Asimov’s Foundation: Senseis in Space

Another giant for another day… Meet Asimov- the master of hard science fiction.  Biochemist by trade and sci fi lover by passion. An avid reader of the pulps and a guru of all things atomic.

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I began reading Foundation a couple of days ago and found the first book to be brisk and entertaining. I was surprised at how quickly the book spirals into its plot about the Foundation that Hari Seldon creates to develop an encyclopedia of the universe, aptly entitled Encyclopedia Galatica.

The novel jumps time periods, each one a part of the grand narrative of the Galatic Empire’s downfall and unification. The most intriguing component of the novel’s internal workings is the way Asimov revisits the past at each subsequent epoch and reveals a truth that completely undermines or dispels what you previously thought about where the plot was going.

Example- you think the Foundation is made to compile an Encyclopedia Galatica to prevent the collapse of the empire, but in the second section of the book, after Seldon has died, you discover that the Foundation is located on a distant planet with no resources to embroil it in the political tension of the planets surrounding it.  Seldon has planned specific crises for the heroes that will  lead to the glory of a re-united Galatic Empire. In the scenario where the Foundation is pitted against the warring planets near Terminus, The Foundation defends itself successfully using its scientific prowess, specifically its nuclear power.

Overall, Asimov succeeds in this movement of revisiting history, balancing the intimate struggles of the heroes and the grand historic design Seldon has. More importantly, he continually surprises the reader by pulling the rug, so to speak, from under them. Though I think the novel falters near the end when Asimov introduces the idea of trading and barbaric factions, a section that is weaker than the novel’s glorious beginnings, that is a minor grievance for such a masterful work.

Another scifi technique one notices is the re-encountering of certain technologies. Nuclear technologies always play a role in the political tectonic shifting in the book,  and those technologies change every time they appear in the different epochs of the novel. First, it’s nuclear power- closely related to our technologies. Then, ships with nuclear blasters appear. Finally, it is pocket-size nuclear shields and guns.

There is much to be learned from Asimov. Nearly ten-plus years after his death, his fiction has lessons for every sci fi writer, from pacing to structure. He is one to revisit and one to be as ever-lasting as Seldon and his Foundation.

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