July 20th, 2011



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.