Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Bantam Spectra, 4/94. 480pp. $7.99

We've all read the Foundation Trilogy, right? Usually at a very young age so our current impressions of it are clouded by the mists of time and our somewhat immature literary tastes. Asimov wrote the three original novels as a series novellas in the 1940s and early 1950s, when they were first collected in book form. The were great books in their day; they helped define the parameters of the Galactic Empire sub-genre. But, in retrospect they suffered from all of Asimov's typical faults: too talky, somewhat contrived plots, flat characterizations, settings that invariably boil down to New York circa 1941. In the 1980s Asimov began to add to the series and began to tie the Foundation series to his other main work, the Robot series and the Empire series. Forward the Foundation is the last of the books that he added to the series, fittingly also published as a series of novellas in the early 1980s, just before he died. Eventhough it is the last book to be written in the Foundation series, it actually takes place chronologically before the original trilogy. It follows the Hari Seldon's efforts (from the age of about 40 until his death in his 70s) to develop psychohistory and set up the Foundation. Along the way, he has many adventures, survives numerous assasination attempts and coups, saves half his family from certain death; at various times he experiences the travails of family life, university life and then beaurocratic life and then old age. In many respects, Forward the Foundation is no different from that original trilogy: talky, overly familiar settings, unlikely situations, little feel for the strangeness of the future. You know, the Asimov stock faults. In many other respects, it is immensly different: it is a very mature work, adult work. It is concerned with families, mortality, coming to terms with ones place in life. Hari Seldon does something that is so rare in science fiction in any form, he goes through all the experiences and emotions that are part of normal life: love, loss, grief, joy, jealously. He gets to age gracefully, to see and appreciate the growth of his family and to grieve the passing of family and friends. To have ups and downs in his life's work over the course of his whole life, not artificially condensed to meet some sort of dramatic arc. Overall, I have to say that this is a mature work by an author at the height of his powers, coming to grips with his own mortality. I enjoyed this one in spite of its obvious flaws. Not to be missed.


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