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Foundation

While I was in the Twin Cities, I visited a lot of bookstores. Perhaps that isn't worth much of a mention, but I live in Sydney, where books cost a fortune, and I hardly go to any bookstore, good or otherwise, anymore. It's hard to justify a thirty dollar paperback here when, online, I can buy a hardcover for eighteen dollars. Anyhow: I'm not here to complain about that. Instead, I thought I would make a note on the fine bookstores that were there, and how much of a good time I had, drifting from each to each with N.

It was in one, however, that I came across an Everyman edition of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. I'm a big fan of the Everyman editions, and for some reason, I opened the book, flipped through it, and decided I'd purchase it, having never read it, or any Asimov, before.

The Foundation Trilogy is a strange work.

I mean, it's old, 1940s SF, and in his introduction, Michael Dirda makes note that appeared to 12 year olds (mostly boys, honestly), but as I was reading the book, I had to wonder, what kind of kid would read this? Seriously. The first book in the series, Foundation, is five novellas concerning a group of scientists who, lead by Hari Seldon, an elderly white man who has predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire through psychohistory, have been exiled to the end of the galaxy. There, over four generations, the book follows Seldon's predictions, unfolding in scenes where characters sit around and, well, basically talk for pages. That's it. There's hardly any action. Hardly any imagery. Hardly anything but characters sitting around and discussing economics, religion, politics, and how it is all going to work out. By all accounts, it shouldn't work, but the strangeness of it, the sheer weirdness of it, kept me reading and, at the moment, I'm half way through the second novel, which does actually have a few action scenes, but is still mostly people sitting around and talking. Hell, I'll even say that I'm enjoying it. It's everything that I hate in spec fic, but I'm really quite enjoying myself.

Yet, it has every bad aspect of current science fiction is there. The writing is terrible, it takes one and a half books for a female character to appear, and when she does, she gives her age and size and, through another character, her weight. She is an object before she is anything else. There's not one person of colour in it. And did I mention that it was badly written? Some of it is just plain dated, but you shouldn't make any mistake in believing that the book has beautiful writing. But, like I said, for some reason it's actually fascinating, partly because you can see how it had such a terrible influence on the genre without that sense of innovation that runs in the background of Asimov's book, and partly because there is a sense that it is kind of working and it really shouldn't. At times scathing of religion, at times a critique of capitalism, at times a vague meditation on the way politics changes, the rise and fall of empires, it does actually hold your interest, though its relevance on today's society is pretty slim.

It's a strange book. I don't know what I was expecting, but it's an odd relic, a bizarre piece of work, and it makes me wonder what some of those other works I haven't read from back then are like.

Comments

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exp_err
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
I read the series at 11 and enjoyed it, though not as much as I enjoyed Asimov's Robot stories, most of which were included in the same big, hardcover volume my parents gave me for that birthday. I've always though "dry" SF writers like Asimov and Egan were better suited to the short form, but I did love the idea of psychohistory and the grand scope of what Asimov did with it.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
i always thought egan's novels were terrible, really, though i only read early ones.

are asimov's short fiction mostly talking head stories?
exp_err
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:11 am (UTC)
Lots of little murder mysteries, among others. Yes, quite a few of them could be characterised as talking heads stories. Many of them explore the themes of what it is to be human and what shapes our actions. Apart from his Robot stories, Nightfall is one of the most memorable.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
nightfall is the one with the big rep, apparently. i should probably give a look in at them.
exp_err
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC)
If I'm remembering my reading experience correctly, there is both a short story version and a novel, and the short story is better. (It could be instead that it was a novella that was published both ways, in which case it's just that I enjoyed it more the first time I read it).
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:21 am (UTC)
cool. i'll have a look round and see what is what.
exp_err
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
I came to Foundation after having spent the previous couple of years working my way steadily through the SF collection of my local library, which was extensive, but dated. Wyndham, Asimov, Heinlein, Verne, Wells and so on. This gave me a good grounding in the genre, but I later realised, it was an unusual one. When I've dabbled in writing, I've sometimes assumed the wrong things about what my readers have read and how they experience the genre.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:09 am (UTC)
yeah, i certainly didn't come into the genre that way. i read a bit of wells early on, but it didn't do a whole lot for me, and a lot of the early writers i've read, heinlein and herbert, for example, i hated.
exp_err
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:11 am (UTC)
I came to hate Heinlein later, but I was pretty uncritical when I started out.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
i think my problem was i came to the old sf authors pretty late in my reading, whereas i started reading fantasy pretty young, and i was very uncritical there where i might not be now.
ashamel
Jul. 20th, 2011 01:49 am (UTC)
Was thinking of getting Foundation for the nephews, but have sort of gone off it. Hitchhiker's Guide is probably a better bet.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
i honestly have no idea what would appear to young people now. i know one of the kids i teach loves this series called cherub. kid spy novels.
ashamel
Jul. 20th, 2011 09:40 am (UTC)
Am trying to get them a mix of modern stuff and the classics (though they may not be as classic as they used to be). Kid spies might be fun.
jack_ryder
Jul. 20th, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
Al Quaeda is Arabic for Foundation - btw.

Purportedly the books were one of Bin Laden's inspirations.
benpeek
Jul. 20th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
haha. that's great.
ataxi
Jul. 20th, 2011 11:41 am (UTC)
Read it, sort of liked the first one, tailed off after that. Ultimately it's boring. Afterward, I studiously avoided Asimov - I've read almost nothing by him in almost two decades: I skimmed a collection of racist jokes which pretty much solidified my belief that he was a bell-end, and read one of the allegedly seminal 'Robot' stories and was unimpressed.

I've always liked Dune, though - even the insane post-'God Emperor' ones. Not the stupid spin-offs by Herbert's son and that other chap though.

Bracketing Egan with Asimov does Egan a disservice in my opinion.
benpeek
Jul. 21st, 2011 05:22 am (UTC)
oh, yeah, i wasn't really bracketing egan with asimov. it was just mentioned up above together--i always liked egan's early short sf stuff, myself, just never dug the novels and later work.

you know, i never dug dune. i couldn't even finish the first book.
ataxi
Jul. 21st, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
Egan's short stories are definitely better, and I far prefer his earlier novels to his more recent work. He's really off in la-la-land these days: his latest work is a mathematically pure narrative set within an alternate physics, sounds awful. I do love Egan, though - he's a serious artist and a serious thinker, moreover he's probably the only hard SF writer there is whose social conscience is unimpeachable.

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