There is no doubt that Isaac Asimov is a visionary in regards to science-fiction. At its core, the first book in his expansive Foundation series is a sound example of that status: broad ideas, layered plotting, and galaxy-spanning story-telling. The story behind Foundation is less of an attempt to tell a hard sci-fi driven plot, but more so an examination of the nature of humanity and the political and sociological implications of the vast universe Asimov has put his characters in.
For those of you who may not have heard of the Foundation series, it tells the story of an institute known as Foundation. Foundation, as an institute, serves to “preserve the best of galactic civilization after the collapse of the Galactic Empire.” Foundation quickly introduces readers to Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian, who has combined principals of psychology and mathematics to accurately predict future events as they relate to the trajectory of organized society.
First off, the very concept if psychohistory is a fascinating one. This is an invented scientific concept by Asimov – a field of science meant to, combine “history, sociology and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people.” While this concept serves as evidence of Asimov’s ability to craft elements of hard science-fiction, the book and story themselves exhibit elements that would lead me to classify this as what I like to call social science-fiction. Throughout the story, what we are treated to is much more of a study of the development and figurative movements of society and culture – as well as the implications of external influences.
The character of Hari Seldon at first thought may seem like the main character of the book, however, similar to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, the main character truly is humanity itself. We see the concept of Foundation as an institution, a civilization, and a system of government, grow through the eyes of different characters over an expansive amount of time. Through this storytelling mechanism, we witness Seldon’s predictions develop and come about – often as self-fulfilling prophecies – while at the same time questioning how accurate they can really be.
This book does significantly date itself, however; most pointedly in its portrayal of women, which I understand may have been a circumstance of the time when Asimov was writing, yet it still took me out of the story from time to time. One aspect of the science-fiction genre that has often been a draw for me (as well as others, I’m sure) is the idea of inclusion and diversity in the future – the idea that our humanity can overcome surface differences and move forward towards a better tomorrow. I know that we’ve come along way in terms of visualizing what diversity and inclusion truly looks like, but Foundation, in my opinion, did not make a point to paint a picture of a future of true gender, racial, or ethnic equity.
Despite these flaws, Foundation is indeed an example of engaging and thought-provoking story telling. Fans of science fiction or speculative fiction would be remiss if they do not at least give this story a shot.