Hello to my readers! Once again everyone I will be discussing science fiction but this time of a different ilk. Instead of discussing Doctor Who, Firefly or some other televised science fiction on audio it is the turn of a famous literary classic. Issac Asimov’s Foundation series. Foundation as a series has quite the reputation – having earned at one point the Hugo Award for Best All Time Series. An award the series beat Lord Of The Rings to get! The Hugo Awards stand alongside the Nebula Awards as the two most respected and desirable literary awards in the entire science fiction genre.
My readers will no doubt be aware of Asimov’s reputation as an author. When you successfully manage to have your ideas of robotics affect not just the general public and mass blockbusters but actual scientific papers and academic works you will develop a reputation! But what about Foundation itself?
The first Foundation novel was originally published in 1951 and contains five connected sections from different points on the overall timeline. Four of these five sections were first published in the 1940s under different titles in the seminal science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction.
The plot is as follows: On the planet Trantor at the centre of a 12,000 year old Galactic Empire there lives a famous mathematician named Hari Seldon. Seldon has created a new form of scientific study known as psycho-history. Using various mathematical calculations combined with some form of psychology, it is scientifically possible to calculate the most likely and most beneficial actions by individuals in large group societies. In other words to work out the most likely action by any given group and to counteract by forcing those individuals into doing what you want. Think of it as a excessively complex form of mathematical chess! Seldon has predicted that the fall of the Galactic Empire is now inevitable and there will be a period of 30,000 years of anarchy before the birth of a second empire. As such he creates the Foundation a group of scientific minds dedicated to preserving the spirit of science and civilisation therefore ensuring that the period of anarchy will be a mere 1,000 years and that the Foundation will become the cornerstone of that new empire. However…the young Foundation will have to cope with many enemies and will have to survive the death throes of the Empire.
Foundation is a wonderful piece of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The writing is magical in its own way. Asimov definitively tries – as was the style of the more ‘hard sci-fi’ end of that era to have his science make sense in universe. He may invent some bizarre science or technology or a more advanced form of an existing technology but he always tries to explain and justify it and the principals behind it. Case in point see his use of atomic energy. It may seem very dated or childish to us as modern listeners but he comes up with these uses for atomic energy that feel perfect in the setting.
On top of this the people who live on the Foundation world of Terminus and those others we encounter on other worlds all seem to have language changes or unusual terminology that is explained well in universe so the reader and listener can understand it. The characters come across with a mix of interesting personalities..and I love the internal politics that comes up later! To be completely honest with my readers I bought this specific audio edition on an impulse during an Audible sale and I have fallen in love with Foundation all over again!
A series that started off inspired by The Decline And Fall of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon ended up being the inspiration for a practically endless list of science fiction book series over the decades. The original trilogy of Foundation, Foundation And Empire and Second Foundation is still a masterwork. The later sequels attempt to add connections to Asimov’s Robot series of books and it is…debatable what the consensus is on the continuations.
The narration for this audio edition comes from a William Hope who is a prolific narrator. Aside from doing some other works by Asimov, he has also done narration duties on several books by Linwood Barclay as well as numerous other authors including other classic literary works. Hope’s audio definitely fits the Golden Age with a very interesting mix of accents for several characters – his accents for Seldon, Salvor Hardin and various religious figures being among my favourites – and it is relatively easy to tell who is the current speaker as his voices for the characters are mostly distinct. There are a few examples where his chosen voice doesn’t feel like it fits but the vast majority of characters are masterfully performed.
In conclusion I highly recommend the original Foundation trilogy. It is a true magnum opus of the Golden Age and one more people should definitely read or listen to. The Golden Age may not be your favourite era of sci-fi but Foundation is one of those examples where the reputation is deserved and I hope I can persuade some of my readers to join me in studying psycho-history. To quote Salvor Hardin “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” And I will see you all soon…with one of my rarer articles.