Let’s read some fiction!* My reviews so far have been predominantly outside of my literary comfort zone; non-fiction, contemporary, or autobiographical. I’m usually more of a light reader, so here are my thoughts on a classic. Over the next little while I’ll be reading the Isaac Asimov Foundation series. I’ve been reading fantasy style novels for the last 15 or so years, in that time I’ve been continually annoyed by the conflation of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The two are not a single genre and shouldn’t be thought of as such. But what makes people combine them? Why are Science Fiction and Fantasy so seemingly related that people often mistake them for the same genre? The biggest and in my opinion only similarity between Science Fiction and Fantasy is the more tangible escapism; you always know behind your suspension of disbelief that the story couldn’t be actually happening anywhere nearby. Science Fiction uses technology and ideas about science as its device whereas Fantasy uses magic and superstition.
All that aside, lets get into the review.
Asimov has long been regarded as one of the founders (heh) of the genre. As such, it was not a surprise to me that the first novel in the series – but not the first one written from what a bit of googling tells me – is quite well written. The scenery is well developed and it is not difficult to imagine the world in which the story takes place. He paints a picture with his words and it all fits together beautifully. This first story is the development of the Hari Seldon character and the beginnings of psychohistory, the math that can predict the future, that drives the books. We follow his struggles, his personal certainty of failure, attempted assassinations and kidnappings, dealing with everything from high ranking political figures to lowly street thugs. We also see his successes, developing friendships, building confidence, and even a bit of love! Despite the book being not very heavy on ‘action’ in that there aren’t many fights or explosions or exciting things that modern media relies so heavily on, the book feels full. It is almost cerebral in they type of action it uses; the intrigue and politics, the maneuvering and planning… I became invested in Hari’s endeavour. I wanted psychohistory to be successful.
The novel itself was quite successful, there is a slight complaint though. I feel it fell short in its treatment of robots. Certain aspects of the plot depend heavily on the mechanical humanoids, but I think that they were not smoothly inserted into the plot, rather they’e somewhat wedged in without much history or development; I’m sure that if I, Robot were on my reading list first there would be good development leading into the robots’ introduction into the Foundation books, but it wasn’t. There is a significant portion of plot line given to robots, but it feels thin compared to the liveliness surrounding Seldon and his cohorts.
The characters, for the most part, are believable and well rounded where they need to be. They are not excessively described. I have read some book in the past where the author makes a big deal out of the characters’ childhood, and beliefs, and politics. Asimov’s takes a more organic route; filling in the necessary details as they are required without forcing the narrative. The tactic is one I find more satisfying, and makes the characters seem more real despite not knowing everything. Just like in real life, people don’t give their entire life story on their first encounter, you get the details only as necessary.
Theme-wise it seems to me a story about the corrupting force of power and how small pushes in the right direction can lead to a better future. A good lesson, I think, one that can inspire and forewarn. If a person were to take that as the theme of the book they might see benefit in small acts of goodness, in charity, and in activism. Of course, a person may just be entertained by the story and that’s okay too!
I can clearly see why this series has become a classic, and as of this writing am just starting the fourth book… I’ll spoil my upcoming reviews a bit by stating in advance that I don’t think that all of the books are as successful as this one. I think I’ll keep the reviews short and post a final one outside of the cannonball read set to tie them all together.