wish we weren't so comfortable with.  


  1. Dammit, now I have to pick up another series of books? At least it's already written, no Jordan/Marting issues here. And I just checked, and nope, never read anything Asimov. How the hell did that happen?

    Also, nice review. Thanks for that.

  2. Nice review - I read this recently after reading the original trilogy and I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I liked the idea of getting to know the man behind the legend but I didn't really like the man that much. Also, I preferred the idea that Seldon came up with this on his own rather than the idea that there was a guiding force behind everything that helped make his success possible.

  3. If you're Isaac Asimov, don't you get a little pissed that YOU don't have a hollywood religion? Much more prolific writer, just as 'outta left field' sometimes, but no damn acolytes. Bullshit.